How Alexandra Afzal is changing the game in international equestrian competition
By: APRIL BILODEAU
Most show jumpers competing in the United States have a checklist of goals for their career. Their first 1.20m class, their first Grand Prix, and for the very lucky ones, competing internationally.
California native Alexandra Afzal is working on making that dream more accessible for all by providing a concierge service that supports riders with a desire to compete abroad.
Afzal began her riding career at the age of four and started showing in the pony hunters at eight. Once she turned 15, she moved off the ponies and began riding in the jumpers and junior hunters. Upon wrapping up her junior years, she found herself focusing on the jumpers.
During the early years of her show jumping career, Afzal rode with Rachel and Jeff Fields at Sandhaven Farm in Woodside, CA.
“Riding with Rachel and Jeff was the most important time during my career,” Afzal tells The Plaid Horse. That is, until she moved to Europe.
In 2016, Afzal moved to Ireland with the help of a fellow Californian, Lauren Kardel, to pursue her international career. She intended to live abroad for three months…nearly seven years later, she’s still there. “I moved to Europe because I didn’t feel like starting a desk job,” says Afzal with a laugh. “Going abroad was my way of doing something different.”
Her goal was to go to every competition on her list, even if it was just to watch, attempting to learn everything she could along the way.
“I wanted the whole industry package,” says Afzal. “I wanted to learn the riding, the training, the showing—everything, inside and out.”
In the simplest terms, Afzal became a “yes woman” and took every opportunity that came her way.
While in Ireland, Afzal began spending more time in the saddle for her trainers, riding up to eight horses a day in addition to her own horses. She learned about the pony business in Europe and started interfacing with clients more.
After two years in Ireland, she made the decision to move to the mainland, moving to Germany then finally settling in the Netherlands.
When she moved to Germany she started thinking about her place in the business. With all her knowledge of different areas of the equine industry, she wanted to find her niche. While Afzal took the time to discover what that niche was, people kept telling her she needed to be the go-to person for American riders looking to travel and ride in Europe since she had already made the move and arranged everything herself.
From those conversations, EquiConcierge was born.
The Rider’s Travel Agent
EquiConcierge is a full service equine travel management company that handles all aspects of the international riding experience. From arranging horse transportation to Europe, finding housing, organizing the appropriate paperwork for international eligibility, and more, Afzal and EquiConcierge are available to help.
“I was thrown into the deep end when I moved to Europe and had to figure out how to live internationally,” says Afzal. “Europe is intimidating. I created EquiConcierge to figure out a way to make it easier for riders and support the people who want to come over and do the same thing that I did.”
Afzal adds that she began her services working with an Irish trainer and his American student.
“I help with finding a stable to rent, hiring grooms, leasing apartments, getting a car, furniture, anything you can think of, as well as what you may not think of,” says Afzal. “Beyond the basics, I put together their show entries, flights, and hotels. People can come for a week, a month, a year…whatever they’d like. They can show or work or just experience whatever part of the industry that want to learn about.”
A Custom Experience
Afzal’s goal is to make riders comfortable with coming to Europe to compete, and encourages everyone to get the experience.
“Coming abroad really gives you a different perspective on the industry,” says Afzal. “I want to give everyone that opportunity.”
While the financial end may be a concern for some, Afzal offers the ability to create an experience for everyone’s budget. When meeting with every potential client, Afzal asks a series of questions to put together a custom package for each person.
“First, are you bringing your horse or do you want to lease?” asks Afzal. From there, she wants to hear each person’s goals so she can create the perfect experience.
“I want to know everyone’s preferences, down to whether they want an apartment in the city or the country,” she adds. “We can really tailor the experience to each person.”
Checking All The Boxes
Afzal is excited to grow EquiConcierge and meet a need that exists in the market to really educate and help riders reach their goals of competing internationally.
“There are so many things that people may forget to do when considering their international riding career,” says Afzal, who adds that the paperwork was a difficult part of the process for her. “Riders need recommendation letters from trainers, there are several forms and guidelines to follow, things I had no idea about when I decided to make the move.”
Afzal wants to be that resource to make sure riders check all the boxes when making the trip overseas.
Since her arrival in Europe, she has worked to meet, network, and befriend as many people as possible so she may pass her connections down to her clients.
Riders interested in starting a show jumping career abroad can find more information about EquiConcierge and Afzal on the company’s Instagram page, @equiconcierge.
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