Foreign Owners and Transfer Windows – Saddle up…it ain’t Football

Olympic showjumping

Equestrian sport’s version of the transfer window shut on the 15th January, but the results are only becoming apparent now.

Many people are not aware that few top riders own the horses they compete on. Instead they ride and train with a horse that is owned by someone else who is free to sell the horse to anyone they choose.
The Olympic transfer deadline usually falls on 31 December. This time it was 15 January, this was voted in at the 2013 FEI general assembly, the reason for changing the date to 15 January from 31 December was to take account of office closures over the Christmas and New Year period for all associated organisations

In the run-up to any Olympic Games, there is a deadline of 31 December the year before to complete sales, and countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been scrambling to find world-class horses for their riders. Thus, rather like professional footballers, there’s also a transfer window for horses.
Millions of pounds have changed hands, much of the cash coming from the Middle East. Riders and producers of all disciplines are involved in the process

For London 2012 several top horses were sold ahead of the deadline, including Titus who went to Edwina Tops-Alexander in Australia from Britain’s Guy Williams who said: “I have to run a business”
He was swiftly reunited with Guy Williams — but too late to be re-registered to Team GBR for a chance to compete at the London Games.

British showjumper Talan was also sold — this time by Robert Smith and Di Cornish to Saudi Equestrian Fund for Prince Faisal, but didn’t make it onto their 2012 bronze medal-winning squad.

Why does the British team allowed this to happen, and how much damage does it do to British hopes at Rio 2016?

The answer is that the fate of those horses was never fully in the British team’s hands.

If the owner is presented with an offer for the horse that they consider too good to turn down, there is nothing to stop them selling – regardless of the consequences for the rider or a nation’s Olympic hopes.
There is also the Olympic transfer deadline, where horses have to be registered for the nation they’re going to compete for.

For some of the nations that qualified for the Olympics fairly late, it became a scramble to try to find Olympic-standard horses. That has happened in the past before Olympic year, but what’s different over recent Olympic years is that the Middle Eastern countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on – are now actively involved in the top end of show jumping.

Consequently, the Middle Eastern countries have moved the whole sport and business to a new level. As in the case of football where certain clubs (such as Manchester City and Chelsea) have large transfer budgets, so it has become with show jumping where horses at international and Olympic level are expensive, probably between £500,000 and £2.5m each.

The transfer window before an Olympic year is therefore always a worrying time for riders keen to hang on to good horses.

But unlike a football team, which can at least normally choose whether or not to sell a star player during a transfer window, riders are usually powerless to affect the outcome if an owner receives a hefty bid.
There are however some loyal owners who turn down offers for their horses and want to go to the Olympics and try to get the horse into the team.

But for a lot of people – riders and owners – it’s a business, and the only way to keep going is to sell every now and again. An additional difficulty is that show jumping does not attract a huge amount of commercial sponsors that can take the pressure off the riders. The sport is not like Football or Formula 1 where you have international global brands offering to put in several million pounds.

As with any team in any sport it is important to have strength in depth and the problem with show jumping is losing Olympic standard horses means losing some of that depth. If you have an injury to one of the other horses now in contention, you have fewer to choose from.

So as in football, the rich teams, namely those with foreign owners or investors, are the only ones who can afford to match the “biggest stars” inflated transfer fees (and in the case of football, also salaries).

As a result, those owners, teams and nations who have access to significant wealth can buy success whatever the cost and at the same time squeeze the smaller owners by making offers “they cannot refuse”, not just to buy the best as well as success but to weaken the opposition and so at the same time those owners, teams and nations getting stronger themselves!

Whilst due to the nature of the sport, top riders are unlikely to become the focus of some form of transfer fee, the time could arrive that the “offering” which wealthy foreign owners can put on the table in terms of individual investment, facilities and quality of equine, our best riders become exclusively “tied” and move abroad to ply their trade where there are also greater tax benefits – like footballers…only time will tell?

The Choix Team

T: 0330 321 1460