Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer reveals the secret to attracting sponsors

Sponsorship has become an integral part of equestrian sport. With the rise of social media, it has never been easier for riders to promote their favourite brands, and sponsors to share in their success. In return, riders receive financial backing or sponsored gear, which helps them fund what is a very expensive sport. It’s a win-win situation!  

Alice Oppenheimer

Photo credit: Spidge Event Photography.

So how can riders attract sponsors – and what do they need to do to fulfil their side of the deal?

We spoke to international dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer, who breeds and trains her own horses at her family yard Headmore Stud, to find out.

How did you get your first sponsor?

I got my first sponsor around eight years ago, when I was just starting out and was on the up. I either had brands approach me, or I made contacts through friends. Athlete representation wasn’t such a big thing then – it’s much easier to find a sponsor these days to suit your needs.

I have seven sponsors now: Schockemohle Sports, Prestige Italy, Dengie Horse Feeds, NAF, Roeckl glovesFlying Changes (who have customised my hat to match my jacket) and Jenny Hadland and Co physiotherapy.

How important are sponsors to equestrian athletes?

In an ideal world you would find a sponsor to cover everything, because it’s a very expensive sport. You get the odd person who is in the fortunate financial position where they don’t need to worry about teaching and liveries, but the vast majority of us have to work very hard to make ends meet. I don’t get money from my sponsors, but I have contracts with them and they provide goods in kind, which covers most of my gear.

What do your sponsors expect in return?

Generally they want good social media, so whenever I put up results I tag them. It means every time my followers read a post they can see all my sponsors, which makes them aware of the brand.  I also recommend products, for example if people ask for advice on British Dressage’s Facebook page, I will recommend one of my sponsors. I won’t have a sponsor if I don’t believe in their products and I won’t endorse something that I wouldn’t use myself.

Is it hard to do your day job and keep your sponsors happy?

It’s quid pro quo. They help me out, so it’s the least I can do for them. Writing a post and tagging my sponsors doesn’t feel like a chore for me. I do it throughout the day – Facebook and Instagram are my favourites, as I find Twitter a bit limiting.

What are the biggest challenges of having a sponsor?

If a test doesn’t go well, I sometimes think ‘oh God I’ve got a numnah with their name on!’ But it happens and you have to write about the bad days, too. It’s good to show we are just mere mortals, and don’t win every time. Unless you are Charlotte Dujardin!

One of the hardest things is writing a post for your sponsor that doesn’t look too obvious or salesy. You need to make it worth their while to sponsor you, but not so obvious that your social media is one big advert – you have to get the right balance. People get bored if you all say is ‘look what he’s wearing’ – you need to make your posts a bit different. For example, Schockemohle sent me a new anatomic bridle for my six-year-old and she loved it. I put something up on Facebook and two people brought the bridle. Because I don’t do this every week, my followers know I genuinely like a product when I mention it. But I do it enough to keep my sponsors happy.

When attracting – and keeping ­– sponsors, how important is it to promote your own brand?

Social media is really important for your profile as a rider – it’s amazing how it can help you. But I have never thought of myself as a brand. Charlotte is definitely a brand – she even has her own logo – but I don’t see myself that way.

That said, we are always trying to sell ourselves on social media and increase our profile, so in a way we are all a brand. It’s one of the things that has evolved over the years and now everyone has a social media account.

I remember when I got on the World Class Programme they asked if we had a Facebook page. Most of us had a personal one, but they said we needed a page as an athlete. We are seen as role models, so you have to be careful about what you say.

Which riders do you think are good at promoting their brand?

Catherine Dufour does lots of videos of her horses training at home, which are great. I need to do more of that, but it’s sometimes hard to juggle, as you need an extra person there to video you.

Olivia Towers is also great – she’s become more famous for her social media than her riding! She is really honest, which is why I think she is so popular.

What advice would you give to a rider looking to get sponsored?

It’s important to have a social media presence, but you’ve got to have the results to back it up. Sponsors want someone who is successful. You don’t need to ride at grand prix level, but you need to prove you can compete well at your level and that you have potential.

If you have a sponsor in mind, there is no point trying to rush things. If you approach before you’re established, they might not be interested and you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s best to make the first move via email – don’t message them on Facebook – and always be professional.

If you would like help to find sponsors or manage your social media and communication get in touch with our company mascot at fatboy@dev-server/c/ceris-burns-equestrian. He’s not just a pretty face…