The Sponsored Rider: I wouldn't get out of bed for less than 5 saddles a year!

It can be so difficult when companies clamor to be your equestrian sponsor.
When national magazines hound you for your photo and an interview, when televised equestrian events zoom in and replay the highlights of your ride, and companies fight to send you the greatest amount of free saddles and boots and riding clothes.

... if you are such a rider, congratulations!    Or if you are a junior or parent of a junior that is a riding rockstar in the making, you should be aware of the important clauses of sponsorship contracts.

I was reading my Architectural Digest the other day and spotted Zara Phillips, top notch 3-Day Eventer hanging out with a group of other remarkable female athletes (far right).  It is wonderful to see riding becoming accepted in general society as a bona fide respectable sport!

And of course most of us are aware that Princess Grace's granddaughter, Charlotte Casiraghi, is sponsored by Gucci.  She has been the face of the newly released Gucci equestrian clothing line and is a premiere international show jumper.

Image Source

One of my recent cases involved a sponsorship deal that went south.  It contained many complex and tangential issues, but one of them was regarding a sponsored female rider.  This rider had been given saddles and breeches by a brand's distributor.  The owner of the brand claimed that the products were given out in breach of the distribution agreement, and that the rider knowingly accepted products that should not have been given to her.  The owner claimed that she was not a sponsored rider, and in essence, had converted (the civil version of theft) ownership of the brand's property and needed to pay damages for doing so.
One of the aspects causing problems for the rider is that she didn't have a written sponsorship contract.  She claimed that there was a sponsorship agreement (the owner of the brand watched her ride knowing she was wearing and using his products), it just wasn't in writing.
While I understand that many equestrians think contracts get in the way of friendly business, equestrians also need to realize that, particularly when there is a lot of money at stake, having even a brief written agreement will avoid a lot of problems.

Some things to consider if you are the sponsored rider:

1. You don't ever want to be accused of having 'stolen' the brand's products, so you need to have a written agreement as evidence that the brand wanted you to take the products

2. You need to have a written agreement showing what you will be giving to the brand in exchange for the brand giving you products (this is called consideration).  For example, does the brand care how often you show wearing its products, or the classes that you enter?  If you are a Grand Prix rider but decide to take the rest of the show season training a green horse in the 2'6", is the brand going to be upset?

3. Is there exclusivity?  If you are sponsored by Ariat, will Ariat be upset if you regularly show in a different brand?

4. What if you are injured at the beginning of the year and can no longer show wearing the brand's products?  Do you get to keep everything that you were given, or do you have to return it?

I have seen an increasing amount of sponsorship at the lower levels of riding- which is great!  But even if you are just getting small things like polo wraps and saddle pads, make sure it is clear what the sponsor expects of you.  If you are an advancing rider, equip yourself with business professionalism.  When sponsors see that you conduct your riding business with integrity and transparency it will most likely make you a more attractive rider to sponsor.

{Coming in a future post, things to consider if you are a business that wants to sponsor a rider}

Have any of you ever been sponsored for your riding? Or, what rider would you like to see sponsored?

Burning Horse Thieves at the Stake (You should probably hire a lawyer)

As Texas approaches its 500th execution, there is a lot of discussion about the death penalty.  Did you know that a significant number of U.S. executed prisoners have later been found not guilty of the crime for which they were executed? This exoneration often occurs because science improves and evidence is re-examined with the newer technology.
  Our justice system is one of the best in the world, but it also has a huge number of flaws- perhaps even some of you have been victims of the civil or criminal courts adjudicating poorly or unfairly.
  I also strongly believe in the motto, "It is better to let a guilty man walk free than condemn an innocent man."

It is in this context that I had an upsetting conversation with another lawyer.  My client had bought a horse from his client, and after my client had re-sold the horse to a third party over a year later, there was a dispute over the buy-back provision in the contract.  The other lawyer asserted that my client was a horse thief (keep in mind there was a signed bill of sale, exchange of money, his client deposited the money, the horse was registered with the new owner in the breed database, and the horse was sold after the buy-back provision period had ended).

The other lawyer said, "Too bad it isn't the turn of the century otherwise your client would have been burned at the stake by now for being a horse thief."

I took a pause because I was speechless.

I responded, "Yes, well back then justice often meant pitchforks and burning torches.  My client does not believe she is a horse thief.  You know only one side of the story."

He agreed he knew only one side, and we ended the call. I was rather dismayed at his violent and one-sided choice of words; is it really 'too bad' my client hasn't been put to death?  
Let alone his mistake: the most recent "turn of the century" was from 1999 to 2000, at which time the U.S. was not burning people at the stake as a form of justice for horse thievery.  I also believe that hanging was the more common punishment for horse thievery, at least in the mid-1700s.

The Legal Lesson
I typically recommend that a person retain a lawyer if he is in a conflict with someone who is represented by counsel.  I was glad I was a shield for my client so that she didn't have to hear such inane things from opposing counsel.  
As many of you likely know, an attorney cannot directly contact someone he knows to be represented by counsel; he must go through that person's attorney for all communication.  I know how to deal with difficult or uncivil attorneys, but I also know that for many individuals legal conflict can be stressful, and  having to communicate with a rude or obnoxious lawyer would only add a tremendous burden to the situation.
Have you ever been faced with an attorney that could use a lesson in civility? If so, what did you do?

When there aren't enough Horses: Elite Show Jumping

At the horse show last weekend I had a long chat with a top trainer.  She has travelled all over the world to show horses, competed at the World Games, and is an international horse shopper.  She knows the show jumping world inside and out and had some insightful comments about the state of the top-level riding community that I thought were worth sharing.

Riders without Horses: a policy discussion

She said that there is a real problem of excellent riders not having quality horses.  The Springsteens, Kesslers, Bloombergs, the Royalty (Philips and Casiraghi) are all great riders, but they also have access to strings of the world's best horses.
When these top riders show in the grand prix arenas, the stands are filled with equally talented riders on the sidelines without access to horses that can show at that top level. 
At one California show in the past year a top rider had an $11 million string of show jumpers with her to ride and show (and win) on, and while she showed, there were numerous other highly talented trainers and riders on the sideline unmounted.

There aren't clear solutions to this problem, in large part because the actual problem or issue isn't clearly defined.  Do we care about expanding the base of competitors?  Is it important to deepen the level of horse supply?  Is there a duty of top riders with access to talented horses to help expand access to talented horses?

I know this post is more about policy than actual law, but our conversation segued into a topic on which I have prepared a couple draft blog posts.
The trainer said, "I don't know a single sponsored rider that got the sponsorship without having a personal connection to the sponsor."

I recently had a client that was being sued over a sponsorship agreement that had soured.
Not many of us are talented enough to garner a riding sponsorship- but according to the trainer- it doesn't seem to matter how talented we are if we don't also have a personal connection to the sponsor.  And how can you have a hope of making it to the top without the financial backing of a big-brand sponsor (or a wealthy family supporting you)?
But if you are sponsored or wish to be, there are contractual clauses you need to consider... and those tips will come in the next blog post!

I don't know if many of you think about the state of the elite riding world- such as Olympic-quality horses and who can buy them; or if you have any experience or thoughts on sponsorship- but if you do, I'd love to hear your comments!