Owner spotlight: Claire Dubowski
Owning event horses is an absolute joy, says Claire, but you need to know what you want to get out of it
I’m sure all owners of event horses will say the same thing, but it really is true. Eventing is a sport of love – we’re in it for the heart and the passion. If we wanted to invest money, we’d do things differently because you have to be clever to make it pay, except in emotional reward.
Currently, I own four horses in full and one as a syndicate share and I can honestly say that owning event horses brings so much joy to our lives. Horses are wonderful and fun, and are an invaluable part of our time together as a family.
There’s absolutely no doubt that it can be a real challenge to combine full-time work with my son and my passion for my horses and this is why choosing your riders is so, so important. While I’m knowledgeable and love my horses, I have to step back from their day-to-day care. Running an aesthetics company and having a family means I simply don’t have the time to be involved in every detail, so instead, I select riders that I know will care for them just as I would.
We’ve owned horses for 12 years now, not always with the same riders, but the qualities I look for are always the same: communication is absolutely essential, as is respect, honesty and understanding expectations, both from the rider and the owner’s point of view. For it to be a successful and happy partnership, you need to know what the other wants and needs. Honesty is absolutely critical from the outset. In the past, we have had experiences where a horse’s ability has been overestimated by a rider’s desire to progress quickly and this just leads to disappointment on all sides and the relationship will then deteriorate.
And expectation isn’t about winning trophies. For us as owners, our ambition is simply to watch the horses that we love develop and shine. Watching them progress from a raw three-year-old to an accomplished performer, via the many varied ups and downs, is one of life’s greatest joys.
When it comes to riders, I only select up-and-coming British riders and I always do my research and observe for a while. Are they ethical in their training and how is their yard run? What is their methodology and that of their team? I like to see how they conduct themselves at a show and how they market themselves on social media and in person. While results speak loudly, of course, I need to know that we can work together well and have a shared approach and views. Finding common ground is essential as you spend a lot of time together during the season.
You also need to be clear about your own needs from the outset. Do you want the horses nearby so you can visit the yard each day, or do you prefer to simply see them at shows? When selecting a rider, it’s essential that your needs and theirs align and reflect each other.
The right one
Finding the right horse is a critical part of being an owner. I find horses across Europe and always invest in thorough investigations by a vet – it’s the ethical thing to do. It’s never a yes/no situation but more about exploring any potential issues before you purchase. An event horse agent can be helpful in choosing a horse to suit your ambition and budget. It’s also helpful to connect with other owners via the Event Horse Owners Association (EHOA).
Of course, what you look for in a horse may not be right for your rider. If you can, explore options together to find a horse that not only meets your needs but theirs and your budget too, but ensure you factor in time for the horse to develop. This isn’t a sport for instant results – progress takes time and you need plenty of patience.
I definitely err on the side of caution and take things slow. Pushing a horse too much can do irreparable damage that can’t be unlearnt or repaired. My focus is very much about letting the horse develop at his own pace and be at ease within his own body. Our four-year-olds don’t do much more than the occasional training show, unless you can see they’re desperate to do more. With each horse, and rider, you learn more, which influences how you move forward. Previous experiences have enabled me to establish what I think is important and a priority. It’s not a science; we learn as we go.
I currently have two riders: Phoebe Locke (top image, riding Ballavarra Quantum) and Tom Rowland. Both are incredibly talented, great at communication and share my vision, which makes our relationship work so well. And we all want the same thing – great relationships get great results after all.
As for all involved in the sport, last year was a challenge, but we used the opportunity to focus on training. It was actually good to learn that you don’t need to start at the beginning of the season to still have a successful one. We were very grateful to be able to be out, stick to the rules and compete in the sport we love.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2021 and next year, I would love for our 4* horse to progress to 5*, though I’m careful not to say this loudly for fear of jinxing it. For all our horses, I just want them to move up through the grades and learn the ropes for the next level.
I’m delighted that the sport is starting to modernise by embracing the opportunities on offer from syndicates. Sharing the costs of an event horse with others means it opens it up for people to get involved while still offering the same fun and reward. It softens the blows but accelerates the highs and this is just what the sport needs to evolve and thrive in the future.
Laura Collett and Ben Hobday are both fantastic ambassadors for syndication and I really hope that it encourages more people to get involved in this truly wonderful sport.
Article first published in the Autumn 2021 issue of British Eventing Life magazine