Being a young professional in the equestrian industry is difficult. There are many aspiring professional riders and horse trainers, which makes it hard to stand out, and there are even more older and proven ones who have more experience in their left boot than you have altogether.
So what makes you different? What makes someone decide to pick you over one of your peers, when they cannot get a proven professional? What do you have to offer? I ask myself these questions frequently and sometimes the best answer I can come up with is that I’ll do it for cheaper than the rest, which isn’t exactly something I want to hang my hat on.
Since officially trading in my amateur card last year, I have struggled to find a place for myself in this industry. Although I credit part of that to my extremely remote location in Northern Pennsylvania, the competition is steep when it comes to young professionals. And like any responsible horse owner should, they want the best they can afford.
I made choices growing up that did not put me in a position to have certain opportunities other riders did.
So when given the option between someone whose USEF record doesn’t show much of anything over 3’6” to someone easily recognizable, who started riding grand prix horses during their junior years, and rode under some of the biggest names, the chances are most owners will pick the latter.
My resume is not as glamorous, that’s for sure. I don’t have big names to vouch for me. I have never ridden a big fancy equitation horse around a medals final course. I have never traveled across the country from show to show. I never had the money or desire to do those things.
When I was growing up, I watched my friends load up their horses on the trailer for horse shows while I brushed my 35-year-old leopard Appaloosa. I waited with him while his grain soaked and turned into a soup soft enough for him to eat.
While my friends traded up from horses that jumped 2-foot to horses that jumped 3-foot, I worked with an OTTB whose owner had dumped at the barn and long since stopped paying her board bills. He hadn’t seen a hard brush in almost two years and I felt sorry for him. I got him back to riding and jumping after the passing of my appy, and the barn owner sold him to recoup her some of her losses.
I rode my mom’s wonder mare for a couple of local show seasons and a climbed on the naughty school ponies. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I had saved up enough money from the tooth fairy and birthday parties that I could afford to buy my own horse. I bought a just turned four-year-old Clydesdale cross with only eight months under saddle because he was what I could afford. I have owned him for seven years now and he has been the best teacher and partner I could have ever wisher for.
In college, I rode for an IHSA team because it was free and I learned how to ride western because I had always wanted to try it. Later, I took a colt-breaking class, fell in love with the little dun gelding I broke, and after graduation I cried like a baby when my coach offered to sell him to me for way less than he was worth.
I made choices growing up that did not put me in a position to have certain opportunities other riders did. I never leased or owned horses until my skill set outgrew theirs and then traded them in for a newer model, something that was younger or could jump higher. I do not mean to take anything away from these riders—their talents are truly remarkable and I envy them.
But I do not ever wish I had made different choices. I chose not to just become a better rider, but to become a better horseman.
Many horse trainers, especially young ones, will explain to potential clients why they are the best trainer for their horse, maybe even mention some of their many riding accomplishments. This is usually a successful approach, but I will never say I am the best trainer because that would be lie.
I as a trainer, a horseman, and as a person, like to believe I am always growing. Even if I were to magically end up among the greats in this business, there will always be something I can improve, always something I can learn, always a way for me to be better. This belief is what I think makes me stand out from my fellow aspiring professionals—actively voicing that I am not the best horse trainer.
I chose not to just become a better rider, but to become a better horseman.
I absolutely do not recommend just anyone to go around saying “I’m not the best horse trainer, but let me have a go at it.” Understandably, you need to have a lot of experience working and training horses before marketing yourself as a horse trainer. You should learn as much as you possibly can before becoming a professional and when you are confident in your abilities, learn more.
I am not the best horse trainer. But I care for every horse like he’s my own, I respect him, his worries, and his limitations, and I am grateful for every lesson he teaches me. I am not the best horse trainer, but I made choices to educate myself and continue to learn how to train great horses. I am not the best horse trainer, but I owe it to every client and more importantly every horse, to be the best horseman I can be today and every day.