It’s no secret that I, like many of you, am a pretty big William Fox-Pitt fan. But were you aware that his full name is actually William Speed Lane Fox-Pitt? Like, not only is he the first rider to win five of the six four-star events, he’s also got “Speed Lane” in his name? It’s true.
Not so many years ago, I was the little girl who ripped every picture of Karen and Biko from Horse Illustrated’s pages and taped them inspirationally alongside the Pony Club ribbons on my wall. My school friends were tired of hearing about Biko—his lustrous blaze, how he was totally going to win the Olympics. I’m pretty sure a few of you are nodding your heads right now.
Nowadays ripping magazine pages has mostly translated to checking and re-checking favorite eventers’ blogs, websites, Facebooks, Twitters, etc. And in my internet ramblings, I’ve come across something I wish had existed those years ago—the kind of club through which I may have patted beloved Biko’s nose, or further exhausted my friends with a picture of me and Karen.
William Speed Lane Fox-Pitt and the Fox-Pitt Eventing Partnership’s Oslo winning the 2011 Paul CCI****. (Photo by Monty White)
It started several years ago as a high-end club for people interested in following William Fox-Pitt and his horses. The club owned two horses, both of whom competed under the club’s name and in club colors. From the club came a group of people interested in buying larger shares of a horse with William; the Fox-Pitt Eventing Partnership syndicate was formed and Oslo—the horse who in 2011 won the Tattersalls CCI***, Blenheim CIC*** 8/9-year-old division, and Pau CCI****, as well as becoming a serious contender for the London 2012 squad—was purchased. The club continued, though the club-owned horses were eventually sold, and over the last few years as interest in William’s successes has continued to gain, the club has morphed into a more fan-based group, with a much more affordable membership. Like many four-star eventers, William has lots of fans—not all of whom can afford syndicate ownership, and many of whom are current or future Pony Clubbers themselves.
“The Fox-Pitt Eventing Club enables eventing enthusiasts to enjoy an association and involvement with a three-time Olympian and World No. 1 event rider,” said Fox-Pitt Team Member and Club Organizer Hannah Vowles, who noted that for a nominal yearly fee of £20 (~$32) per individual member and £50 (~$80) per family of four, Fox-Pitt Eventing Club members are treated to a yard open day, course walks at Badminton and Burghley, an evening with William, his wife Alice and Head Groom Jackie, bumper stickers, badges, regular club updates via quarterly e-newsletter, a members-only page on the FPE website, a personalized birthday message from William, and discounts on William’s sponsors’ products, amongst other perks.
Fox-Pitt Eventing Club membership perks include course walks with William at Badminton and Burghley. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Vowles/Fox-Pitt Eventing Club)
For a $32 price tag, you’ve got to think Fox-Pitt Eventing aren’t doing it for the money—expenses for the yard open day and evening with William must outweigh the membership fee, let alone the merchandise. I was reminded of Buck Davidson’s excellent Chronicle column last year, “Eventing Enthusiasts Deserve a Deeper Connection with Top Riders” (“Lately I’ve been wondering: How do we keep bringing in the younger crowd?”; “The stories of the horses and riders are very important, but facetime is more important”; “We riders also have to do a better job of hanging out with the kids”).
Buck converted a few new eventing fans through a pick-up game of basketball at Rolex last year, and initiatives like Experience Eventing (read Samantha’s informative posts here and here) are starting to crop up Stateside. And none of this is to say that top U.S. eventers are particularly inaccessible—take Phillip or the O’Connors’ annual eventing camps, for example—but that they’re busy, hard-working professionals whom it might be a little intimidating for the average, non-horse-owning eventing fan to approach between Rolex rides and say, “Um, hi? I’m your biggest fan?”
The Fox-Pitt Eventing Club is neat in that it’s fan-based, providing a broader, more all-inclusive dynamic the likes of which geography, finances and horse ownership don’t limit. It makes specific opportunities for facetime. It takes the hassle and awkwardness out of finding an outside connection to your favorite rider. Can you imagine the anticipation of attending a yard open day when you were 11, 12, or 13?
(Photo courtesy of Hannah Vowles/Fox-Pitt Eventing Club)
What value does a fan-based eventing club provide to top riders? Those of us who grew up in Pony Club would say you’re giving back to the sport. You’re inspiring both the current and next generation of eventers, volunteers, officials and fans. And you never know who your next owners, students or supporters will be, or how you might help them get involved.
Of course, Fox-Pitt Eventing isn’t just for the kids. With London looming, Hannah says interest is at “an all-time high,” with nearly 100 members. I’d join solely for the course walks at Badminton and Burghley, but then again, since I’ve read and re-read William’s What Will Be: The Autobiography, glory in enlightening folks on the subject of his full name and cannot wait to sport my FPEC badge 24/7, I’m planning to join anyway. (I’d join similar clubs for the USA’s top riders, too, because even though I’m only occasionally ripping pictures out of magazines these days, I’ll never grow out of my eventing fandom).
And if we get enough international members to join, would there a possibility of a course walk with William at Rolex?
“At the moment there is no plan to run a course walk at Rolex,” said Hannah. “We haven’t had the demand and time restrictions are always an issue as William has commitments to Team GBR whilst in the States, and the visits are always so short. It isn’t something we would rule out though if the demand was there.”
So Eventing Nation, what do you think? Would you like to walk the course with William at Rolex? Which U.S. riders would you like to see start eventing clubs? How much would you expect to pay for membership, and what perks would you want in return?
A big thanks to Hannah and the FPEC.
Go Fox-Pitt Eventing, Go Eventing Outreach, Go Eventing.