Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” has been stuck in my head since news broke yesterday morning that William Fox-Pitt’s former ride Lionheart is joining Allison Springer’s upper-level string. It’s big news whenever an Olympic veteran changes hands, and it’s especially intriguing when a sale has great potential to benefit Team USA. Interestingly, Allison had no intentions of bringing home an Olympic veteran when she went horse shopping in England just after Burghley. But she ultimately found herself in William’s yard sitting on a horse that won a team silver medal just 12 months earlier.
“I went to England to look for a 7- or 8-year-old that I could aim for Rio,” Allison said. “I searched high and low, but it’s hard to find horses like that actually available for sale. You’re better off looking for a really special 5-year-old that you can produce yourself.” Then Allison heard that William might have an option available at his yard in Dorset. “There’s just not a lot of sales going on out of his yard,” Allison said. “It’s not like an agent took me there; it certainly wasn’t a buying trip. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was just sort of fate that way.”
Allison arrived at William’s yard in the late afternoon when he had just finished cross-country schooling the horses that were heading to Blenheim that weekend. After explaining that Jeremy and Judith Skinner were looking to sell Lionheart, William suggested Allison sit on the horse. “I said, ‘I don’t even think it’s fair if I try him. This is not what I set out to look for. This is a whole different budget.’ And William said, ‘If you don’t at least sit on him, you won’t know if it’s worth trying for,'” Allison said. And it turned out William was absolutely right. “The horse honestly just fit like a glove,” Allison said.
William found Lionheart as a 5-year-old in Germany, and he actually went back to try him three more times before committing to the sale because he thought the horse was too small. But the horse’s spectacular jump ultimately sold William, and he’s enjoyed a lot of success with the horse ever since. In addition to numerous notable three-star placings, the horse was third in his first four-star at Pau in 2011, and he placed fourth at Luhmuhlen earlier this year. And, of course, he also has a shiny Olympic medal to add to his accolades.
At about 16.2 hands, Lion isn’t a small horse, but his narrow build has always accentuated William’s six-foot-four frame. “William said, ‘I honestly think this horse is going to do a better dressage test for you. I’ve always made him look like a pony. I think you’re going to give him presence,'” Allison said. “I never intended on going out and looking to try to get a horse like this. I was just in the right place at the right time. Now I have a lot of partnership building to do, but he has absolutely been wonderfully produced, and I’m very excited about the future with this horse.”
Bringing Lion into her programs aligns perfectly with Allison’s plan of giving herself as many viable chances as possible to make future teams. “I sat down at the end of the 2012 season and looked at what I needed to do to make myself a legitimate team rider,” Allison said. “I’ve had a lot of success with Arthur, one of the most tricky horses on the international scene, and it’s been pretty amazing to have so many back-to-back seasons with him. But I needed more horses. Copycat Chloe was definitely part of the plan, but I wanted three horses going into the next cycle that could be real contenders.”
Lion becomes lucky number three in Allison’s upper-level string, and she hopes he can play a role in helping Team USA become consistently competitive on the international stage in the coming years. “I think having this horse in America will be great for our country,” Allison said. “The Kiwis and Germans have totally changed the level of play in this sport. If we want to accomplish the goals David (O’Connor) has set out for us, we really need to be as consistently good as they are — in both our riding and the quality of our horses.”
Building a Partnership
Lion catches his flight to America on Friday, so Allison’s journey to build a partnership with the horse begins next week. She plans to spend December getting to know him, and then he’ll ship to Wellington in January with the rest of her upper-level string to tackle some jumper classes. From there, Lion, Chloe and Arthur will be based in Aiken for the rest of the winter, when Allison — and the rest of the riders gunning for the WEG team — will tackle the typical spring schedule.
“They’ll run the Intermediate at Pine Top and then the Advanced at Pine Top,” Allison said. Then I usually pick two from Red Hills, Southern Pines and The Fork. A lot of times in the past, I’ve done Red Hills, then a combined test at Southern Pines, followed by The Fork. For WEG, I have to qualify with no cross-country jumping penalties at a CIC3* and a CCI3*, so Lion’s spring schedule will be shaped around accomplishing that.”
Unfortunately, Allison is just one four-star run away from being an FEI Category A rider, so she can’t take Lion to Rolex in the spring. But Arthur’s fans will be thrilled to know that his spring plans currently include a run at Kentucky. And while Chloe’s spring schedule is a little more up in the air due to not completing Galway Downs, she remains a very strong competitor in Allison’s arsenal. If Chloe has a solid spring, Allison said the mare will likely run Rolex too.
“Lion is a wonderful match for me, but we still have a long way to go,” Allison said. “Someone asked me if I feel a ton of pressure now that I have a horse like this. Thankfully, I have enough experience now that I know how to deal with the pressure, and I’m mostly just really excited for the opportunity and what the next few years will bring. When I thought about it at the end of last year, I said I wanted to have three horses that could potentially be listed and considered going into WEG, and here I am.”
With the sale to the Team Lionheart Syndicate finalized, Allison is incredibly grateful to the Event Owners Task Force and Dr. Mark Hart for his guidance, as well as William and his team for making the process so smooth and easy. “I’ve been on my phone and computer for two months straight trying to make this happen,” Allison said. “William knew I had to talk to investors, and he’s been incredibly honest and easy to work with — so accommodating in every way. It’s not been at all how you would think a horse deal would typically go down.”
In putting together the syndicate to purchase the horse, Allison had to step outside of her comfort zone to connect with investors, and she’s thrilled the deal came together the way it did. “I’ve never really asked for much support in the past,” Allison said. “The response I’ve received has been really exciting, and now I wonder why I didn’t reach out to people before. But now is the time. I wanted to be able to spend more time focusing on my goals while still running my business. I’ve got some wonderful customers, students and supporters. It’s a good place to be in.”
There are still shares available in the Team Lionheart Syndicate. Please contact Allison directly at [email protected] for more information on the syndicate.