Equestrian Sponsorship Part 2: The Professional’s Perspective

Part 1 of this series looked at Equestrian Sponsorships from the Business’s perspective. Part 2 takes a look at sponsorships from the professional riders’ perspectives.

ThinLine has an amazing stable of sponsored riders who use ThinLine products on a daily basis and help promote them. We sat down with two of our professional riders, Laine Ashker and Kim Gentry, to talk about what being a sponsored rider involves and how the relationship can be beneficial for both.

ThinLine: Tell us about how you found your first sponsor when you were looking to move to the professional ranks.

Laine Ashker Equestrian SponsorshipLaine Ashker: I competed at Blenheim, which is a 3-star in England, when I was 18. My parents were extremely supportive (and still are), but there were things they couldn’t afford to get me. I knew at some point I needed to figure it out on my own. So I went to my local tack shop and said, “I’m going to Europe for a big event. Is there any way I could get a cooler, with your tack shop’s name on it, and I’ll wear it around, and you’ll get exposure?”

They agreed, they gave me the cooler, and I’ll never forget it. I still have it actually. It was my first real sponsorship deal, getting this free cooler with the name of the tack shop on it. From there, I began to figure out, as social media became a little more prevalent, how we as riders can give back to the people who give to us.

Kim Gentry: My first sponsorship came from a discussion with the owner of a supplement company while at a USDF Convention. It turned out that we had a lot in common, and we ended up having a lengthy discussion about nutrition and feed. I came away from that discussion with my first sponsorship, and I still have that sponsorship today! That relationship ended up being a key component to getting other sponsorships down the road.

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ThinLine: What do you think the ideal relationship looks like between the sponsor and the rider?

Kim Gentry: Most importantly the relationship has to be mutually beneficial to both the sponsor and the sponsored rider. I can’t stress this enough! The sponsored rider will receive products from the sponsor and in return he/she needs to be a true brand advocate. Riders should be passionate about believing in the features and benefits of the product. Sponsored riders should be open and proactive about discussing the benefits of the product when interacting with other riders and clients, hang sponsor banners at shows and post photos and comments about the benefits of the product on social media. It’s important that the sponsored rider really believes in the product so their comments to other riders and owners are genuine. In essence, the rider becomes a part of the brand’s marketing team. If the sponsor gives the rider branded shirts and saddle pads, be sure to use them at shows and clinics.

It’s also important to communicate with your contact at the sponsoring company on a regular basis so that person gets to know you and sees that you are actively representing their products. Send them photos and success stories! Tell them how their product helped you, and also share these experiences on social media. The sponsored rider should have a professional website and an established professional Facebook page.

Laine Ashker: We wouldn’t be here without our sponsors. No one is ever too big to be dropped from a sponsorship, because they’ve got to be getting something in return. So if they’re giving you really expensive saddles, you’ve got to be doing something to promote the saddle, it’s not just that you’re existing, right?

Today, it’s easy to promote your product, or promote your sponsor’s product with Facebook and social media. It doesn’t even need to be a product specific post. It can be a video of you riding and then you hashtag a thank you to your sponsor. Or it could be a post of you riding in that product or using that product. As professional riders, we can influence what people purchase by showing that we use and trust those products with our own horses.

You have to fully believe in the products you’re promoting as a sponsored rider. If I didn’t have the sponsors that I have now, I would still buy my sponsors’ products. That’s how much I believe in them. So for me it’s really not hard to promote those products. I never feel like I’m selling something because I truly whole-heatedly believe in it.

ThinLine: What qualities do you think sponsors look for when they evaluate professional riders?

Kim Gentry: Sponsors look for different qualities in riders depending on the brand, the product attributes and the brand’s personality. It’s not always the top riders who secure sponsorships, nor are they always the right person to represent the brand.

I believe the most important thing is the potential sponsored rider has some sort of first-hand experience with the product. Sponsors do understand, to some degree, that not everyone can afford their products, but riders should have a direct link to someone with experience with the brand. The sponsored rider should have a personality type where they are comfortable proactively discussing the product with clients, peers or posting frequently on social media. Riders should help their sponsors however they can.

Kim Gentry

I also believe that sponsored riders need to be the eyes and ears of the brand. Give the sponsor positive and constructive feedback about the product. Are there any issues that you are hearing about? If so, communicate that feedback to your sponsor. As a former brand manager, I know how important consumer feedback is, and it sometimes takes a while to work its way to the corporate office. You might help the sponsor identify a potential opportunity or problem early on. If you have a new product idea definitely pass this along, as it might be a great product for your sponsor to launch. If you are given products to test give the sponsor prompt and clear feedback about the product.

ThinLine: Thank you both for taking the time to talk with us about sponsorships and what it means to the professional rider. Do you have any final thoughts on sponsorships you’d like to share?

Laine Ashker: Let’s face it, without the many sponsors that I have, I couldn’t feed my horses, I wouldn’t have the saddles that I ride, I wouldn’t have the boots that protect my horses, the boots that I ride in. There are so many things that are day to day, that we take advantage of, that we couldn’t afford as professional riders without the help, and the promotion of our sponsors.

ThinLine is very near and dear to my heart because they were actually one of my first sponsors. ThinLine and Elaine have been behind me literally since the beginning of time. They’ve seen me go to my first 3-star, they’ve seen me go to my first international 3-star, my first 4-star, and they’ve backed me the whole way. I love the ThinLine products. I use their sheepskin half pads, I have their halters, and I use their reins. They are amazing products.

I’m extremely loyal to my sponsors. Loyalty in this business is huge, because you find it’s very far and few between. You stick with your sponsors because they’ve stuck with you. ThinLine has done that for me, and I’m just so appreciative to them. I am careful to choose function, not fashion. Fashion comes and goes. I love to align with products I know will stand the long haul of a career.

About Kim:

A native of Sydney, Australia, Kim is an up and coming international Grand Prix dressage rider. In 2015 Kim and her horse, Leonardo, were named to the Australian Equestrian Team High Performance Squad for the Olympics and WEG for 2015-
2020. The pair represented Australia in the CDIO3* Nations Cup in 2015 and 2016. They are Shadow Team members for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Kim has owned and trained Leonardo since he was a just backed 3 year old. Kim became a US citizen in 2007 and still represents Australia in international competitions.

Kim is a USDF Certified Instructor through Fourth Level, a graduate with Distinction from the USDF “L” Program for Judge Training and a CLS 5* rated trainer. Kim has earned her USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals. Kim has a diverse riding background in eventing, show jumping and dressage. She even held an amateur flat and steeplechase racing license. Kim holds a Bachelor degree and an MBA. Her background prior to becoming a professional rider and trainer was in Brand Management and Marketing at an executive level at Kraft, Nabisco and International Paper. In 2007, she was awarded the Major Andres Lindgren Scholarship from the Dressage Foundation which enabled her to travel to Germany with her horse to train in 2008 and 2009.

www.kimgentrydressage.com

ThinLine products used by Kim:

About Lainey:

Laine is an International event rider who with her long term ride Anthony Patch, has competed at Rolex CCI**** five times with their best placing in 2010 when they took home an 8th place ribbon in addition to the highest placed owner and rider award. Laine and Al were reserve Advanced national champions at the AECs in 2012 and 2014 and were the national Advanced Champions when they brought home the win at the AECs in 2013 held in Tyler, Texas.

Laine takes pride in bringing up her horses herself, along with help from her mother, and longtime coach of fifteen years Buck Davidson. She has brought three horses to the **** level, all that she started straight off of the racetrack. In addition to competing at the top levels in eventing, Laine competes at the FEI level in dressage (Intermediare 1 currently) on Santiago del Escarvido, an Andalusian gelding owned by Ann Wilson who Laine has had the opportunity to bring up the levels.

www.laineashkereventing.com

ThinLine products used by Laine: