Making Money, and Spending

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Just as there are always ways to make money…so are there always ways to spend it. Nature, with her majestic sense of mischief, provides that for every dollar made there arises a dollar’s worth of spending that otherwise would not exist. The man who invented double-entry bookkeeping was a genius. For just as you bring nothing into this life, so must you take nothing out. The sum of energy and mass in the universe is always constant. Credits must equal debits; everything must balance out.

These thoughts brought a smile to our face as we wandered around the Lion d’Angers yesterday. Lion d’Angers is a place in the Loire Valley. It is also a great sports attraction — a Super Bowl of sorts for the horse world — where people do “three-day eventing,” the sport that cost Christopher Reeves his life. The first day, the riders do dressage. The second, they compete at cross-country. On the third day, the horses jump over a series of obstacles.

We are not fans of spectator sports, among which we would rank three-day eventing somewhere between golf and tennis; that is, not as boring as golf and less exciting than tennis. But at least there is always the hope that a rider will take a fall and be carried off on a stretcher.

Lion d’Angers is an international competition. Riders come from all over the world to compete. There were teams from Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, and even the Ukraine. But there were no American riders for some reason. The closest thing to a U.S. presence was one horse on the French team named Key West, owned by none other than Madame Bonner. So, yes, we had a dog in this race. Even so, your editor couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for it. Like baseball, there are long stretches when nothing much happens. And then when something does happen, it is a bit of a letdown. A horse gallops up and jumps over a few bars. Bravo! That is what he is expected to do. The excitement only comes in small units, when something unexpected happens, such as when the horse stumbles and falls, crushing the rider beneath him. This doesn’t happen very often, and did not happen yesterday. But when it does, the crowd feels vaguely guilty for wishing it on him. It’s very much like a group of gawkers at a hanging, eagerly waiting for the trap door to open and the rope to stretch…and then they feel a bit sorry for the man at the end of it.

The most serious teams, the English especially, came with lavish equipment and entourages. They drove over with several horses in enormous vans, equipped with small apartments. Elizabeth explained how the business works:

“These are horse breeders. They know that if their horses do well they’ll be able to sell either these horses or their offspring for a lot of money.”

“How much money?”

“Well, a decent performer will go for about $50,000. A real winner with the characteristics that people are looking for, such as a good Anglo-Arab with plenty of Arabian blood, can go for $150,000 or more. People spend a lot of money on this sport.”

But Elizabeth proves that the sport is open to amateurs, too. She bought a horse fairly cheaply and found a rider to mount him (she rides well herself, but not quite at that level). If the horse did well, she figured, she could sell him or put him at stud and at least double her investment.

The final event, yesterday, was the jumping. Poor Key West seemed a bit tired. He knocked down one of the poles. This alone would not be too damaging, but it was a tight race, and the defending champion had just done the course without touching a single one.

The next rider, an Italian, also cleared all the hurdles, despite the fact that a white and black dog had gotten loose and chased him all around the track yelping at his horse’s hooves.

“That happened at another competition I attended,” Elizabeth noted. “A dog got away from one of the trainers and chased someone around. The horse spooked and the rider fell off; he broke his shoulder and was disqualified. You can imagine how the poor dog owner felt.”

We never found out how yesterday’s dog owner felt, but we could imagine. At the end of the day, a girl came up to us with the dog on a leash. “Do you know whose dog this is?” she asked. She had been going all over the field trying to match the dog with its owner. No one admitted ownership. Evidently, the owner was too mortified to claim him.

The winners were finally announced, late in the day. By then, we had found a bar and managed to spend a few happy hours discussing the business with a friend.

“It’s a terrible business,” he explained. “It costs a fortune to buy, train, feed, and transport these horses. But people like it. It’s a bit like the restaurant business. I had a restaurant. It was fun…for about two weeks. Then, it was a nightmare. The horse breeding business it a bit like that. But maybe not…people love to get plaques and trophies that they can put on their wall.”

The winner of the six-year-olds (horses, not riders) was a young German woman, while the local favorite, last year’s champion, a Frenchman with considerable élan, won the prize for the seven-year-olds. He had style, taking a nice victory lap around the course, raising his hat in the air. He reminded us of one of Colonel Grandmaison’s cavalry, who looked so handsome and so elegant just before the German machine-gunners cut them to pieces.

But the list of prizes was as long as the ceremony. Elizabeth’s horse, Key West, was at the very end of them — number 14. He didn’t win. But at least he placed; he is “classe,” as they say.

Elizabeth got an oval, blue plaque about the size of a hot plate. “Did you win any money?” we asked.

“Yes, about $150.”

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.

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