An Uncomfy Truth

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Let’s talk about something uncomfortable, something that many people have the bliss of ignoring until it ends up affecting them or someone who they care for. Let’s talk about the culture of bullying in the horse world, something that affects riders of all backgrounds, ages and disciplines. Then, let’s also talk about the different path that minorities walk in the horse world. A path that leads them to being discriminated for things they have no control over. For being mistreated for simply being who they are. Something that most of us are fortunate to never have to experience. This isn’t to say that those who fall into the majority groups in society do not experience any sort of hardship but more so that said hardships will not be in relation to the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation or gender identity or a disability.

A little known fact about me is that my biological father is black. I was born with pale skin and because of this have been fortunate to never experience racism directed at me simply because of the fact that I am white passing. I have, however, seen racism directed at the people of colour within my family and have watched other members of the horse world be discriminated against. I cannot even begin to say that I even remotely understand what it is like. I cannot even begin to claim that I understand what it feels like to have veiled racist comments directed at me or to miss out on opportunities solely because the people with the ability to give out said opportunities are living in the stone ages. I don’t get it. But I want to. I want to use my platform for good. I want to be able to speak out on things that other members of the horse world may not be able to in fear of backlash. In fear of how it’ll be received. So, let’s talk.

I’ve been on social media a long time and have to say that largely, bullying is not taken overly seriously. May it be online or in barns, I’ve personally seen it ignored on numerous occasions. It oftentimes seems that it has to get to the point where the victim is in serious jeopardy and considering harming themselves before suddenly people clue in and be like “Oh, wait, this is unacceptable.” Now, when those in charge cannot relate to the problems minorities experience, the time period for them to snap out of this daze and take it seriously seems to take even longer. I’ve seen people excuse discriminatory remarks on the basis of “Oh, they’re just joking” or “Oh, you weren’t meant to see it, it was meant to be private” as though that some how excuses the fact that people were being decidedly derogatory to a certain group of people and deliberately putting them down because of an aspect of who they are as a person over which they have no control. Frankly, this is complete and utter bull shit. We need to stop excusing intolerance and take it seriously no matter how small the audience. Even if a friend makes a hateful remark just to you, it speaks volumes about who they are as a person and what their views are. This type of mindset could be shut down right there before it is ever voiced to a larger crowd.

I think the biggest contributor to these types of hateful behaviours being excused is that those excusing said behaviour are often not affected by it. It is easy to say something isn’t a big deal or that someone shouldn’t take it to heart when such negativity is never directed at you. Most of us go about life never having to worry about being who we are. We can love who we love, be who we are, all without worrying about being targeted because of it. Others are not so lucky and while we may not be able to understand the paths they walk in life, we need to be sensitive enough to be there as a support group and shut down certain attitudes that we have allowed to continue for far too long in the horse world.

This is a call out post for any of you who have friends that may participate in bullying or discrimination. For any companies who have employees, ambassadors or sponsors who do this. We need to stop justifying these behaviours. We need to be better. This isn’t to say that we should be unaccepting of people’s ability to change when they make a mistake but that we shouldn’t downplay the severity of said “mistakes” or ignore when there is a pattern of behaviour that alludes to it being more than a mere lapse in thinking. By adopting a zero tolerance policy for cyber bullying, racist commentary, homophobia/transphobia and ableism, we make it uncomfortable for those with intolerant mindsets to openly share their hate speech. And uncomfortable they should be. Frankly, it is not our place to make people feel small for being different than whatever we personally believe to be a societal norm.

Now, onto the cyber bullying aspect of the horse world. This includes hate groups, posts in bad taste and more. I experienced this at an absolute peak in high school where I was relentlessly bullied by one individual in particular and, to be honest, despite the severity of such bullying and the number of people targeted by said person, it was never really taken seriously. We merely lucked out that no one was pushed to self harming or suicide but if it had gone that far, I can guarantee the tone of those in charge and with the ability to make change would change in the blink of an eye. So, why, are we so complacent prior to it getting to that point? Does someone need to be outwardly exhibiting signs of emotional agony before we decide that the bullying is ongoing long enough to be taken seriously? It really shouldn’t come to that. In other scenarios, in the past, I’m sure that I’ve been the bully as well. We have all said and done things we regret, but how seriously we take them and how remorseful we choose to be is what makes the difference. An apology is moot if it isn’t followed by a change in behaviour.

As a bystander, it can be uncomfortable to speak out but if you sit and watch people go on a tear and go out of their way to hurt and demean people, you are almost as responsible as the bully themselves. By standing by and listening to your friends be bullies, you are silently agreeing with them, reaffirming their opinions and making them feel comfortable in acting in the manner that they do. It can be hard to break free, especially when peer pressure is so strong. But, I think it is imperative that we remind ourselves how serious the consequences of mistreating others can be. I don’t believe that most people online and in the real world offline are out to destroy the lives of others or hurt those they speak ill of. I feel that most bullies would feel immense guilt if they bullied someone to their suicide, but hindsight is 20/20. We need to learn how to check ourselves and take a step back before ever getting close to ruining someone’s life. Humans by nature will say and do mean things at times but if it becomes a pattern of behaviour we condone in ourselves and others, it becomes a huge problem.

Speak out. Don’t be afraid to shutdown bullying when you see it. If we make a habit of calling out oppression when we see it and break free of the mob mentality, we make it a lot harder for those doing the bullying to do it comfortably. To believe it’s okay. We can make the horse world a safer place for children and adults alike. We can become more inclusive. The only thing stopping us from doing so is the insistence that this is “just the way the horse world is” or “it’s the internet, what do you expect?” because complacency is what provides bullies strength. Complacency allows those in the wrong to be free in continuing their actions. Complacency is harmful. We all need to do better, before it’s too late.

My Journey into the Thoroughbred Racing World

Galloping my favourite boy, Roger in 2018.

Galloping my favourite boy, Roger in 2018.

After a lengthy career on the Arabian Horse circuit, I eventually made the switch to yet another hot blooded breed, the Thoroughbred. My interest in Thoroughbreds first began with those off the track. I got my first Thoroughbred off of the racetrack when I was just 16 years old, a 4 year old mare who had two starts under her belt. She was the quintessential hot blooded, sensitive Thoroughbred mare and taught me a lot. Soon enough, I got another OTTB, this time a 5 year old with over 30 more starts under his belt, such handling on the track created an exceptional minded, sweet horse that was an absolute pleasure to retrain and was able to learn things like bridleless riding in a matter of weeks.

Eventually, my thirst for everything Thoroughbred extended past working with them off of the racetrack. I wanted to ride racehorses and like a LOT of OTTB owners out there, I naively assumed that my experience in working with them off the track would make the transition to gallop riding an easy one. I began contacting farms to see if they were looking for riders and/or willing to teach me. Eventually, I found someone who started the teaching process. My first ride on a Thoroughbred racehorse was a bit “fake” if you ask me, because I first got on a baby, who had never raced. This meant the horse was a lot easier to ride than literally anything else I would get on. I loped around without even knowing how to properly bridge my reins, despite the trainer’s attempts to teach me. The explanation given just wasn’t there. Eventually, I got on something that had raced and was promptly run off on. Not flat out, just faster than what I would’ve wanted to go. My arms were burning. My legs aching. I could taste blood. I had literally attempted to hold back a freight train without even effectively bridging my reins and still, I hadn’t had the full dose of reality of what it was like to ride a fit racehorse.

The trainer that started my initial gallop training only worked with me about three times before sustaining an injury rendering him incapable of teaching me. This is how I found my current boss, who back then agreed to try me out as a rider and finish my training but only after reminding me that only one out of every 10 Gallop riders they try actually work out. I was determined to be that one in 10 . Upon arriving to her farm for the first time, they were astonished by my lack of ability to hold a cross and wondered aloud: “How the hell were you galloping without one?” Definitely was on some pretty easy horses… That’s for sure. Anyways, within minutes they gave me the rundown of how to use a cross and I understood it this time. The first horse I went out on was a 4 year old dappled grey gelding named Travis. We did a jog lap in company with a more experienced rider, it went great. I was feeling confident, had my cross down pat. Awesome. We started our gallop lap, back tracking (going to the right) to keep the horses less strong. We made it down one long side and around a corner before Travis started to leave. I made the rookie mistake of panicking slightly, tensing and losing half of my cross. Travis was gone.

If you’ve ever galloped a Thoroughbred and I mean GALLOPED and I mean THOROUGHBRED, you’ll know the fear that comes with losing control of one at a break neck speed. No other breed of horse can open up like a Thoroughbred. You might think your Warmblood is fast, but no, they cannot gallop like a Thoroughbred. In fact, in the case of my Warmblood, they really don’t have a gallop at all… Not like that. Thoroughbreds are freaks of nature. The wind whips your face and brings tears to your eyes, you can feel them increasing speed with every stride, completely and utterly out of control and running faster than anything you’ve ever ridden before (unless you have, in fact, ridden a Thoroughbred racehorse on a racetrack). It is TERRIFYING. The prospect of falling off at that speed feels like a death sentence. I tried and tried to pull Travis up before the next corner but to no avail. We had about 5 seconds from him getting away from me to entering the corner and completely blowing through it (our training track does not have rails), off of the track, off of the 3 foot bank and into the tall grass. I thought we were going to fall. I thought I was going to break the legs of what I imagine was a very expensive horse. Luckily, he landed fine and pulled up in the grass. Some how, we didn’t hit any holes. Incredibly, incredibly lucky. And completely utterly terrifying.

I sheepishly brought Travis back onto the track, looking over where the head trainer and owner of this particular horse had been watching. I knew right then that I was not getting hired. This was it, I’d blown my chance. I was not the one in ten. The absolute worst thing that could have possibly happened on my first horse did happen. I tried to shove the disappointment aside and keep a positive attitude. My legs and arms felt like jelly and my muscles were visibly vibrating from the immense effort they had put forth to stop Travis, the adrenaline and the fear.

Well, that was fast. Do you want to get on another?

Shocked by the offer to ride again and although part of me wanted to decline it, due to my muscular fatigue and the fear that the same thing would happen all over again, I said yes. Yes, of course. I knew that if I said no, that was the end right there, I wouldn’t be welcomed back. The next horse I got on was young and had not yet raced. This time, it went well, no bolting. And so, I earned another chance and was allowed back to ride at this farm.

The learning curve for gallop riding is steep. You either start to get it or don’t. You have to figure it out pretty damn quick or bolting is a frequent occurrence. I got on easier horses for the next few days of learning to gallop but eventually the time came where I was asked: “Do you want to get on Travis again?” I didn’t, but I said yes anyways. My heart was pounding the first time I got back on him and I’ll admit, I was pretty scared of the same thing happening again but ending worse. I was prepared this time, though, and while he was still very strong, he was controllable and from overcoming my fear, getting on him again and having it go well, my confidence began to grow. I started to get thrown on harder horses before I was completely thrown to the wolves a month into my gallop riding when the head gallop rider at the time went on vacation for over a month. I was galloping at least 10 horses a day, 6 days week, many of them a lot more difficult to ride than the ones we had now. I did get run off on a few more times. Just not as fast. Not as out of control and everyday, I learned more and more tactics on how to control a bolting horse or how to stay on a horse that was completely and utterly losing its marbles.

That entire first year of galloping, I never stopped being sore. By my second year, getting fit again after a winter break was easier. I had an easier time maintaining the horses. I still got taken for a ride by a few horses that year. First was Indy, an absolute freight train of a gelding built like a linebacker. He took me for a blitz down one long side, making me reminisce about Travis for a short time before I got him pulled back and under control. Next, a horse we had in for the beginning of the season, named Spinner, took off on me right when I was in the middle of pulling her up and we blasted by the other gallop rider and all the way to the back corner of the track before pulling up. Every time this happened, my heart was racing and I was incredibly alert. Afraid. Utterly aware of the exceptional athleticism of the Thoroughbred racehorse and just how quickly they can accelerate and get away from you.

Indy, the freight train.

Indy, the freight train.

The more I learned about their athleticism through their ability to run like the wind in the blink of an eye or their ability to be airborne and turned around in .2 seconds, the more I respected the Thoroughbred horse. They can walk on two legs, you know. They can also bronc better than a lot of the rankest horses and do all sorts of acrobatics that would probably astonish the average person. These horses are too athletic for their own good and you constantly have to be aware of what you’re doing and ready to think yourself out of a dangerous situation in a matter of seconds. You don’t have time to question yourself, you have to make a decision and just do whatever you can to diffuse whatever situation you find yourself in this time. You have to be clever and confident in your decisions. You have to be able to swing your leg over yet another horse after the last one scared the shit out of you. This job really isn’t for the faint of heart and if I hadn’t been so cocky going into it, maybe I would’ve done better. I don’t think anyone can fully paint the picture of how strong, agile and active these horses are until you’re physically on one. It isn’t like a jumper rider saying “oh, my horse is strong” , the comparison is moot. Your horse who is arena broke and never ridden on a track where they can accelerate to their full speed is nowhere near as strong as a racehorse.

My third season galloping was the first one where I never got bolted on. Sure, horses would scoot forward for a few strides or spook. Sure, I had lots of moments where my horses showed me some incredible acrobatic movements, but, I never lost control of one. Being bolted on by a Thoroughbred far outweighs any fear I’ve ever had in moments where I’ve almost been bronced off, reared on or in some cases, nearly had horses flipped on me. Bolting at mach 10 still takes the cake for the most absolutely terrifying thing ever, especially when it is on a private track, with no rails and no outrider to come and save you.

I’m now starting my fourth season as a gallop rider and am pleased to say that we have some of the nicest horses we’ve ever had. A lot of the silliest and strongest ones have either calmed down and grown up or have moved onto different trainers or different careers. In getting on the number of horses I have the last 4 seasons, though, I’ve learned an incredible amount about quick thinking, problem solving and bravery. Out on the racetrack, you cannot plan or prepare for things that will happen to you. There are far too many variables. Different things that can set your mount off. You just have to be ready to deal with them when the come. Galloping racehorses has vastly improved me as a rider. If I can stay on in a paper thin gallop saddle, I can stay on in a regular English saddle. If someone’s show horse tries to bolt on me, I laugh and ask them why they dare test me when I get on racehorses. I’m more prepared to handle situations that would have scared the daylights out of me in the past and I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about wound and leg care along with wrapping and other aspects of taking care of athletes or rehabbing them from injury.

So, to OTTB owners out there interested in galloping: Do not be like me. Do not kid yourself into thinking that riding your OTTB around the arena is even remotely preparing you for the racetrack. I would get on even some of our silliest horses bareback in a halter in an arena, I don’t care, where can they really go? The racetrack is another story. Make sure you’re physically fit and I mean FIT if you want to have the easiest time picking up galloping. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life right now, from galloping and riding dressage and because of this, galloping has gotten easier and easier for me every year. Make sure you’re brave. Don’t kid yourself, be honest. If bucking, spooking, rearing etc scare you in an arena, I can promise you’ll it’ll be a lot more terrifying on a racetrack, especially when dozens of young horses are galloping and being silly around you, thereby further setting off the horse you’re on. Galloping is very much the art of just sitting there as quietly as possible, waiting for the bomb between your legs to diffuse itself. People who have a tendency to grab onto their horses’ mouths, tense or get nervous often make the situation much worse, just like I did with Travis.

I don’t fall often, but when I do, you can pretty much guarantee that it’ll be at the racetrack. One of the babies we had last year dumped me more times than I stayed on. He would literally throw his head down and pull my whole body over his head while broncing. Never trust a 17.2hh baby horse. Other times, horses have been galloping and then suddenly decide to start their reining career with an impressive sliding stop and roll back, leaving me hovering mid air on an invisible horse much like Mermaid Man, before lightly hitting the ground and wondering where the hell my horse went. Luckily, none of my falls have really been anything dangerous. The worst of them have just gotten the wind knocked out of me, I’ve been very lucky. My worst injuries have been from sport horses (like my own, the lovely Milo). But, injuries on the track certainly are not uncommon and as far as jobs go, gallop riding is definitely the most dangerous that I’ve had. I’ll keep you guys posted how this year goes for falls, so far we are looking good!

The other thing to keep in mind when pursuing a career as a gallop rider, or any type of rider, for that matter, is that your position is largely irreplaceable. To put this in perspective, it means that unlike with a food service job or customer service, you can’t just call in sick… Unless you’re like, actually dying. Unless you’re working alongside a group of other gallop riders with flexible availability, farms can’t just call in someone to ride and work the horses like you do. They simply can’t. This year, I have more help than I did in the past but while working as the main gallop rider for this farm, I’ve ridden while horribly hungover, while sick and with a broken hand (not from the racehorses but from my shithead show horse, Milo). The same goes for a lot of jobs in the horse industry because no one can replace your knowledge of the horses you work with and your knowledge of the job in general. This job, for many years, was a 6 day a week job waking up early and heading right into training. At the beginning of the previous two seasons, I was working 7 days a week. This year, because the trainer has cut back the amount of horses and because I’m pursuing more work in the sport horse realm of the industry, I won’t be galloping quite as much once the races start but generally speaking, this is a job that you are at day in and day out. You have to remember that people count on you and if you get into the industry, you really don’t want to let them down. It has taught me a lot about a work ethic because of this and has really forced me to learn the value of hard work and

You can be an absolutely incredible rider, too, and never be able to pick up galloping. Some of the best riders I’ve ever known have struggled to pick up the knack of holding back a racehorse. It doesn’t make them bad riders, just a different kind of rider. People who boldly ride at 1.40m jumps without batting an eye may be terrified when they get on a 3 year old ticking time bomb with a rearing problem. It takes a certain type of rider, perhaps a crazy one, or one who is willing to ignore their fear like I did until it subsides completely (honestly, if we took a scan of my brain during hectic rides, people would probably be concerned at the lack of reactivity at this point… sometimes, it concerns me).

Getting into the racing world has absolutely changed me as a rider for the better. Knowing how these horses are handled and ridden on the track has greatly improved my ability to retrain them for new careers and to problem solve when certain behaviours arrive. It has also given me an immense appreciation for the Thoroughbred horse and how absolutely incredible they are. I stated before that they can be hard to manage on the track, which is true, but there are so many things about young Thoroughbred racehorses that are superior to even seasoned show horses. These horses see so much at the track that for their age, they often are not really spooky. Also, the biggest thing I’ve noticed this year is their adaptability. Our horses went from October to February off to being tacked up and immediately having a rider legged up on them. Even my show horse would have a bronc fit and act like he’d never seen a saddle before, let alone a rider, but not these racehorses. They march out to the track like they’ve never had time off and cope with coming back into worth like all stars, no lunging required. Our horses roar around the track next to a busy road, ignoring semi trucks and load vehicles. Going past coyotes when they make their way onto the track. While they scare and humble me sometimes, Thoroughbred racehorses are truly incredible horses and there isn’t any other breed that I would feel safer on out on the track, getting on after months off.

Thoroughbreds are it.

Self Doubt in Riding: Everyone has it

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We watch riders of all different levels, in all different disciplines, completing some truly amazing feats. We see people’s work with problem horses, turning them into something incredible, a far cry from what they used to be. We watch our idols with utter respect, viewing them as unwaveringly confident, people who are up for anything and ready to handle all sorts of different horses, ride through all sorts of different questions without batting an eye. We assume that those we look up to have it all figured out, that they never question themselves, that they never have lapses in their confidence or their own judgment. We couldn’t be more wrong.

There is the assumption that once a rider hits a certain level of training or competition, they’re set and have it all figured out. There is the idea that once a rider declares as professional, they no longer need guidance and are able to problem solve everything on there own, that they have utter confidence in their abilities at all times. While the need for outside support starts to dissipate more as riders gain experience, the belief that riders above your skill level no longer experience lapses in their confidence is completely untrue. Self doubt is something that everyone on this planet experiences and will continue to experience, even the people at the top of the top within their respective talents. Self-assurance grows with experience, but life is not a linear journey and there will always be instances that arise where we start to doubt our decision making or our ability to accomplish a certain feat. Such thoughts typically arise during the tough parts of life and often times, the people experiencing said thoughts never vocalize them, they remain internal, thus no one ever really finds out that said person was doubting their own abilities.

Let’s talk about me, for example. I have tons of videos of me riding through horses’ crazy antics. I typically seem to purchase horses straight off the racetrack or rescued horses that come with baggage. Because of this, a lot of the positive comments on these types of videos are about me being brave or people wishing that they had my confidence. It is a funny thing to read, people assuming that my confidence is concrete, that in any given scenario, I haven’t ever experienced hardship or doubt. Let’s take my main competition horse, Milo, for example. Dealing with him has been a ride and a half. I started out with a scrawny little two year old who has now developed into a coming seven year old that is a far cry from the horse I initially adopted. Along this journey of training him, I have hit a ridiculous amount of road blocks and I sure as hell have doubted myself and my abilities. Training young horses is generally a ton of small steps forward and in some instances, a landslide backwards. When I first began working with Milo, when things wouldn’t come together quickly or when we had bad days, I always blamed myself. I was frustrated, convinced that I would never have a horse who would be able to do this or that. I only really voiced such thoughts to my mother, who luckily was around to act like a voice of reason. My amount of self doubt during the initial year or so of having Milo was high. I’d never closely worked with a horse who had so much baggage, so much reactivity and it was a steep learning curve. But, looking back, I do wish I’d had more faith in my abilities and more patience with what I was doing.

My lack of patience is largely directed at myself and to this day, when I feel impatient with how slowly training is moving along, my first go to is to blame me. I’m doing something wrong. Someone else could do this better, why is this not happening quicker for me? I had similar concerns in my work with Simon, my most recent rescued problem horse who had an extreme fear of people when he arrived and could not be touched let alone haltered or really handled by people. Simon’s arrival was a bit of a shock. I’d bought him at an auction where he was going to otherwise sell to a kill buyer. I really did not have much information on him but much of the horses there had been handled and at least halter broke, so I had the assumption that he would at least be halter broke (really stupid, do not have any standards when buying from an auction). It was a rude awakening when he arrived. Achieving the initial contact was tedious. He wanted nothing to do with people at all. He could be nasty, aggressive and would attack if he felt threatened. As weeks went by, the progress was at a snail’s pace. Especially when being limited by the fact that the horses were in quarantine and could only be in a specific area, I could not use a round pen and I had another horse loose with him while trying to work with him, otherwise he would try to jump over the stall door to escape. I told my mom that I didn’t ever believe Simon would get better. That he hated me. That I must be doing something wrong. But, the key here is that while saying all of these things, I never gave up. Putting myself down and doubting myself was the outlet for the frustration I was feeling with the lack of progress.

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It seemed to happen all at once. Suddenly, Simon was at the door waiting for me. Letting me pet him. Taking treats out of my hand calmly, without the aggression he had in the beginning. Eventually, being haltered. Then, being halter broke. Then, wearing a blanket. Eventually, it was him carrying me as a rider and being an incredible student for his first rides under saddle, a sensible young horse who was a far cry from the terrified, aggressive pony that I’d initially worked with. What I was doing DID work, it just happened very very slowly, then all at once after initial contact was made. I hadn’t ever really had the opportunity to work with a feral pony like Simon, though. I doubted my ability to do right by him because of the time it took to do so. But, I never pushed him too hard. I patiently waited for him to take treats out of my hand and spent an awful lot of hours just sitting near him so he would have to get used to my preference and eventually, eat his food that was near me. Nothing I did was negatively affecting the horse, other than minimal stress that came with his fear of me being present. And yet, I blamed myself and was ridiculously hard on myself for not having the exact same timeline as other trainers, even though other trainers were working with different horses, different resources and had varying levels of experience.

I would assume that most riders and trainers, even Olympians, would experience doubts like I have. Nerves when entering the show ring, fear that they won’t succeed, that they won’t do right by the people who are out there cheering them on. Worries that client horses are not moving on quick enough, that perhaps they are not the right fit for them. Even in cases where you have lots of experience, doubting yourself during hard times is perfectly normal. In fact, I would question people who claim to never had feelings of doubt, considering questioning oneself in such a dangerous sport is probably a large part of ensuring safety. Anyways, couple this uncertainty with mental health issues like anxiety or depression and you’ve got the perfect cocktail of self doubt. It is important to be able to take that step back and realize where your negative thoughts are going. Realize what is connected to your own personal anxieties or what leads you on the path to self-deprecation. For me, largely these doubts are linked to my anxiety disorder. I often doubt my ability to do the most minuscule of tasks, things I’ve done over and over again with my eyes closed. I doubt my ability to properly latch the gate that I latch everyday without fail. I doubt my ability to set my alarm in the morning, despite the fact that 99.9% of the time when I double check, it is set. I doubt my ability to send texts to the right people, checking in a panic in the off chance I sent one to a complete stranger or the wrong person in my contacts. I doubt myself in pretty much any aspect of my life that you could possibly think of. I’m aware of it and I’m largely aware of the cause of it, but I still do it. Constantly. And guess what? Lots of people do. You are not alone.

So, here’s to sparking a conversation related to the realities of living life in general but even more so when working with such unpredictable animals. Doubt is normal. Anxiety is an incredibly normal feeling and many of the riders and trainers who you respect experience the feeling of anxiety or in a lot of cases, might even have an actual anxiety disorder. I can also attest to the fact that there are a number of riders who continue to work and grind whilst battling depression. Everyone has their road blocks. Their issues that they are working through. Everyone doubts themselves sometimes. It is just important to never let that prevent you from continuing to try.

Don’t be afraid to own your anxieties. Don’t be afraid to be open about your doubts. There is a whole crowd of people just like you that will exhale deeply with relief when you admit to such common human characteristics that many people ignore and pretend don’t exist. So, hi there, I hear you. I doubt myself too and I know how hard it can be to try to make it in the horse world while experiencing personal anxieties along with worrying about the judgments of others. I know what it’s like and want you to know that you are not alone, far from it, actually.



Have Healthy Competition... With Yourself

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Equestrians are always on the pursuit of perfection. Having exceptional rides, perfect equitation and a horse who always does what it is told. Often times, we buy into watching the videos of other riders, professionals and junior/amateurs alike. We watch the progress of other riders on social media, mainly watching what realistically is their highlight reels, and apply it to ourselves. We look at people riding horses with different levels of experience, varying quirks and completely different talents but choose to hold ourselves and our horses to similar standards. Instead of appreciating the few steps of improvement that occur per ride, as is usual with green horses and in our riding skills, we focus on what we are not doing. What other people are doing with their own mounts that we have yet to do with ours. We focus on the end goal and forget all about the journey to get there.

Such mindsets are far too often bred by the unrealistic expectations that equestrians impose on each other. It seems like nowadays, people would rather pretend that they never experience hardships or plateaus in their riding and choose to target those who may share the reality of their riding online. Even in cases where riders are experiencing difficulties due to lack of support, equestrians often turn to attacking each other rather than remaining understanding and offering a helping hand. The fact of the matter is that riding is hard. There is a ridiculous amount of things that riders learn over the course of many many years and no matter how much you improve or how good you get, there are always ways to be better. Do better. It is a constant competition, a race with ourselves, but instead of competing with ourselves, many of us choose to compare our learning journey to that of people we largely do not know. Or, even if we do, who in most cases are on an entirely different path than us in one way or another. This leads to poor self esteem and riders being too hard on themselves, forgetting about the things they’ve done correctly, gotten better at or what they’ve learned recently. They negate their improvements that are specific to their riding and instead focus on what they can’t do. What other riders are doing better. It is so ridiculously hard to stay motivated if the focus is on others and what they’re doing.

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By shifting away from what you have improved on and how you’ve grown as a rider in the weeks, months, or years you have been riding, you are choosing to stall your progress with negative thinking. Staying motivated in riding is so much about being aware of more than just your weaknesses. You need to know your strengths. Instead of constantly reminding yourself of what you have yet to fix in your riding, think about what you’ve improved. What you’ve mastered. The little things that you’ve done that sets you apart from the rider that you used to be previously. It can be something as small as getting a nice stride of sitting trot, getting that much better at posting the trot. Sitting your first canter. Cantering over your first ground pole. Anything from the basics to the upper levels of mastery in the horse world such as starting to understand the building blocks to developing good lead changes, jumping around large tracks or teaching a horse the piaffe. Improvement is totally relative to where you are in your riding career and what sort of obstacles yourself and your horse experience that are specific to BOTH OF YOU. No one else will be the exact same as you. Horses and riders have different mental blocks or physical blocks. Your friend, Stacy, may have lovely heels that always stay down while you struggle with keeping your weight in your heels. Some people have greater flexibility and thus have an easier means of achieving certain aspects of equitation, while some riders may have an easier time getting their legs in the correct position, perhaps your strengths lie in your shoulders, your seat or your hands. That is totally okay.

Try to break the negative mindset. While remaining mindful of what the most pressing areas for improvement are is something that is important, also remind yourself of your strengths at the same time. Break the negative cycle. Yes, you may need work on tightening up your leg. That’s great that you are aware of it and focused on fixing it, you should be proud of your level of motivation and ability to self critique. Good for you. Wanting to improve is such an important aspect of good horsemanship. Now, remind yourself of what you’ve gotten better at. Perhaps, you’re having an easier time controlling your horse’s speed or getting the correct distance. Applaud yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back. Riding is hard, some people will never swing their leg over a horse in fear of riding. You’re doing something a lot of people will never attempt. You are focused and motivated and want to improve in a sport where many people give up or grow out of it. YOU ARE SPECIAL.

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Stop seeking the approval of others. There will always be critics. Realistically, if you have a positive outlook on riding, are kind to your horses and want to improve, what reason do people ACTUALLY have to critique you. Sure, they can be petty, but they’re taking time out of their day to be rude to someone who is actively bettering themselves while they are horses out there suffering because of the people who refuse to do the same. They are choosing to say ugly words instead of focusing on themselves and being aware of the fact that other riders are doing the exact same and do not need harsh criticism. Why did you get into riding? I’m guessing for yourself, not other people. Anyone who serves only to belittle you and make you feel bad about yourself is not out to help you improve or better your riding. Look to those in your life who are motivated to make you a better rider and who elevate you, not knock you down.

Set realistic goals. Don’t beat yourself up for bad rides or setbacks. Everyone has them. Everyone. Many people just like to pretend they don’t. Even the best riders you know have had their struggles or felt stuck in their riding. No one is on a constant upward trend of improvement. If this sport were that easy, it would be a lot more boring. Having self worth is important and do not be afraid to be proud of yourself. Do not be ashamed for celebrating goals. Anyone who puts down your personal growth because of how it compares to theirs is not someone you want in your life. Everyone in the horse world was once a beginner and frankly, the best riders out there do not waste their time going out of their way to try to make those who are learning feel small.

In horses, ignorance is not bliss. No question you will ever ask is a stupid question. Anyone who makes you feel dumb for seeking knowledge, for wanting to educate yourself, is the person at fault. Not you. By asking questions and actually looking for the correct answers to things you’ve yet to learn, you are merely broadening your perspective on the horse world and filling in what would otherwise be holes in your knowledge base. So, please, ask lots of questions. Bring other riders up instead of down and, most importantly, remind yourself of how awesome you are and what things you are doing great. Don’t be afraid to celebrate your progress. Don’t be afraid to remind yourself you are worthy of success and that great things will happen if you keep working hard and being motivated to learn. Instead of fixating on beating other riders, focus on beating the rider you were yesterday.

There is Nothing Like a Thoroughbred

George AKA Bionic, 2019 RRP Horse.

George AKA Bionic, 2019 RRP Horse.

When I was fifteen, I met my first OTTB. Little did I know that this would be a life changing event, the beginning of a grand passion and the start of many lessons that these horses would teach me. While I had been riding a while, I was inexperienced with OTTBs and looking back, it definitely showed. My first OTTB that I trained was a 4 year old mare who I named Maya. She raced a handful of times under the name Princess Peanut and was an absolutely atrocious racehorse. Maya was your stereotypical Thoroughbred, hot headed and sensitive. Looking back, I realize now that much of this sensitivity could be attributed to the fact that she would have definitively needed treatment for ulcers, something that was overlooked due to my lack of experience with the breed. In spite of this, she tried her heart out for me, doing everything I asked and always trying her best even if she was stressed and confused. Shortly after selling her onto a new sport horse home, I got my second OTTB. A 5 year old gelding who I named Dallas, he had a fairly successful racing career under the name Alybye on Fire. Dallas was a gentleman. Within a month since his last race, I was riding him bridleless. He was incredibly well mannered, kind and gentle. He did not spook and went from racehorse to teaching beginners the ropes of riding in a manner of months under an inexperienced and youthful trainer. I cannot take credit for much of what these horses offered me, they learned it all at the track and only now, 8 years later, do I realize how very unusual OTTBs are.

You see, a lot of people underestimate these horses. They do not realize how very much Thoroughbreds are exposed to in their racing days, from a very young age. The racetrack is a very loud and busy place with many of the horses at it being under 5 years of age. Just babies. Everyday, these horses are exercised in a high traffic area with many other young horses and often, crowds of people nearby. The racetrack is livelier and busier than most show venues a lot of horses will ever see but especially more than the first shows many people take their young horses out to. Thoroughbreds have to learn to cope with high traffic situations and loud noises. By the time they make it into an actual race, they’ve gotten used to being in the paddock prior to races with crowds of people watching them, loudly talking, pointing and in some cases, waving objects around. The people in attendance of races often are not horse people. They have no etiquette and the horses have to learn to cope with the unexpected. How to deal with high stress situations. Racehorses have to stay focused on their jobs whilst loud crowds are yelling and cheering, while people are waving and jumping around from the sidelines. They have to get used to running at breakneck speeds through traffic and not fear other horses in close vicinity of them. They learn how to be ponied from a very young age and do so in front of huge crowds prior to their races. They also are expected to stand for wrapping, poulticing and a number of other treatments while tied, all in a very busy environment. Most young horses of other breeds are exposed to a fraction of the same things.

In Fine Fashion, 2015 filly. First ride off the track, bridleless.

In Fine Fashion, 2015 filly. First ride off the track, bridleless.

By the time racehorses retire, they’ve seen a lot and learned a lot about the life of racing only to go onto another completely different career and in most cases, be very good at it. Thoroughbreds go from racehorse to show horse in a matter of months, adjusting to their new lifestyles with an ease that people should respect, even if their OTTBs exhibit stress whilst being introduced to said new lifestyle. It is such a great shift in the routine they once new and the job they once did that it is amazing to look at how fast these horses come around when under the right handler and trainer. Thoroughbreds try their heart out in a number of different careers and are quite literally the jack of all trades in a number of senses. Few other breeds start out their ridden careers in a polarizingly different career than the one they eventually settle into. Few other breeds jump to such different lifestyles in such a short period of time. The versatility of the Thoroughbred and their ability to adjust and learn with such willingness is really something to recognize. Time and time again, we see the truly incredible nature of this breed and their ability and willingness to learn and try their hearts out.

Though the popularity of the OTTB is increasing, the Thoroughbred, especially off the track, is far too often discounted in terms of ability and attitude. People stereotype the Thoroughbred as hot headed and crazy, making it not uncommon to see ads specifically stating “no Thoroughbreds” even if a Thoroughbred may be best suited to the job they are looking to fill. This is a travesty. The stereotypical Thoroughbred that no one seems to like only really comes into existence with poor handlers. You can find the very same anxious, fried horse in a number of difference breeds and realistically, the only thing to blame is more often than not the people who created such a horse in the first place. Thoroughbreds are typically more sensitive mounts but such sensitivity is an asset to a rider with the ability to be soft and know how to appropriately handle such an intelligent and willing animal. Thoroughbreds are less resilient to harsh handling and rough riders, less resilient to confusing aids and training holes. They are thinkers and if they are constantly told that they’re giving the wrong answer with no means to lead them to the right answer, they lose their minds and rightfully so.

Pic credit to @em.vibeequine on Instagram. OTTB competing to 2* level in New Zealand.

Pic credit to @em.vibeequine on Instagram. OTTB competing to 2* level in New Zealand.

I am a firm believer that a Thoroughbred can do anything. I’ve had consistently lovely horses off of the racetrack who have been able to cope with and handle numerous situations that I would not trust the vast majority of young horses in any other breed with. This isn’t because I’ve “lucked out” with what I’ve gotten, it is because of how they have been brought along. The more experience I gain with Thoroughbreds, they better they have been turning out. They more they’ve been able to do. The more unflappable they have been… And, honestly, once they get settled into their new lifestyles, it has just been so incredibly easy to get them to the point where they don’t bat an eye over things like dragging a tarp bridleless… Things that scare the pants off of much older, more experienced horses onlooking from their fields. Thoroughbreds are the greatest.

Before anyone gets offended, I totally understand breed preferences. As I’m sure you can tell by this post, I have my preferences. However, discounting the talent and abilities exhibited by these horses is unwarranted. Thoroughbreds have the talent and the try to get to the upper levels of many different sports, even more notably, a lot of them do it after having an entire career in racing. Incredible. Thoroughbreds used to be the mount of choice back in the day for disciplines like Show Jumping and Hunter/Jumper. Now, with the increasing popularity of Warmbloods, people often write off said talent despite the prevalence and success of Thoroughbreds in the past and present, most notably in eventing disciplines. And… they also tend to forget about the fact that Thoroughbreds are one of the reasons why and how Warmbloods exist today. The level of athleticism it takes a horse to compete at, let’s say, the 4* event level is exceptionally high. There is a reason why so many people choose to do that on a purebred Thoroughbred or at least, a Warmblood with lots of blood. Thoroughbreds have earned their place as a formidably talented breed that has exceptional resilience and ability to move from one career to another in the blink of an eye.

Thoroughbreds are stoic. They are often willing to run themselves into the ground if they are asked, which I suppose, is a problem if people are willing to take advantage of that. However, the amount of try these horses exhibit and the honesty and love they show their owners is truly something else. Thoroughbreds, of any breed, are the breed I trust the most to jump out of virtually any situation. Once they figure out their job and what it is all about, they often will go even when they shouldn’t. The same is to be said for the many other disciplines Thoroughbreds are seen in, everything from show jumping to polo to eventing to barrel racing and more… Thoroughbreds have been seen coming off the track and participating in a variety of entirely different disciplines and doing it well.

Penny’s Bracken, a 2014 OTTB. Went from racehorse to unflappable riding horse in 1.5 years. Was viewed by the Vancouver Police Department for a position as police horse, the first OTTB they’ve considered due to his sales video. Unfortunately, they decided his build was too slight for the job but he did have the brain for it.

Penny’s Bracken, a 2014 OTTB. Went from racehorse to unflappable riding horse in 1.5 years. Was viewed by the Vancouver Police Department for a position as police horse, the first OTTB they’ve considered due to his sales video. Unfortunately, they decided his build was too slight for the job but he did have the brain for it.

The timing of this post has everything to do with the Thoroughbred Makeover Project. If you have not heard of it and especially if you are someone who for whatever reason dislikes Thoroughbreds, go have a look at some of the finales from last year and see how many incredible Thoroughbreds there are excelling in numerous different sports in a matter of months since their last race. It is truly humbling to see what these horses can do and what they continue to do. I am absolutely ecstatic to have been accepted as one of the trainers for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover. It is an absolute dream come true to be able to represent the Thoroughbred breed and show off the talents of OTTBs in their new careers. I am so incredibly lucky to have a very special horse to do it on, too, Bionic AKA George, a 2015 BC-bred gelding. I galloped George while he was racing and he has always been a classy gentleman, completely unflappable and cool as a cucumber while he went around with the gaits of a dressage horse and impeccable self carriage. George’s racing career was short lived but not unsuccessful, only having raced for his 3y/o year. I bought George after his owner mentioned considering selling him as a sport horse, due to risk of him being claimed on the racetrack and because of his aptitude as a sport horse. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and here we are.

Ironically, Mr. Bionic is a bit of a bionic horse. George was found to have some bone chips after his racing connections decided to x-ray him right before my purchase due to a windpuff. George had never taken a lame step and his only evidence of having anything wrong was the windpuff and some slight heat in one leg. Upon further inspection after purchase, we x-rayed the rest of his legs and found that he had more than 1 bone chip. The grade of his injury should have definitively caused acute lameness, as per the vet. George went about his job as a racehorse with the utmost happiness and with no indication of there being anything wrong, furthering my point regarding the stoicism and resilience of the Thoroughbred. Before people jump to blame the racing industry for George’s injuries, I want to make something clear. As far as racehorses go, George’s career was low intensity and he was given plenty of time to grow up. There are plenty of horses whom I’ve personally ridden that raced as 2 year olds and raced more and retired without any injuries, unfortunately, in George’s case, he was just unlucky, like some horses are. Bone chips are something that have been found in horses before they’ve even begun a sport career. For him, I’m thankful that he had such loving and caring connections who cared to look further into him despite the absence of lameness.

Thoroughbreds simply are not the anxious, pansy-like creatures so many people make them out to be. Sure, some are, but the stereotype doesn’t prove true in the manner a lot of non-Thoroughbred folk believe it does. Like I said, crazy Thoroughbreds are often made crazy by people. Events like the Retired Racehorse Project serve as evidence for how truly incredible these horses are and how exceptionally talented they are. I hope people will start to move towards respecting the Thoroughbred breed and their ability to change careers with such success, even if they may not personally be a fan of Thoroughbreds. Thoroughbreds are not inferior to Warmbloods and other sport horse breeds. They are not “the poor man’s Warmblood.” They are magnificent athletes with a whole lot of versatility. Even if I were to become a millionaire tomorrow, you would still catch me with a barn full of Thoroughbreds. There is nothing like a Thoroughbred.


Keep up to date with George and I’s progress in our journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky. We will be travelling all of the way from BC, Canada (over 4,000km) to attend the Makeover. Hauling costs are steep so we are starting out fundraising off with some fun designs dedicated to George, you can check them out HERE

You can follow George’s progress on my Instagram and Facebook page.

The Pursuit of Greatness in the Horse World

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Equestrianism is a sport unlike any other, one requires people not only to be able to work with other people of varying genders and all different age categories, but also with animals with a mind of their own who at times can be exceptionally dangerous. As such, being an equestrian requires an incredibly unique skill set in comparison to other sports as well as all of the patience in the world. Other athletes have to worry about themselves mainly, team mates second and for the most part, only really have to focus on their own health and soundness. Equestrians are focused on keeping themselves out of harms way along with a 1,200lb animal that happens to have an affinity for trying to kill itself in the most unique way possible.

The horse world is also very unforgiving, with a million different opinions, many different “right” ways to do things and a whole bunch of exceptionally proud people who often want to have the last word, even if it is in relation to someone who has absolutely nothing to do with them or their life. This means from a young age, equestrians are subject to harsh criticisms and stringent training styles along with the unsolicited opinions of their peers. This creates a fairly hostile learning environment with ever present learning barriers that test the willpower and self confidence of up and coming riders. So, how does one become great in the horse world? How do you know if you are on the pursuit of greatness in your riding career? What constitutes a “good” rider?

The first thing I want to touch on is peer influence in the equine world, especially with the growing popularity of social media and specifically, the equestrian niche online. The online horse world is an exceptional learning environment in a lot of ways. It offers easy to access information for people who are motivated to learn, with everything from studies to tutorials on things such as wrapping legs, basic first aid or even many different aspects related to riding theory. The problem arises when people are unable to weed out fact from fiction and when other equestrians present opinion as fact, often times poisoning impressionable minds and leading them to believe that certain extremist beliefs are “fact” in the horse world or just outright endangering people when training advice that is not applicable to the rider or horse at hand is offered. This is the downfall of social media, the sheer number of people putting out information or offer unsolicited (or in some cases, solicited) advice who are not qualified to be doing so. So, how do you avoid this? The first thing to keep in mind is that on personal social platforms, anything can be said. There are no rules for submission when people are posting to their own Instagrams or Facebooks. They can say anything they want and they can make it sound real. This is why it is so important to utilize credible sources to fact check information before blindly running with it. Some notable sources for credible horse information would be websites such as The Horse, which offers numerous horse related articles on all sorts of different topics. As far as online training advice goes, my personal recommendation would be to seek the foundation of your riding education from credible sources in person. People who you can screen and ensure that they have the knowledge that they claim to and people who can actually see you ride in person and make recommendations based upon that. No one online can watch a 1 minute Instagram video and give you the same guidance that you get in a 30 minute lesson. No one. If you’re motivated to improve, the single best way to do so is by taking lessons with quality trainers who care about your growth as a rider, this is not something you will be able to realistically find on a strictly online basis.

The second problem related to peer influence online is the negative commentary. This can range anywhere from the occasional snide comment to full on cyber bullying. People online often have unsavory intentions and although they may try to make it come off as otherwise, there are a lot of nasty people in the world that try to hurt people for their own entertainment or in an attempt to make themselves feel better. For example, when my horse was injured last winter, I shared this information online. Not for advice, but just for a fact of the matter “this is what is going on” type deal to allow people to know why I was no longer riding him at the time. Unfortunately, such sharing was met with numerous anonymous messages telling me how my horse was “Done for” , “never going to be able to jump again” and that I could “Say goodbye to his riding career.” Messages such as these came through in spite of my vet’s assurance that my horse’s prognosis was a full return to work provided his rest and rehab went well. While these messages irritated me, I personally have full faith in my vet and his ability to assess my horse. Unfortunately, many younger and more impressionable minds feel less that way and comments like that heavily influence the way they feel about their decisions about their horses. Even more so when such comments are in relation to their riding, picking out flaws and simply focusing on the negatives. This leads to self doubt, embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy. Sadly, many equestrians both young and old avoid sharing their riding online even if they may like to, in fear of the criticism from strangers.

So, how do you combat such negativity? How do you grow a thicker skin? I’m sad to say that even if you ignore the comments and move on with your life, there will still likely be times where your feelings are hurt. Unfortunately, that’s life. However, there are some mantras that you can remember to help remind yourself that the opinions of strangers you do not know or care about are insignificant. If someone comments to insult your riding while you are actively working to improve yourself, realistically, how does that change anything? If you are actively taking lessons and doing everything you can to work on yourself and your horse, you are doing everything you can to better yourself as a rider. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even the top professionals have bad rides, bad days and flaws in their riding that they are working on. The difference is that being focused and motivated to better yourself is productive, whereas targeting other people online to spread negativity is not. Pride yourself in your productivity and focus on things that matter and constantly remind yourself that those trying to tear you down are coming from a place of inadequacy. Noticing flaws in other people’s riding is a fairly normal thing to do and in a lot of ways, it can be educational to watch other riders and pick out the good and bad, however, going out of the way to publicly point out and ridicule the flaws in other people’s riding is definitively not a normal thing to do. As equestrians, it is important that we remind ourselves of our self worth and pride ourselves in the smallest of improvements. Similarly, it is important that when we are feeling down, we make an effort not to take out our frustrations on other riders. The best riders in the world do not waste their time picking on people who are beneath them skill wise, they set an example as role models and work on motivating people to get to their level. So, for this reason, you can assure yourself that anyone going out of their way to pick on you has a long way to go in their personal growth, may it be riding wise or attitude wise, both are so important in the horse world. Also, at the end of the day, who you are as a person will always come before how good your equitation looks or how advanced of a rider you are. Practicing good horsemanship and sportsmanship is so much more important than anything else.

Unfortunately, in certain cases, toxic behaviour can come from those in charge, such as trainers or barn owners. In these cases, it is really important as a rider to remember that you are paying for the instruction that you get and that you are paying to attend a specific barn. If you find yourself getting exceptionally anxious prior to going to the barn or your passion for horses leaving you because of a specific person in the barn, it may be time to re-evaluate whether or not it is the barn for you. Riding is supposed to be fun, though things can get tough at times and it can be hard work, at the end of the day your trainers and the people at the barn should be your support group, your cheerleaders. If the barn has come a toxic place to go instead of a safe haven, a change is in order. In the event of bullying at the barn from your peers, speaking to your barn owner or trainer is often the best move, along with your parents if you are underage. Most barns adopt zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying and will not accept this behaviour from their students. Now, if the toxicity is coming from a trainer and/or owner of the barn, it is a little trickier. Once again, if you are a minor, my recommendation would be to go to your parents first and tell them what is going on. Be very honest and transparent about your feelings, don’t hide anything. If you find your parents brush it off, try to sit down with them and talk to them about how passionate you are about riding and why the problems at the barn are affecting you so much. The best trainer for you is the one that matches your personality and pushes you to be a better rider, if a trainer is leaving you demoralized and frantic, you probably are not in the best mind space to learn and grow, so for that reason, there would probably be a better training style for you.

Working to better yourself as a rider is a lifelong journey. You will literally never stop learning new and different ways to do things. There are so many different sections of the horse world, all of which have something to offer to you learning wise. The only way to become great in the horse world is to apply yourself, seek knowledge and stay motivated. True greatness can only be achieved when the rider embodies the crucial aspects of good horsemanship and good sportsmanship, both of which are centered around the kind and ethical treatment of both horses and humans. The horse world can be a very supportive community full of lovely people, try to be one of the ones who is remembered for going out of their way to be kind and supportive to others, if you succeed at this, you will always be held in higher regard. And, realistically, what really can people criticize if you’re always positive and kind while actively working to improve yourself as a rider? Sure, they can try to pick apart your flaws, but how stupid does that make someone look when a rider is motivated to become the best they can be and doing everything that they need to do to get there?

Stay focused on your own journey and your own growth as a rider. Any tiny improvement is still improvement. Every rider will progress at a different rate and while some people may learn a certain skill faster than you, you are more than likely to be more skilled at another aspect of riding than they. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and the sooner we focus on ourselves and the individuality of our riding career, the sooner we realize that comparing ourselves to others is an utterly useless endeavour that achieves nothing other than self doubt.

Chin up and heels down, dear. You are doing just great and in a few months from now, you will look back and realize that you’ve improved. In a few years from now, you may laugh at some of your old riding photos, pointing out things that you used to find difficult but now can do with utter ease. The journey may seem slow and strenuous at times, but when you look back on it, you realize how far you’ve come and how quickly. Take pride in your accomplishments, no matter how small, you deserve them. You do not need to be the best to be great. You do not need to be winning at huge venues to be worthy as a rider. You can enjoy the ride whether you ride for pleasure or show. No matter your ambitions, everything you do is amazing. Swinging your leg over a 1000lb flight animal is a major feat in the first place. Whether you’re just learning how to post, still working on the lunge line or jumping around 1.20m courses at WEF, you are on a beautifully unique journey and you are doing amazing. Keep it up and don’t forget to smile and enjoy the ride.

Horse People Don't Understand the Value of Money

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I’ve written a lot of the lack of accessibility in the horse world, largely due to the financial component of everything. This issue keeps coming up time and time again, most often because I’m genuinely shocked to see how out of touch with reality some people are when talking to young up and coming riders who are wanting to make it big, but without the big bucks to back them. I totally understand the desire to serve as an inspiration for the younger generation and to make people feel as though their dreams are within reach, however, it does (often) hit a point where people do so with a massive tone of condescension and oversimplifying the issues within the horse world to an insane amount. So, allow me to break it down for you why some people are met with more barriers than others and hopefully, this post will serve as a mediator to allow people on both sides of the financial spectrum to level with each other and be more understanding.

First off, the main thing I hear any time I dare to complain or express frustration regarding the costs of horses and showing and how they serve to act as barriers in my personal journey is: If you work hard enough and set your mind to it, the opportunities will come. Let me tell you, with the amount of hard workers I’ve met that have been burnt out, used up and ultimately quit riding because of it, I can tell you right off the bat that it is simply untrue. You see, most of the people stating this mindset are coming from positions in life where at the very least, they had their university tuition paid for but more often than not, they also had much of their riding paid for along with other expenses such as car, gas, rent etc. These types of people are on a different plane of what “hard work” equates to and what the benefits of such are. You see, if you have your tuition covered, you are thus enabled to work hard and use all of said money towards things like riding, food, showing etc without having to worry about the tens of thousands of dollars students who are not as lucky as you are forced to budget for. If you had your tuition paid for, you were never in the position where you had to pick between an education and showing or try to budget the time and money for working, riding, classes, homework and showing without burnout. Tuition fees are a common thing that many seem to take for granted, not due to lack of gratefulness but simply because they have never HAD to consider the “what if”, so people speaking out on these things just genuinely have no idea of the burden that having to consider these expenses can bring. Telling people that if they just work hard enough, it will happen may seem inspirational and encouraging to you, however, saying it to people who are busting their butts with little result comes off as condescending because you are telling them that if it hasn’t happened for them, they aren’t working hard enough. For those working 40+ hour work weeks along with full time school and still managing to find time to ride, this is pretty damn near impossible. Where are you supposed to fit in “more work”? How are you supposed to work harder when the only free time you have is to sleep? People realistically shouldn’t be expected to push themselves to a breaking point to achieve a certain dream, expecting those coming from less funds to risk burning out or completely forego an education in order to pursue their equestrian dreams is part of the issue, as this is largely something those from more stable financial backgrounds never even have to worry about. So, we tell people with less money not to express frustration, just to work harder and it’ll come, yet we neglect to acknowledge the fact that even with hard work, some things simply cannot come to fruition.

Let me break it down for you. Showing one week at Thunderbird Show Park, a local show park to me, is at least $1,000. That is on the low end. For ONE WEEK. The average person does not have an extra $1000 laying around every month to burn on shows. For some, it is impossible to get those funds to use once in even an entire year. To really have the opportunity to start making a name for yourself, showing can be extremely important. Reputation largely seems to rely on show records, something that costs money to make. Even if you get your cheap, green horse and train it to be able to do well at rated shows, you still need to factor in show expenses, training, transport etc. All of these things cost a rather exorbitant amount of money. The next thing people generally suggest is : Oh just get a working student position! I’m not knocking this as an option because in the right situation, it can be great! However, the fact that so many are unable to realize why this may not be an option for some is rather concerning. Anyone in school realistically cannot just up and leave to go work a full time working student position and even if they COULD manage it time wise, most working student positions offer little in the way of compensation or no compensation, in exchange for room, lessons etc. For someone paying their own way in school, a working student position would take up all of their time while disallowing them the extra funds to afford things like books and tuition. On top of this, most trainers taking on working students still expect said working students to cover their own show fees should they wish to show. Let’s say you find the one unicorn trainer out there who is willing to give you a horse, cover any and all show fees and lessons and offer you room and board, if you are in school in any capacity, you still have the problem of being able to afford the time and money to attend post secondary along with ANY other expenses in relation to daily living such as a car, gas, cell phone etc. Working student positions are not a fix all for lack of money, in fact, in a lot of cases, they seem to demand a lot more work than the compensation is even worth. I have a sneaking suspicion many of those suggesting working student positions as a fast track to the top have either never even worked one or did so while not having to worry about any other very pressing expenses.

If you loved riding enough, you would risk it and pursue your dream instead of school, you can’t have both. Another tactic people use to essentially shame less wealthy riders for wanting pursue any level of education after high school on top of a riding career. This is so incredibly damaging to push on people. The horse world is a dog eat dog world and is very hard to make a good living in. Even in the chance that you do manage to go professional and make a good living, there is always the risk of injury, which as a rider, could completely crumple your career and ability to work should you ever get injured. Because of this, I would never discourage someone from pursuing other options to allow them another career in the event that their equestrian one does not pan out. I’m sure you’ll notice that many of the top riders today and many of the up and coming young professionals have either pursued some form of post secondary education or other career or are in the midst of doing so. This isn’t to say all do, but many of them have something else going on on the side or a degree they can put to use should they ever need it. For people with less finances, they are risking their entire future and putting it on the line to become a well known professional. While some do this and succeed, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the same level of risk isn’t demanded of people who have the financial backing to pursue their showing interests. So, shaming those for stressing over finances and being disheartened by the cost of showing really isn’t fair, because at the end of the day, it would be nice for everyone involved if the horse world moved to becoming more inclusive and offering incentives to get less fortunate riders in the ring without demanding that they risk their entire future to do so.

Money doesn’t buy talent, stop making excuses. This is absolutely true that money does not buy talent, however, money DOES buy lessons. Lots of them. It opens doors to allow people to train with more prestigious trainers because they can afford the price tag. It buys upper level packers for riders to learn the ropes on and start moving up on. So while talent is still created by the rider and their drive to learn, money offers an easier means of achieving said talent and far more support in becoming a better rider. Talent is also largely measured from shows and riders’ attendance of them, which once again, requires money to be spent. Someone could be the most phenomenal rider ever and could very well have the talent to kick butt in the show ring, but if they cannot afford the entry fees, said talent will be largely uncovered or at the very least, under appreciated. All of the riders doing well in the respective disciplines have to have talent, no matter how much money they have to navigate the horse world. Pointing out the fact that money helps is not a critique of riders with money, it is merely honestly looking at the influence that finances have on riders. You are still worthy. You are still talented. You deserve everything you have and more, but, it is important to be aware and respectful of the privilege money allows you. This isn’t even specific to riding, in any sense, money can completely change a person’s live. Many people with genius level IQs never get the opportunity to attend post secondary because of , you guessed it, money. The same applies to riders in the horse world. Ultimately, riding improvement is reliant on the rider, but if you have two equally motivated riders, the one with more money is the most likely to succeed. They simply have less obstacles.

The other people need to consider is that opportunities differ from person to person as well as geographically. From what I’ve gathered, showing is a lot more affordable in many European countries than it is in North America, because of this, people showing in Europe may erroneously claim it is easier to get out and show in NA than it may actually. Even within the same country, someone living right near word class show venues and in a competition rich area will automatically have more available opportunities than someone in a more rural and less competition focused area. This means that people in areas with less opportunity would not only be required to uproot their life and move but also likely have to go to even more expensive areas to pursue their dreams, making said dreams even harder to manage. Along with the actual opportunity side of things, networking is very important and most trainers don’t hand out free riding, free showing opportunities at all or at the very least, to any old rider. References matter and generally, people want them from known names. How is one supposed to get references if something like taking lessons and showing is hard for them to do financially? There are only so many references in relation to mucking and cleaning jobs that you can use in your pursuit of riding jobs.

I’m not bringing this up to complain, but to draw awareness to a very real issue that many people like myself are dealing with. Show fees and stabling fees at shows have sky rocketed. Showing isn’t as accessible as it was in the past. Fees continue to climb as do regular feed and boarding fees associated with keeping horses. This means that to a large extent, the show world is catering to those with the money to blow. This isn’t to say that wealthy riders are less deserving, they definitely aren’t. Anyone would use the same resources if they had them. BUT- it would be nice for people to start to acknowledge the profound difference in a rider’s journey and ability to take part in the horse world in relation to finances. It is something that needs to be discussed because it’d be nice to start moving towards incentives that allow for more inclusiveness. Most other sports have them. They offer more in the way of scholarships, breaks on costs for families below a certain income bracket and so on. The horse world is more than a bit behind in this way and instead of acknowledging it and pushing for a change that would allow for even greater competition and more riders, people deny it in fear that the money discussion some how undermines their abilities as a show rider.

The elitism of the sport is seen in how people look at brands, at certain breeds of horses, the clothes other riders wear and so on. More so than any other sport I’ve been in. The focus on what someone has, what they spend and where they show is ridiculous. I’ve seen it go as far as large groups of riders making fun of people for showing at certain venues, calling certain winter circuits that many people would KILL to be at “crap” or making posts about how they’re “bored” at a place like WEF. The lack of appreciation and lack of awareness of the money that goes into making the sport a possibility for some is concerning. Far too many riders seem utterly unaware of how unusual the amount of money spent on horses is. People are genuinely under the impression that it is “normal” or “middleclass” to be able to drop high 5-figures on a HORSE and spend the cost of a full family vacation to send one child to WEF. None of this is normal from a life perspective, even if it seems normalized in the horse world. It is time people learn the value of money and the influence it has, instead of denying it and thus pushing the same unrealistic ideals on people desperate to make something of themselves in the horse world. While it is possible to make it in the horse world with lack of funds, it is nowhere near as simple as many of those coming from a place of privilege make it out to be.

I consider myself to be on the lower end financially on the circuit that I show on. I know this because while I pull into shows in my 2005 Chevy that I bought myself with my $400 horse, many of my friends pull up in newer vehicles under their name, funded by parents with shinier, fancier horses, also funded largely by family. These purchases are not the norm for people my age or younger unless there is an outside financial partner. This isn’t to say that some do earn them themselves, but the bottom line is that the average 20 something-year-old’s income generally is not one that can justify purchasing a 5-figure horse and attending numerous rated shows within the same calendar year. That is the reality of it, unfortunately, the horse world works hard to hide said reality and leaves people like myself feeling like they are some how inadequate for not making the 6 figure income required to have said things. I was luckier than some, my parents were wealthy in my younger years and funded my lessons and showing. This allowed me to get valuable experience, references and more and paved the way for me to continue my riding journey on my own once we ran into money troubles following my father’s stroke. So, while I work hard and have to work full time whilst in school to do what I do, I’m well-aware of the fact that my own journey would be much different if my parents had not had the funds to do what they did when I was younger and unable to work to earn my keep in the horse world. I was enabled to ride as young as I did because of my parents. Not all parents can do this, in fact, most can’t because it requires an above average income to show at the extent I did as a child while remaining in full training. The middle class income is not viewed as the normal within the horse world, the entire state of financial affairs is very skewed and leads people who live very comfortable lives to feel as though they’re “poor” which is utterly ridiculous.

Nowadays, I make the bulk of my money for big purchases off of buying cheap horses and reselling, as I have done since I was 16. It still really isn’t enough to buy a super expensive horse when factoring in the fees I pay for university, car and otherwise, but it does help. YouTube and this blog have added an extra income that feels as though it comes without work, something that will be beneficial to put towards showing once I deal with other more pressing expenses. Gradually buying and selling nicer and nicer saddles also allowed me to upgrade my tack in a more budget friendly manner, but something that took me 5 years to do can happen for other families in a matter of minutes, so that is food for thought. Life is not fair and I will never expect it to be, but at the very least, I would be nice for acknowledgement of the high demand for large incomes within the horse world and how much people without said incomes have to penny pinch and work their butts off to even earn a fraction of the accomplishments. So, while ride around the 2’6” ring on my young horse with confidence issues, my accomplishments are simply getting him around. Some may view this as nothing and honestly, lots have made it their job to remind me of how many other people my age are going into the Grand Prix ring on nicer horses. But, my accomplishments are mine and I likely worked as hard or harder to get to where I am with the materials I have to get there. We need to realize everyone’s journey is relative and that a lot of the major goals people have like riding Grand Prix are very much reliant on being able to afford showing in some way or getting an exceptionally lucky break. You still have to be a great rider, but a great rider with no money is going to have a hard time getting the experience to get to GP level.

Trainers, if you have room in your wallets and hearts to offer opportunities to less fortunate riders that you see promise in, please do it. You will change their life. Show venues, it would be lovely to see some incentives that allow riders from different backgrounds the chance to dip their feet in the show ring. Even if it is just one cheaper show a year or a 10% price reduction for families under a certain income bracket or a discount on stabling and so on. If anything, it would just be nice for an acknowledgement on the exclusivity of the sport and to see more mainstream equine news sites, brands and show venues showcase the few riders who are working hard and make it from less funds. The articles written on hardworking riders who juggle university and riding on their parents dime are interesting but overdone. There is a severe lack of exposure for riders who are struggling to make ends meet, to show in the first place and find their place in the horse world. The radio silence on sharing the stories of these very people only serves to make others in our shoes feel very alone and like there is no way to make it. Let’s normalize the financial discussion in relation to horses, stop denying it and allow for more inclusiveness when discussing people from different financial brackets. It is interesting to read about those at the top but what about all of the people crawling to get there, working their fingers to the bone and doing all sorts of crazy things to fund their horse dreams? Let’s hear about them.

Riding Advice for Horse Rookies

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I started riding at a very young age. Because of my youth, I didn’t have the awareness or ability to research, learn, or experiment with what I was taught back then as I do today as an adult. That said, the learning curve in the horse world continues to be steep, and there is always more to learn. Even more knowledgable and experienced equestrians (e.g. your coach, professional riders, Olympic team members) are still constantly learning and adjusting the manner in which they approach horses and their own riding.

Because of the fact that we are working with large animals, all with unique quirks and personalities, it is important to remain humble and remind ourselves of how very much there is to learn and how far we have yet to go. So, to those who are just starting out in the horse world, remember this:

Don’t compare yourselves to others, never feel ashamed to ask questions, double check “facts,” and stay thirsty for knowledge.

The only way you can continue to learn and better yourself is by being open to new information and aware of the fact that it is always better to ask questions, to clarify, and to learn than to pretend you know more than you do.

Click Here to Read the whole post on Horse Rookie

The Dark Side of the Horse Industry

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As someone who works in the horse industry and loves horses and showing, I want to preface this post by saying that there are a lot of incredible people in this industry who adore their horses and want what is best for them. That is a no brainer. There are many exceptional trainers who have a moral compass, no matter how famous they become or what level they ascend to in the competition world. This article is not claiming that all of the horse world is tarnished by bad eggs. Its purpose is to expose the reality that there are disturbing and unacceptable things go on behind the scenes, things that should not be tacitly accepted or allowed to continue. Unfortunately for some, success may bring out the worst side of them because money, fame and attention can be tantalizingly attractive. We see this same influence outside of the equine world in business and other industries where success is gauged by WHAT you achieve and not HOW you attain it. Not all employers give a damn about their employees, just like not all trainers give a damn about their horses. Some may view horses as disposable machines to use for business purposes, much like bad employers with their employees.

Now, no matter how much you love the show industry, we all need to be honest enough to admit that there are some shady practices going on that are often ignored or at the very least, not discussed enough. People live in fear of backlash if they out someone, even if they know the behaviour is wrong. Stewards and other officials may even, in some cases, be paid off to turn a blind eye. In addition to unacceptable practices regarding treatment of our equines, the other side of the horse world that must be addressed is our conduct as equestrians. Just as drug use is seen in society at large, riders both young and old on the show circuit reflect this serious problem. People may brush it off as though it is all fun and games and not indicative of a major issue. It is more prevalent than people often realize, with some riders starting to use drugs and alcohol at a very young age. This leads to driving under the influence in excess and especially in young people, feeling invincible to danger or being reprimanding by any authority. In addition, there is the issue of sexual assault and abuse- once again, something most are terrified to speak up about. Lastly, another issue that I want to touch on in this post is unhealthy body ideals, body shaming and the skewed body images commonly imposed on riders, most often female riders. This is no secret and is probably one of the most obvious things if you look at virtually any equestrian clothing brand or hear even the most renowned clinicians speak to their students about their appearance/equitation. This focus on weight and body image as an equestrian has been normalized, so much so that riders often turn to targeting each other. These issues are the dark side of the horse world, a side that honestly needs to be brought to light.

To tackle these taboo topics, I’ve asked for first hand accounts from riders in the horse show world, coming from a variety of different disciplines. Because these are first-hand accounts from others and I have no means to explicitly prove them, all names will be anonymous for the privacy of those who shared their story as well as the people within the stories. All of of them do need to be taken with a grain of salt since everyone’s perception of any event will differ. I will say, however, that A LOT of the same names came up. A lot of similar stories- from many, many different sources. It has been eye opening to say the least, and I hope that it is just as disturbing to you as it was to me. Let’s pretend only a fraction of the stories I received were true… Even if that were the case (though, I suspect it is far more than just a mere “fraction”), the conduct is so deplorable that it deserves to be talked about in the event there is even a shred of truth or similar practices going on. With that said, given the fact that I do not have evidence, I cannot attest to the validity of the claims made other than hearing about practices myself from a variety of other sources. I will not be representing any of this as fact, more so as what people have claimed to have observed or experienced.

People who have been shoved to the side and made to feel afraid to speak need to have a voice. They want their stories out. So, without further adieu, I share with you the darker side of the horse industry. I am sure some of you can corroborate some of these claims and, perhaps, many of you may even know who is being referenced based on the story. Read on and remember that absolutely none of these practices should be happening, even on a very small scale.

I’m going to start with some of the sketchy practices in relation to “show prepping” horses among other things, because a lot of this I can attest to either personally witnessing or am able to guess which horses have been subjected to these practices happen due to the behaviours that often follow them. Let’s start off with some of the first hand accounts pertaining to the hunter industry. Much of these were sent in by grooms or working students, however, some did come from riders competing at the same venues as these trainers. All of these stories are in relation to big names within the industry; some are about the same people.

Several years ago at Devon, I watched a big name trainer staple under the forelocks of ponies belonging to notable pony rider on the circuit in order to “make them quiet”

Yikes. Let’s talk about the lengths some are willing to go to in order to get that desired hunter lethargy or to make more reactive horses into plodders. I have been sent TONS of different messages from a number of riders across North America and all of them talk about similar tactics to helping “sedate” horses without the use of drugs, including:

  • intentionally removing horses’ water buckets so they cannot drink, become dehydrated and as a result are far more lethargic to ride. One person’s account of this said: “I was stabled next to a top hunter/jumper trainer once and noticed half of his horses constantly banging their buckets against the walls. It didn’t take me long to realize that he didn’t give his hunters water, in order to make them appear more calm and dead in the ring. I went to the show office and reported it, and it did not seem to be a priority for them. Some how, they survived the week. And won plenty of blue ribbons.”

  • Lunging horses to the point of excess, sometimes for literal hours, prior to class times in order to make them tired when the time comes to compete.

  • Doping horses using cocaine the night before so that they are crashing when their class time comes around the next day.

  • One groom’s account of drugging: “I used to have to hide needles up my sleeve in order to drug the walk /trot ponies so that her kids would win. I still feel slimy about it and regret every minute. I had to do what I did so my own horse could eat. I also held horses for the vet who were continuously nerved to the point where they would perform when they were lame and should have been retired.”

  • Needling the tails of hunters so that they lie flat and quiet.

  • Horses given illegal substances such as acepromazine prior to showing in order to sedate.

  • “One trainer I know puts horses out in the freezing cold with no blankets the night before a show so they shiver their energy out and are quiet the next day.”

  • “I found needles and other injection aids around stalls through the 2018 show season at A-rated shows.”

  • “My trainer worked for a well known training and sales barn down in Florida. Not only did they lie about all of their horses but they would heavily drug them and lunge them/work them before potential buyers came out. One time, there was blood from one of the needles on the horse’s neck and a potential buyer spotted it. My trainer was severely yelled at when she did not even perform the injection.”

  • Someone sent me a message pertaining to a big name in the hunter world and said this: “I saw her injecting dry ice into her horse’s back at a show.” Not sure what purpose this would ever serve and never have personally hear about it, but if this truly did happen, yikes. And what else would people be injecting?

  • Paying off stewards and other show organizers to not pull certain horses’ names for drug testing.

  • This message came in in relation to one of the best known hunter horses on the circuit: “Well known young professional showing well known horse in performance hunter division. The horse is visibly lame at the trot and head bobbing at the canter, but rider continues to do two hunter courses and the hack class. Wins both over fences and hack class even though horse is lame to even the untrained eye. Rider smiles and waves to judge after receiving first place ribbon in hack class.”

To finish this segment regarding drugging and other ways in which some trainers “prep” their horses, I want to share a message that I got from a trusted source whom I very much respect:

There is an extremely large (40-60 horses per show) hunter/jumper program that is “well known” for drugging horses and blatantly paying off judges/stewards. Will leave behind hundreds of needles from various drugs (ace, dex, etc) in groom stall and not dispose of them properly. Horse show was notified of large amount of needles in groom stall, sent over an Equine Canada steward to clean them up. No penalties or repercussions given to the barn. Almost every horse in the hunters coming from this barn will win champion or reserve champion in their respective divisions.

As I said in the blog post prior to this, while the trainers and riders trying to get away with such behaviour is disgusting and concerning, the fact that they are allowed to do so by authorities is even more so concerning. Barns leaving needles out in alleyways at shows a blatant lack remorse for drugging and a recognition that there will be no consequences for it. No respect for people around them either; needles left out in the open, regardless of what they contained, is incredibly dangerous. I received multiple accounts of this happening, several coming from people I know personally and whom I believe. If this is happening, I find it hard to believe these trainers are conducting themselves in such a manner without show officials either knowing or finding out. And if they do find out and ignore it, officials are telling these barns that they’re invincible- that the regulations do not apply to them.

On top of drugs, people go to other crazy lengths in an effort to “enhance” the performance of the horses they ride or, perhaps, to cover up any nagging lameness issues that may be present. I am not naming names, however, there are certain ones that came up repeatedly in reference to these practices and that is frightening. What is poling horses, you ask? It is the practice of striking a horse’s legs with a pole whilst jumping to help ensure they will go above and beyond to clear the fence. This often results in horses significantly over jumping, something that is not uncommon in young horses, but if a single barn has every single one of their horses making the effort to clear every jump to excess , you’ve got to wonder what is going on behind the scenes. Here are some stories in relation to poling and other sketchy practices:

  • An upper level event rider using tacked poles, sharp enough that they made grooms’ hands bleed if touched when moving them, to ensure horses pick up their legs more.

  • A big Canadian show jumping barn allegedly using poling as a training method for a bunch of their horses.

  • Multiple different upper level jumpers having someone use a bamboo pole to hit the horses’ coronet bands to make them more sensitive.

  • A Canadian show jumper using the training method of nailing nails into fence rails so the horses jump higher to avoid hitting them. One groom said “If you walk to his stalls at shows, you can visibly see the cuts on his horses legs.”

  • One rider working for a big name in Western Canada said: “Poling and rapping was pretty common (not in my barn, but with other trainers). We were strictly told we were not allowed to watch other trainers school because of the stuff they would do. Another BNT came out to school a horse at the barn and they electrified a water jump with a car battery.”

  • “My old barn has some amazing and expensive hunter/jumpers. We were the barn that would “prep” our horses. I was told I was just giving bute, but later, I looked at it and found it was ace. We also had our grooms lunge our horses till they were exhausted in the morning so that when people came to look at them, they would not act up and my trainer could sell them.”

  • “I was trying horses in Ireland and went to view an 8y/o mare. She was described as having a massive jump, a little green on the flat but nothing ridiculous. I see a groom ride her, then I ride her and she feels dead to the leg and really on the forehand, horrifically unbalanced for her age and I didn’t even want to jump her because she did not feel right. I found out a week later that the mare had been broken 3 days before I tried her and was drugged when I rode her.”

  • “My mom’s horse has a scar on his face from being repeatedly whipped in the face by a large horse dealer/hunter trainer in North America. She also used to tape wooden sticks to the reins so horses wouldn’t overbend and would wrap bottle caps on their front legs/coronet bands so that it would hurt more if they hit poles. If that didn’t do the trick enough, she would kick their legs where the caps were.”

  • “My horse was lame at a show and I was warming up in hopes he would ‘work out of it.’ He didn’t, so my trainer told me they wouldn’t be able to tell that he’s lame at a canter and to go in and pick up the canter without the trot. I didn’t do it and we found out after he had torn a ligament and needed to be on stall rest for months.”

  • “Stud boots being used on young horses in competition. Horses are warmed up without boots, have boots quickly put on before entering the ring and then they are quickly removed before the stewards can see them.”

Another account from someone working with one of the top horse facilities in the world that allegedly produces so many horses that they “don’t have names, but numbers around their necks.” :

I was there for a trial for a few days and they had to close off one of the arenas as they were extensively whipping a horse inside. Another experience I had was whilst working as a groom for a 1.45m show jumper, a client horse came in and was acting up, so she whipped the 5 year old to the point that lacerations were visible on its butt. I couldn’t even watch, but the trainer was not even embarrassed by her actions. She just asked me to put cold towels on the horse before the owner picked her up.

One very well-known trainer’s name came up a lot in people’s firsthand accounts of sketchy practices that disturbed them and made them question the ethicality of those at the top. Here is an account of said trainer:

He has a poling machine that he “preps” the horses with before they have big classes. The machine is like a pulley system that brings the pole up to hit the horse while they’re jumping. I also know that he will electrocute horses in order to get them to jump if they start refusing.

Another person sent this message about the same rider:

My family uses him as one of our riders. One of his horses sustained a career ending injury and subsequent euthanization. One thing the public doesn’t know is that the horse shouldn’t have been in work. He sustained an injury to the leg about 4 weeks prior to breaking down and continued to be ridden. They just had his leg injected to make him sound.

Something that is honestly fairly new to me but was brought up by numerous people, and prevalent all over North American circuit is the use of rubbing alcohol to make horses’ legs sting more if they hit rails. This is one person’s account:

In 2017, I moved away to be a working student for a well known jumper trainer at a top show barn. I remember during my first week , I and one of the other girls I worked with were tacking up a horse for the 1.20s, one that a client had just paid ~300k for. It had been “careless” and was knocking lots of rails, hence the move down from high A/O to 1.20m. I noticed the girl spraying something onto the polo wraps and I asked what it was. I still remember the way she said “you don’t want to know” but I pushed anyways and eventually she told me that spraying rubbing alcohol into polos was a trick they had picked up to sting horses when they would hit rails. The horse in question was found to have horrible ulcers 2 months later, the vet confirmed that she was basically giving 110% just to get around the courses.

The same person also said this:

Injections of I don’t want to know what were “our little secret” from the owner. Not telling the client how the horse was prepped. Not telling the client that the horse WAS prepped. Three hours on a lunge line before trial so that the horse will pass a drug test for prepurchase. Not doing night check until 3AM because everyone was out getting hammered at clubs. Lameness being hidden from owners. Bits with mouthpieces that made me sick to look at because the client didn’t have time to learn how to control the horse. Pinch boots without telling the clients that demand to know where their ribbons are. Not letting clients watch vet appointments. I want to point out that I worked for a trainer with a stellar reputation. I mean flawless. An old school, do things by the book trainer. When asking around the extensive network of horse people, I found absolutely nothing shady about her. And this is what happened. So, imagine what happens in the barns of people already known for it.

A few other people also brought up the use of rubbing alcohol as well as trainers actually physically burning the legs to make them more sensitive whilst jumping. All of the riders/trainers in question for these practices were competing at the higher levels of the sport, some of which had been on Olympic teams for countries like Canada and the US.

Another account came from a source who worked alongside an international event team, riders one would expect to practice more ethicality due to their prestige. Here are some of the concerning events noticed during this time:

  • “At events we were frequently told to ice horses on/off all night until they were sound and to get up at 3am jog day to do it all over again leading up to the jog.”

  • “I was told to ‘accidentally’ always drop a horse’s bridle in a bucket of water in the vet box because the horse used a double twisted wire gag with a drop noseband on cross country and the twist was sharpened with tape over the top points.”

  • “They told me my horse could go to the Olympics, but only with them riding him. When I said no and that I wanted to keep riding him even if he wouldn’t go as far, they tried to go to my parents behind my back even though they didn’t own him.”

  • “They made me teach my horse the ‘cluck, cluck’ game, by turning my whip up and beating him at the startbox to get him to bolt out of it ‘at speed.’ He still rears at the start box, now.”

  • “When I gave my one months’ notice, my boss got hammered and kicked me out of the house/barn that night at 11pm. I had to have my best friend come with his rig to pick up my horses and stuff at 6am.”

Another person working with an American 4* level eventer shared this:

We drugged horses in the beginning to make sure they wouldn’t do anything silly, we used training aids to skip steps in training. Not only was she hard to deal with as a person, she abused her horses by doing things like tying their heads down for hours to separating and isolating a horse that called out only to stress the animal more. Her horses were terrified of her and ultimately more dangerous after training. I had a mare, who was previous a kids’ horse, rear up on me because it was scared to make a mistake and be beaten. Her 4 star event horse was the spookiest horse on the property and she would beat him for spooking, causing him to be even more afraid. There was alcohol abuse where she would drink and drive with us in the car, even while pulling a trailer. If I didn’t get the correct lead on the first try, she would tell her clients I was a bad rider to make the horses look better. I finally left after she beat the same mare after galloping her on the track and jumping her a couple of times, so bad that she was bleeding, swollen and bruised. The horse looked like it was about to collapse.

The level of corruption in any industry involving a lot of money is high and honestly, while it has been depressing to go through all of these different people’s accounts, to say I’m surprised by what I’ve heard would be a lie. Some are willing to go to great lengths to win because the horse world consistently downplays ethical treatment of horses. We discount our partners’ biological needs and the level of pain they feel, even going so far as to insinuate horses practice certain behaviours out of sheer malice or disrespect for their handler. This misconception only serves to breed resentment in riders and trainers.

Disrespect to grooms and other employees is not uncommon in the competition world. Many of these hard working people who quite literally make showing possible for those they work for, are taken for granted and mistreated. Often times they are working lengthy hours for little compensation. Their work is strenuous and the expectations of those they work for are exceptionally high. Luckily, there are many upper level barns who do show appreciation for their grooms and compensate them adequately, but unfortunately, we frequently see or hear about the barns who treat their employees like they’re disposable.

Here is an account related to the treatment of grooms coming from someone employed at a rated show park in the US, which recently added an FEI sanctioned event to their event schedule.

For the first time we added a new show, which was a FEI show, so there were big names. They bring in their management and pretty much “Rent our facility” but my team still had to help them. Well, the Director of the jumping tour REFUSED to provide showers for the grooms that had to stay on the show grounds. Now, at the park I work for and mostly on the west coast, we treat our grooms very well so this did not sit well with our director and it caused a huge argument. The manager of the tour didn’t even want to give them bathrooms, and didn’t even really count the grooms as people! He literally said “I will give them bathrooms but that’s IT!” He also stated that “you Californians treat your grooms too well! This would NEVER happen in Kentucky!”

That is despicable, but honestly, an excellent example of how some of those at the top of the top may view those working under them. They are viewed as lesser, as mere pawns to use and abuse. Because of how many people are in need of jobs or who are wanting to get their “big break” in the horse world, SO many will put up with this treatment because if they don’t, a replacement can be found in the blink of an eye.

The next one reveals how such abuse of grooms can start even with younger riders.

I was at a recognized dressage show once and I was there one morning to feed my horse and a groom that had obviously been there for hours braiding show horses, was in the stall. These entitled young girls stroll in late and are dressed to show. They said “have they had breakfast yet?” And the groom very quietly asked “me?” And the girls laughed and said “no stupid, our horses!” And the groom said yes... I’m sure he didnt eat till noon that day because I saw him at the concession stand later scarfing down food. I felt so awful for him, that really stuck with me...

This last account, sent from a groom on the circuit, sums up what grooms may put up with in their jobs only to be massively under appreciated:

Working from 4am-9pm (if nothing went wrong and we got out on time) without breaks or days off. Sometimes, I even bled through my jeans when I was on my period because I would be yelled at if I took time off to go to the bathroom. The only food I had to eat was the little snacks provided by the shows while my rider was in the arena. Don’t get me wrong, working on the Grand Prix circuit was always a dream of mine that I wouldn’t trade for the world- regardless of the trauma. I was a shell of a person by the time I quit but I’m glad I had the experience.

Please, those of you who are rushed and stressed at shows or who may at some point feel frustrated with your grooms: appreciate them! Remember, like you, they are people with their own basic needs and own problems, life stressors and so on. They will not always have good days, but more often than not, they are doing their best and they deserve to be treated like the professionals they are. Grooms are not machines. They are far too often overworked and under appreciated, so please, take a moment to appreciate the work people put in for the love of your horses. They deserve it.

Such mistreatment also isn’t reserved for working employees; a lot of trainers abuse their students in a number of different ways, even though their students are paying clients. Unfortunately, such behaviour is widely disregarded because of the mindset of the horse world. Harsh trainers are applauded, even if the line crosses from harshness into abuse. Riders are often times just told to “toughen up” and learn to accept critique.

For 2 years, I was verbally abused by a trainer and she was actually slowly starving my horse, only giving him 1 flake per day. One time, she flicked chewed grass out of a horses’ mouth and onto my face because I didn’t clean the bit within 15 minutes. My horse lost 50 lbs in 2 weeks while we were on vacation. She also continually drugged her ponies and stuck kids on them. One time, the drug wore off and the pony bucked a child off, causing the kid to break her arm. It was disgusting.

In the horse world, it is also fairly widely accepted for trainers to body shame their students, going as far as encouraging crash diets. This is something virtually any rider can either say they’ve witnessed or had happen to them personally. In fact, one of the biggest names in the hunter/jumper world has publicly fat shamed riders on numerous occasions. I can attest to this personally, but also received numerous other accounts from people all over North America.

When I was taking lessons, my old trainer would not let me eat my lunch. I was with her from 7am-6pm on the weekends. She would always try to give me a healthy alternative so that “I didn’t get so big.”

One rider shared that a professional who has represented his country for Dressage at an international level told one of his students that she needed to stop eating in order to lose weight. Another says that during a lesson, one of the biggest names in the hunter/jumper world told her to “not eat anymore dessert” which is just one of the very many weight related comments this particular person has made to students.

One rider talks about a trainer that she had in her teen years and the damage said trainer had on her body image and overall mental health for years to come:

She once insinuated to me that if I wasn’t willing to starve myself to fit into the skinnier boots like she did at my age, then I wasn’t as dedicated to the sport as I needed to be. And yes, it affected me enough to actually eat as little as possible. She had this way of working you down to believe the insane standards she had.

I’ve also received numerous messages from riders whose trainers put them on shake diets or got angry with them any time they were caught eating food at shows or around the barn if it was not to the trainer’s standards. The following is the way in which someone was treated with one of their previous trainers, a trainer I heard numerous stories about in relation to body shaming:

She encouraged me to be on a shake diet and whenever I was there working, she would only give me shakes when she would make all of the other girls lunches. I was also straight up told by a judge that he didn’t place me in the EQ on the flat because I was “too big.” I was on a 17.3hh horse and was turned out the best and told by every trainer there that I rode the best.

This is an account on body shaming a male rider experienced:

I am generally a pretty slim guy but during my junior years I was teased for eating anything other than a small amount of food as they would say I would become “too fat for the eq” and it took away a lot of my confidence. The weight shaming got to the point where I would starve myself for two weeks before the show to “slim down.” I remember going to a big venue for the summer series to show in 2016 and I hadn’t eaten in a week because my trainer said I looked fat. I looked at myself in the mirror and couldn’t help but see myself as being “a fat kid.” I started to panic, still thinking that I was too fat to go into the ring and ended up having a panic attack and mental breakdown. I was found sitting against my car in the parking lot by another trainer who called the paramedics. In winter 2016/2017, I began training for the big eq after a year off from showing and walked right back into the world of harassment and abuse that I had left. It pushed me to my breaking point. On April 10th, 2017, only two days before my 18th birthday, I tried to take my own life. The years of abuse had taken such a toll that I would rather die than live my life doing the sport I loved so much. Even 3 years later, the harsh body shaming still affects me not only in my professional life but also my personal life.

Body shaming is not only specific to women. The above example is profoundly heartbreaking and should never occur. Another issue, brought to light by numerous different parties with firsthand experiences is discrimination in relation to sexual orientation/identity as well as racial discrimination. One rider in particular shared this story:

I have seen tons of homophobia and racism (specifically in the hunter ring). I was discriminated against by one of my coaches because I identify as a lesbian, for which she would always treat me differently, single me out, or yell at me more. To the point where it gave me severe anxiety to ride at all. She would also always pick on this one black girl at our facility, to the point of this girl leaving the barn. The hunter world is incredibly discriminatory, if you aren’t thin and white, you probably won’t do great here. Discrimination is known and swept under the rug a lot.

Now, onto the whole drug use aspect of the horse world as well as the culture of underage binge drinking and the driving under the influence that often goes hand in hand with it. Unfortunately, this part is pretty easy to confirm fact due to the number of riders who have actually admittedly had drug problems along with the open nature of discussion regarding drug use and party culture among young riders. Drug use in the horse world is far too often downplayed in severity or in some cases, glamourized. People fail to realize the risks they take with using drugs like cocaine, especially with the fentanyl crisis nowadays, it is like playing Russian Roulette. On top of this, there is a huge push to go out and party in the nights after classes, numerous riders have come forward to me, admitting that they partook themselves in drunk driving or drove with others who were driving whilst drunk.

This is a statement from a rider who worked as a groom for a large barn on the circuit:

Cocaine. It is not just a stereotype. It is not just a horse-world joke. When we would go out to bars 3-4 nights a week and get beyond drunk and high, it was common to save some for the morning to help wake up or when days got unbearably long. One day, we went out for lunch at a horse show with three very well known professionals who had a reputation for drug use left and came back twitching and sniffling, clearly high. Grooms did drug deals behind the barn aisles in Tryon. Coke was used to perk up during those 15 hour days. It was justified with things like “this makes me a better groom, it makes me more focused, this helps me get through a 15 hour day. This makes it more likely I won’t make mistakes where mistakes aren’t acceptable” This logic gets to you. You don’t think it will, but it does. I was the epitome of the “good girl” before this but after a month of 100 hour work weeks and the knowledge that you will be crucified for a single error, you can very easily be lead to desperate measures to stay focused.

I’ve never been a drug user, personally, but have observed the ease with which people discuss their personal drug use as well as make jokes drug use in general It is disturbing to see young people so out to lunch about what they’re putting in their bodies, the addiction it can cause and how much danger they’re putting themselves in. Addiction is no joke. The most addicted people out there, like you, once said it wouldn’t be them. That they would not be the one to get addicted. My brother, who never rode, was one of those people and now he is fighting a horrific opiate addiction. It all started with cocaine. It is easy to gradually expand what you’re willing to try once you start justifying frequent drug use, so here is my word of warning. All addicts initially believe it won’t be them, that they won’t get addicted. Remind yourself of that next time you try to use that logic.

Now, let’s talk about driving under the influence. Once again, this really isn’t any secret. Lots of young people do this; we see it all of the time on the news. Most of us have friends who have attempted to drive drunk or actually have and the horse world is no different. Some riders have even posted evidence of their driving under the influence onto social media. Getting drunk or using drugs is one thing when it is on your own time and when you’re solely endangering yourself. Placing lives of others at risk is a whole different issue and is just so incredibly selfish. Once again, this ties into the feeling of invincibility a lot of people have. It won’t be them, they won’t get in an accident, they’re a “good driver when [they’re] drunk!” All of this is an utter fallacy. It will be you, eventually, if you keep being a moron. If you want to party on the circuit, that’s your own business, but if you’re reading this and guilty of this, I encourage you to watch videos of families talking about loved ones they’ve lost because of drunk drivers LIKE YOU and try to justify it. Do not put yourself in the position to kill yourself, your friends or complete strangers over something so bloody stupid. Call a damn cab, an uber, a friend or a family member! If you can afford to show at WEF or on the circuit at all, you can afford a freaking cab. And if you can’t, I still don’t care; don’t drive drunk.

Lastly, and one of the most disturbing topics in this post, is the topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault. If this particular topic is triggering for you, I encourage you to scroll past this paragraph and not continue to read it. I also want to thank the strong individuals who reached out to me to share your stories and your traumas. I know wasn’t easy, and I can assure you there are a lot of people with stories like yours who may find comfort in knowing they aren’t alone. Thank you so much for your fortitude, honesty and for trusting me with your stories. The horse world as a whole is pretty incestuous when it comes to affairs in between other riders or trainers, trainers trying to sleep with their students and so on. While I may not necessarily agree with that personally, if it is two consenting adults, quite frankly, it is none of my business. The problem lies in the fact that people in positions of power, such as trainers or big name riders, may use their prestige to influence people who idolize them into becoming intimate solely in their pursuit of moving up the ranks on the circuit as a rider. Many equestrians, as a result, may be coerced into doing things they do not want to do or putting up with sexual harassment in fear of losing their position as a student, groom or otherwise if they stand up to what is going on.

Here is one person’s account of a close call:

A respected/well-known trainer, rider and judge slipped the date rape drug to a young FEI groom while at a bar after a horse show. Friends thankfully noticed that she was not okay and got her out of there before anything further could happen.

Another person’s experience with sexual harassment:

From what I’ve seen and personally experienced, it usually comes from grooms. I was personally sexually harassed by my grooms, they would slap my ass and say stuff in Spanish about me when I first came to the barn and didn’t know a lot of Spanish. I know a lot of other juniors feel the same way with their grooms asking about their sex lives etc.

If you did not listen to my trigger warning above, I am going to give another before sharing this person’s account of their sexual assault. It is very disturbing, so please, if this is something you are sensitive too, scroll past:

“About 6 years ago, I was showing at HITS Saugerties with my barn. One of the days when we were at the show grounds, I started talking to one of the riders there. He was really cute and super personable. His uncle owns a big equitation/jumper barn in my area. We continued to talk throughout the week. One night, I was at the show late taking care of my horse and he came over to my aisle and asked me if I wanted to go back to his hotel room that night and maybe grab some dinner. I said yes. He picked me up from my hotel and we drove to his hotel. We ate dinner at the restaurant attached to the hotel and we went back to his room. It started out really nice and then out of nowhere he started ripping all my clothes off. It was like he was possessed. I kept saying no and he kept telling me to shut up. I felt all of the blood drain from my face and I just went numb. I couldn’t stop crying and he kept telling me to shut up. He threw a pillow over my face and he kept penetrating me. I tried getting him off of me but I couldn’t. After a while I just gave up. When he was done with me, he threw my clothes at me and told me to get dressed. He said that if I said anything to anyone he would make sure I regretted it. I ran out of the hotel and asked my friend to come pick me up. She asked me why I was crying and I just told her the date didn’t go well and left it at that. The bruises and smack marks I had on my body felt like they were going to be there forever. I feel like he took a piece of me with him when he sexually assaulted me. I haven’t told anyone this story. I am too ashamed and embarrassed. The damage he did to me can’t be undone. It can’t ever be unfelt. Luckily, he stopped riding so I don’t have to see him at horse shows. But if he did this to me, I don’t even want to know how many other women have been victimized by him.”

Whether or not you have personally heard stories related to peoples’ sexual assault or harassment or have experienced it yourself, it does go on and unfortunately, for the most part, many are not comfortable coming forward to share their stories for many reasons. Hopefully, the introduction of SafeSport with USEF will help address sexual harassment and assault, but ultimately, the public stance in relation to issues such as these needs to be no tolerance. It is not the victim’s fault for what happens, it is the fault of those committing the crime, no matter the scenario.

The horse world has some remarkable people and can be an amazingly supportive community that joins together with a similar commitment and passion for the horse. Many people first priority is the health and happiness of their horses and are willing to do the same for other people’s horses. In times of hardship, equestrians come together to help others out of dark times and can be so completely and utterly selfless. A lot of the best people I’ve met have been equestrians and I’ve learned so much about good horse care and training from those I’ve been around and I’m forever grateful for them.

This blog post series has worn on me. Much what was sent never made it into the post due to the sheer number of accounts, many of which were very similar. But, frankly, it has frightened me. If even a small bit of this holds truth, it worries me for the future of horses I work with or horses that I sell. I do not want them to land into the hands of people like the ones that were discussed above. I don’t want to accidentally fall prey to working for or training with someone who does poor practices behind my back. It makes me worried for the horse world. Horses give so much to us and teach us so much, we owe it to them to do better. We owe it to them to report instances where we see unethical practice and we owe it to them to demand change if our voices go unheard when pointing out some of the shady things that may have been allowed to happen by those in charge. We owe it to them to make the show world safer for them and to work towards creating a community that puts the health of the horse above winning or making money.

The research and interviews I’ve done in conducting this blog post have honestly altered the way I will proceed as a professional in the horse world. I never ever want to become somebody who leaves the well-being of the horse behind in my pursuit to individual greatness or to appease clients who are far too focused on winning. I want to be someone who produces nice, competitive horses that are fun to ride while maintaining their individual personalities and allowing them to be HORSES. I want to work with clients, colleagues and students in a way that supports, teaches and builds them in a positive manner. That is my dream and even if I’m not as successful as a lot of other professionals in the industry, I can absolutely cope with that if it means my horses and my people are happier. Success means nothing if it is achieved literally on the backs of others who are being used and abused in the pursuit of money and greatness. I want no part of “success” like that and neither should you.

*The events discussed in this blog post are other people’s first hand accounts and though many came from sources I know and trust, I cannot guarantee the validity of them.

Who is watching out for the horses?

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After scrolling through some of the vet records on the Emanuel Andrade horses going up for auction in February 2019, I am… well.. shocked. If you haven’t yet heard about the big scandal surrounding the Andrade family and where the money for all of their horses, numerous vehicles, properties etc, I encourage you to look that up first so we are on the same page. Anyways, in short, the Andrade family had their string of horses seized by the FBI and now these horses are going up for public auction. As such, their prior vet records have been released and they are… concerning… to say the least.

I quote from the vet record on one of the horses, a stallion named Ricore Courcelle:

“Full thickness 1 inch laceration to the dorso-lateral fetlock from coming off of the trailer at show. Due to the jog in 1 hours time, no medications possible. Irrigate with saline solution. Twitch, ice pack and place 2 staples across wound. Jog passed.

Now, I don’t know about you, but being a good and decent horse person means that if my horse had a laceration requiring stitches or staples, he would be scratched immediately. I’ve scratched him for less. Now, I’m sure I’ll get some people on here going off about how I’m not an Olympic level rider and blah blah blah. I don’t need to be. If anything, riders at that level need to be held to a HIGHER level of accountability, not less. The competitions are more strenuous and harder on the horses than lower levels of competition, there should be even less acceptance for horses to show with injuries that are clearly in need of healing. My OTTB that I recently sold lacerated just above his coronet band and required a few stitches and a full wrap. 2 weeks of stall rest so that he would not tear out the stitches, even in turnout. I had intended to take him to a clinic, but guess who was scratched from it immediately? Archie. It was a little disappointing, but at the end of the day, why would I even be involved with horses if I cared more about attending events than the long term health of my horse? It is ludicrous.

All of these vet records on the numerous horses that were seized are publicly available. There are several other concerning things listed throughout that are worth a read. I encourage you to look them up, but I will not go on further about all of them on here, because this article is actually not dedicated to Emanuel Andrade and family, it is dedicated to the many people like him who have been exposed and gotten away with it or who have yet to be discovered.

You see, as outraged as people may be at the Andrade family, there is something even more insidious about this whole scenario. These horses were passed in jogs. They were allowed to compete by stewards. No matter what people say, I fail to see a reason why a horse with a wound requiring sutures needs to be competed in mere days or hours after said injury. The Andrades were enabled by the vets on duty to ride and show these horses when the horses were likely better off resting. Some may try to defend Emanuel on the basis that it was his father under fire with the FBI and not him, which may be fair, however, I find it hard to believe that Emanuel could have so much family financial assistance for his sport and not have the faintest clue of where said money is coming from. Even if he has no idea, his response to what has been going on and the way he has consistently treated people in the past has deteriorated any sympathy I have had for him. Going as far as calling a girl on instagram the C word, he has a track record of using put downs and immature language on top of his questionable ethics horse wise. And Emanuel is not the only upper level rider who abused his influence and took his horses for granted. In fact, this happens all too frequently.

For example, we have Kelley Farmer, a notable professional producing some very successful horses in the hunter ring. One of the horses in her program, Kodachrome tested positive for cocaine. Yes, COCAINE. You read that right. She was fined and suspended for 2 months only to have the suspension lifted pending further investigation. Now, what people choose to do and use in their own free time is none of my business, but there is no excuse for cocaine to ever come in even remote contact with horses. Absolutely inexcusable. To lift the suspension also sets a tone for what is allowed and what can be gotten away with on the circuit. It lets people who do similar things or worse know that if they have the money, the name and the will, they can probably get away with it. Yes, Miss Farmer herself is at fault for allowing this to happen, whether she drugged the horse personally or trusted untrustworthy people with her horses. However, she never should have been allowed to get away with it in the first place. If the top show organizations started to crack down a lot harder on poor horsemanship, poor horsemanship would seize to exist. There is no benefit in taking illegal shortcuts if the punishments are heavy and you risk losing your entire livelihood from it.

The Farmer situation irritates me especially because people are always pointing fingers at the racing industry for the drug use in it. Yes, racehorses can be drugged and unfortunately some trainers may try to do shady stuff. However, the regulations and the amount of testing there is are more of a deterrence and as it stands, there is a lot more of a motivator for all sorts of legal and illegal calming substances to create the perfect hunter. I’m sure there are scenarios of people getting away with hideous behaviour in the racing world as well, but generally, it seems there is more of a “zero tolerance” policy. Such was seen when a trainer with the famed stable, Goldophin, met an 8 year ban for doping. Now, I’m not trying to say the racing industry never needs to change or that there isn’t room for improvement, because there definitely is, but it is interesting where so many horse people turn their critiques and focus when there are despicable things going on within their own disciplines that they often defend or turn a blind eye to. No discipline is immune to doping their horses, bottom line.

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Another notable instance of someone getting away with something that perhaps they shouldn’t is with Marilyn Little, who had yet another bloody mouth at The Kentucky 3 Day Event this year. Now, you say, another bloody mouth? Yes. She has had I think now SIX instances of bloody mouths with difference horses. I can understand the horses may bite their tongues or things can go wrong but SIX times in the public eye is not normal. Couple this with footage of Marilyn showing with extremely tight nosebands, double twisted wire gags and other scary bit combinations, it really is not much of a reach to assume that this six time occurrence could be a rider error. This past year in Kentucky, her groom was seen RUNNING to wipe RF Scandalous’ mouth immediately after finishing XC. This is unusual. A horse who has just done an incredibly strenuous athletic feat and the first thing you go to do is wipe their mouth with none other than a RED towel? Suspicious, to say the least. I ride racehorses. They come out of races hot and sweaty, wanna know what the grooms go for first? The tack. Offering water. Sponging the horse… Doing something that, you know, actually benefits the horse in their cool down and overall comfort coming out of hard work. And she continues getting away with it. This once again is showing everyone within the industry that using equipment to over muscle horses, even when there are visible signs the horse is in distress, is A-Ok so long as you are successful.

Marilyn Little did receive a lot of online backlash, but from what I saw, a lot of the backlash was focused on her and her actions. Not the people that enable her. It is terrible that people like her continue to get away with things like that and seem genuinely unbothered by how commonly such events occur, but what about those who enable her to do so? She would be nothing if she did not make it into the show ring. She would be nothing if her knack of getting her horses bloody in the mouth disallowed her to compete. To do her job. She would be screwed. She would be forced to make a very real change and would not continue to be enabled for it. Other riders at the very same events, competing the very same courses do not meet the same issues as her.

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Lastly, let’s talk about Adelinde Cornelissen and how the online world absolutely applauded her for pulling her horse, Parzival out of the Rio Olympics after he fell ill. Parzival contracted a fever the day before the dressage event, presumably due to an insect bite. The day prior, his head was swollen and he was feverish. She stopped mid test and left the arena and everyone online applauded her for her “selflessness” when really this is the most basic effort of caring for your horse.. Yes, it is the OIympics, but seriously, anyone with genuine love and care for their horse should realize that not pushing them when they’re ill should be first nature. Couple this with Corneilssen’s questionable methods involving rollkuring her beloved Parzival and it really just rubbed me the wrong way. The photos of her in the Rio show ring during warm up also look odd, the horse seems to be evidently working his mouth oddly. Why are we applauding world class professionals AKA the people who should be the epitome of good riding, proper care and great animal husbandry for the most basic of things that the vast majority of horse owners would do without a second thought, many of which without entering the ring in the first place. Good for her for not continuing to push him, but seriously, the public adoration and amazement over such a feat just goes to show how very unusual it is for people to see their professional idols making the right decision.

Professionals are imperfect beings and obviously, some may have lapses in their judgment and make mistakes. But, our equine governing bodies are disallowing them to grow from said mistakes by continually allowing people to get off far too easy or in a lot of cases, completely ignoring what is going on. How are we supposed to set the tone for younger generations? For the up and coming professionals who could be very well training under shady people and learning that actual repercussions will not apply to them if they know the right people. We are creating a show world where the focus is solely on winning and the fame behind it, not on producing well minded, happy horses who are ridden well and taken care of even better. It is sad and if something doesn’t change soon, all we are going to do is encourage people to continue taking shortcuts and doing what gives them the most instant gratification and the most fame. They continually see people at the top of the top getting away with stuff, things getting swept under the rug and still continuing to garner lots of awards, clients and fame, thereby pushing people towards these unethical mindsets instead of away.

Let’s ask ourselves a couple of things. Why does the FEI want to ban hackamores on cross country but allow people with numerous instances of bloodied mouths to continue competing with harsh bits? Why are hackamores the thing to ban, but not the people who are showing blatant misuse of their equipment? Why do so many disciplines have virtually no laws on what types of bits you can use, but if you try to show bitless, you won’t pin or you may even be disqualified. Is anyone seeing how odd the disconnect is? People are literally being encouraged to throw on whatever they need to coerce their horse into submission, but be swayed away from even considering softer options due to the fact that they’re illegal. I’m sure some of you will say “some horses cannot be controlled bitless, we can’t risk making that legal!” A lot of horses are also utterly out of control bitted or literally held into submission by a thread and the pain of running through the equipment they’re in… So…. Maybe it should be managed on a case by case basis considering some riders couldn’t ride their horse even with a machete as bit whereas others can go in completely tackless and get the job done without their horse ever losing focus.

Who is watching out for our horses? All I see constantly online is junior and amateur riders alike being crucified for making junior and amateur mistakes or not even doing anything wrong, just not doing it “good enough” or to the liking of the general internet populace. I see them being held to a higher standard than professionals. Professionals doing all sorts of weird riding, unconventional eq (which honestly isn’t a problem, but the disconnect between their judgment and that of amateurs is relevant), lazy or downright cruel training practices are often defended using the sole basis of them being professionals. Or the fact that they showed at the Olympics. Well, that is great that they competed at the Olympics, Sally, but that doesn’t mean they’re nice to their horses. Why are we so hard on riders who are admittedly growing and learning but so soft on the people who should be held to the highest of standards?

Like I said, professionals make mistakes, I get it. But, by the time you get to the top of the top and are attending events such as the Olympics, you should definitely be making less. You should be aware of the fact that having numerous bloodied mouths isn’t okay or that, perhaps, you shouldn’t be jumping 1.60m on a horse with fresh staples in its leg. You shouldn’t be caught publicly beating your horse at a show venue. All of these things occurring in the public eye at shows begs the question of what these people are doing when they’re at home, when they’re risking way less people seeing them. If they’re comfortable doing it in the warm up ring or show ring of a very public venue, they probably take it a step, or several, further at home.

Horses do not give 2 shits about whether or not they live in expensive barns, wear expensive tack or show at the upper levels. We forget that these are grazing flight animals. Animals engineered to wander large distances in a single day in a herd. We isolate them. We make them work and as a result, so many people forget that they are seated upon a living and breathing creature, not a machine. It is completely and utterly inexcusable. I love the horse show world and there are so many good people in it, but honestly, the more stuff I see swept under the rug, accepted and allowed, the more hope I lose. We are moving further and further away from what is best for the horses and doing only what makes their riders and trainers happiest and most comfortable. It is really disheartening. We all need to demand better. Up our standards for those at the very top and allowing an educating and kind voice when speaking to the junior and amateur riders who will make more mistakes due to their own lack of experience.

The anger towards the riders who break rules and get away with it is warranted, but misplaced. Such anger should be directed at those in charge. The people who enable these riders and their careers. Those who set the tone for what is and isn’t okay in the show world. The people at the top of the top should be setting an example and if they don’t, they should be used as an example of why people cannot get away with poor practice. Why are we not doing more to ensure the safety, happiness and overall health of the horses competing as well as the long term betterment of the horsemanship of the riders competing? We can do better, why aren’t we?

Who is watching out for the horses, are you?

The Best Jumping Stirrups

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Many riders overlook the importance of a quality stirrup iron. Riding and showing horses over fences is a demanding sport that requires special equipment for the horse and rider to perform at their best. If you’re looking for an excellent base of support and the utmost safety, it’s critical to consider how different stirrups (especially newer high-tech options like Freejump) influence your biomechanics and may help you to ride more accurately, comfortably, confidently, and safely.

10 most popular jumping stirrups:

  • Fillis

  • Peacock

  • Jointed

  • Composite (Chief Rookie Aside: I’m obsessed with my Compositi stirrups.)

  • Jin

  • Royal Rider

  • MDC

  • Lorenzini

  • Free Jump

  • American Equus

Click here to read on for the ultimate guide to jump stirrup shopping across a variety of brands, styles, and budgets!

Stop Using Age or Breed as an Excuse for Poor Nutrition

Milo at 2 compared to Milo at age 6.

Milo at 2 compared to Milo at age 6.

If I had a dollar for every time someone justified their overly skinny horse on the basis of their age or the fact that “They’re a thoroughbred!” I could probably afford to feed all of these horses that are far too skinny due to their owner’s naivety or negligence. Here’s the thing: I am totally understanding of the fact that sometimes horses go through stages in life where they may unexpectedly and quickly drop weight. BUT- there is a definitive difference between the owner who actively works to find out WHY their horse is skinny and how to fix it and the one who remains complacent and chooses to blame their poor body condition on something that really shouldn’t even be brought up when considering a horse’s overall healthy.

Yes, it is true that old horses may not keep the same condition as they did when they were in their youth. I am totally on board with the old fart of a horse who lacks muscle tone, may have a rib here or there but is otherwise still healthy. But, seeing people trying to excuse their extremely unhealthy, malnourished and in some cases, EMACIATED horses because they are old is…. just… disgusting, to be frank. If your horse has actually a hit a point in life where they are a rack of bones and no matter what you do, you cannot get them to keep a relatively healthy weight on, I think that is a point where you consider quality of life over quantity. Sometimes the best decision may be the hardest one for the owner, but the whole point in animal ownership is being the selfless parent that does whatever is best for their animal’s long-term health. Now, if you’re working alongside a vet and they believe the condition to be fixable and you’re actively working to do whatever is best for your horse, all of the power to you, but then you definitely do not fall under the “my horse is old!” excuse group, so please do not take offence to this post… It isn’t for you.

Now, the breed excuse. More times than not, this is applied to Thoroughbreds. As someone who has had many of them and works with them both on and off of the track, this is an entirely unacceptable excuse. I used to be that moron who did not know how to properly feed Thoroughbreds to keep them in tip top shape, however, they never hit the point where it was a welfare issue. They just looked undermuscled and ribby, lacking overall condition. Still embarrassing and I will readily admit that it was due to my own lack of knowledge on equine nutrition as well as my putting my full trust into people at boarding facilities to feed them appropriately, which is once again, stupid. Yes, Thoroughbreds are typically harder keepers, no, that is not an excuse for your horse to look like it just got seized from a negligence case. If my boss can have a barn full of high strung, high maintenance racehorses that could easily head to a Hunter/Jumper show and still fit the bill, you can ensure your pleasure horse looks healthy. So, no, the breed is not the issue, your inability to appropriately feed and care for said breed is. If you cannot afford a harder keeper, either do not get a horse or only look at horses with metabolisms that allow them to keep so well that they could survive a nuclear apocalypse. I’m sick and tired of seeing people excuse their horses’ poor condition on the basis that they cannot afford X amount of hay or grain and that Thoroughbreds “are supposed to be thin". They aren’t, I have seen some obese TBs and while that is not healthy either, it certainly is possible when owners are a little over zealous in their feed programs.

If you can tell your horse is not looking their best, instead of making excuses, seek out help. Oftentimes, the problem is in the hay. So many people do not feed enough hay or high enough quality hay. The whole mindset of barns only doing X number of hay feedings per day with X number of flakes is definitely something that should change. Horses are grazing animals, so everyone should be making their best efforts to ensure that they have something to munch on as frequently as possible. Personally, I feed free choice and for the fatties, this means that they have slow feeders so they do not gorge themselves. For the skinny minnies, I give them as much as they can eat along with a grain ration and soaked alfalfa cubes for some more rich “hay” added to their diet. The dietary formula for each horse’s optimal condition can vary widely. Sometimes you need to play around to find out what works and that’s fine, weight doesn’t need to be piled on instantaneously and probably shouldn’t be for very skinny horses, but the most important factor is ensuring the effort is there. For those who excuse weight on the basis of things that really don’t matter, it is generally safe to assume the same effort isn’t their due to their efforts in trying to justify why their horse is too thin rather than actually fixing it.

Milo when he was first seized by the BCSPCA. People even tried to defend THIS condition on some posts…

Milo when he was first seized by the BCSPCA. People even tried to defend THIS condition on some posts…

I got one of my horses as a skinny 2y/o and for him, especially since he was rapidly growing to catch up with the lost growth from when he was too emaciated to spend energy growing up, it took quite a while for him to mature and develop condition like other horses his age. Still, his weight was gaining steadily, albeit slowly and we were constantly trying to find the most optimal diet for him. Even still, looking back, I definitely could have seen quicker and better results had I ensured that the hay quality and quantity were at par along with utilizing the same grain program I have now. Now that that horse is finished growing, he is actually one of the “Fatties” now and is on a diet program rather than a weight gaining one. Funny how things change when horses’ bodies realize they are no longer going to be starved.

Basically, what I am trying to encourage with this post is a higher standard of care for our horses. Offer people help instead of ridiculing in the event that you seen sub optimal care, but on top of that, people who are in the position where they’re dealing with horses who are underweight should really stop trying to justify why it is okay for their horse to stay that weight and start trying to fix it. People are incredibly judgmental creatures and it is super frustrating to meet judgment when you are actively working on getting you horse’s weight up, however, the amount of people who view a 2 on the body scale as acceptable due to age or breed is simply unacceptable and downright frightening. In allowing people to excuse care like this on the basis of such irrelevant things, we are encouraging the lack of education, mindlessness and lack of accountability for the care we are providing our animals. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes, but the culture of allowing people to believe that extremely skinny horses are acceptable provided they’re a certain age or breed is very concerning.

The biggest thing for me is that since so many normalize this mindset, it honestly is not that uncommon to see people actively riding and working horses who are probably too underweight to be doing so and shouldn’t be expending more energy when they already aren’t keeping weight on. Such people likely do love and care for their horses but often have a sense of self righteousness and readily pull the age or breed card to defend themselves, instead of reconsidering their animal care practices. Horses bodies already are not built to carry humans in the first place, this is why proper musculature, good weight and correct carriage of body are such important factors in riding. If your horse is a bag of bones, there is no way that carrying a human can be done without some discomfort and to the detriment of their own health. So, it is time that people up the standards for their care and that more people advocate for the fact that horses of ANY age and ANY breed can still hold decent condition and in the event that they absolutely cannot, that should be viewed as an emergent vet issue to deal with, not something to ignore and excuse.

My OTTB when he was race fit, mere days after his last race.

My OTTB when he was race fit, mere days after his last race.


Making Money on Social Media

Photo by Quinn Saunders

Photo by Quinn Saunders

This is the thought on many people’s minds, because realistically, how nice would it be to profit off of something that you spend a lot of time using anyways and would continue to do regardless of whether or not you got paid for it… This was my very thought process, at least. It was the dream of earning money for essentially doing… (in my eyes, at the time, at least) nothing and spending nothing. The dream of being able to earn money from posting about things that I would be doing throughout the day anyways. The dream that arose after watching many of the top personalities on YouTube and later finding out the insane amount of money they pull in for posting one video a week… Ah, yes the dream.

I’ve been in the equestrian niche on social media a long time. I quite literally grew up in some sort of public eye, growing and changing as a rider and frequently (and, in some cases, regrettably) sharing that online for however many people at the time to see. I started out posting on a blog on Tumblr and from there decided to join YouTube first by posting edits of my riding. With Instagram, I was slower to join, initially and albeit vehemently opposed to the idea of “just sharing photos without captions” when Instagram first begun to gain popularity as I was going into high school. Eventually, I did decide to join Instagram, first starting with a personal account and then eventually making an exclusively equine account in my senior year, after overcoming the paranoia about being made fun of by those I went to school with (who cares, most of the bullies from back then who didn’t become better people are… unimpressive… to say the least)… Don’t let this stop you from making a horse account, just do it.).

I would be lying if I said I was profiting off of social media in the beginning… Or the middle for that matter. In fact, it was not until I started a new YouTube channel a mere 3 years ago as I neared my 20th birthday. I decided to give up on the edits, make an AdSense account, link it to my YouTube and create a vlog style channel where I could monetize my content. I didn’t particularly enjoy making edits anyways, vlogs were far more up my alley and the ability to monetize my content was really just the push for me to create the new channel and start sharing my real experiences instead of trying to portray the essence of me utilizing popularized music that vaguely exemplified whatever I was trying to put out to viewers. The edit account I ran for a few years prior to creating the new one and I only ever amassed 1,200 subscribers on that channel. This is important to keep in mind, because this will all go into my discussion on branding and being yourself, not trying to emulate the personalities of others and what you perceive to be popular online.

So, anyways, back to my Tumblr blog. I was active on Tumblr for several years and amassed a following of about 9,000 before becoming less active and turning my focuses to Instagram and YouTube. The 9,000 followers were useful in helping me to develop an initial following on both Instagram and YouTube, but the growth to said following was a slow one. It can take time and the content you share may be more suited to other social media avenues, it really depends. My following on Instagram grew fairly steadily over the years I used it. I knew a lot of the local horse people and was able to make connections this way as well as following the “big” riders at the time on Instagram, along with professional riders and companies. I made 2 new accounts over the years, restarting and thereby creating the account now known as “sdequus” about 3 to 3.5 years ago. My goal on Instagram was fairly simple, document my journey with my green (3 at the time) rescue horse and post fairly detailed captions rather than the short, fairly superficial captions that frequented a lot of Instagram postings. I wanted my account to follow a blog style and almost read like a scrapbook when people looked back on it over the years. I wanted people to really get to know my horses. This stylistic element probably crossed over from my blogging days on Tumblr as well as my personal interests in writing.

Anyways, this is what started the “brand” that has now expanded to YouTube and other social channels, this is what really pushed my interest in sharing online and is still something I try to do today online. I try to share the realistic parts of my journey while offering people insight on what I do, my thoughts and feelings and mine and my horses real personalities. So, the first step in creating your social media is creating your brand. As an influencer, your brand is yourself. This is why ripping off other people’s content or personalities (other than drawing inspiration for videos or using common internet trends, memes etc. Think plagiarizing, not utilizing social media themes) doesn’t generally work as it comes off as insincere. Especially in the horse world, think of what makes you different. You do not have the same horses or overall riding image as someone else, no matter how similar you may be in discipline or area. Do not try to be someone else. Be yourself. What made another account popular may not work with your own, this is so important to remember. Each person who amasses a following often does so by having something that is specific to themselves and their individual riding career. You don’t need to show or jump huge or have a ton of fancy horses to do this, people from all areas of the horse world have created a following for themselves. Use what is unique to you and stay true to yourself, don’t become someone you’re not in an attempt to achieve someone else’s social image.

Your brand is what attracts people to follow you and that is the first part to earning money on social media. Building a brand. Even with selling merch, unless you’re marketing an actual business, people are a lot less likely to purchase your product prior to you building a brand. Even if you do produce products that aren’t necessarily specific to your social media channels, having a following allows you to have an audience to share whatever products you’re selling, it can make a huge difference in the startup of a business. It gives you a voice. It is important. Especially with Instagram, your brand is really the only way you can profit. By selling merch or selling ads. Instagram does not have the same ease of monetization as YouTube so your “payout” on Instagram is often in way of selling your own products or receiving sponsorships from other companies.

This is why a YouTube channel, in my opinion, would be the preferrable way for an equestrian to profit off of social media. YouTube has made monetizing your channel more difficult nowadays, due to their view threshold and watch hours one most receive prior to being granted their AdSense membership, so once again, building your brand and thereby your following is really the only way to do this. Even if you get one viral video, it would take a while prior to being granted ad status, so the continued viewership of subscribers is important. In making a YouTube channel, equestrians also offer more readily available riding footage for brands to view, thereby offering opportunity in way of sponsorships or riding gigs. You never know. Having videos readily available to send out for clinics, sponsorships, etc is always convenient, at least. So, anyways, if you ever want to profit off of YouTube, start before you’re super ready to be active and share your content as much as possible to get those watch hours. In this way, utilizing multiple social channels is important for advertising your other medias, as one of your platforms will likely become more viewed and more popular than the other.

YouTube can be lucrative. As far as YouTubers go, I’m fairly small and do not get a ton of views but the ad revenue from YouTube is a great addition to my income as it stands and it only serves to grow as my channel does. For riders this is so important! You likely video a lot of your rides as it stands and being able to have the potential to earn an extra profit from that could be how you pay for shows or the other crazy expenses that come with riding. It certainly isn’t a bad idea to try to join the YouTube community, in my opinion. There are also a lot of amazing people to meet! Now, while I do not earn a paycheck specifically from Instagram, it is important to note how important my Instagram is for my brand. It allows me a place to share every single new YouTube upload as well as to represent the brands that I am sponsored by. Without the following on Instagram, it would be a lot harder to get the same amount of support and collaboration from equine brands. Horse brands are VERY much a part of Instagram and as such, do a lot of their selection for sponsored riders and ambassadors from advertising their searches on Instagram or finding and contacting riders from Instagram. For this reason, I would say that Instagram is one of the must have social channels due to the sheer popularity of it. Brands are a lot less likely to find you on YouTube. Especially before your videos become super viewed.

Gaining followers online on both Instagram and YouTube will not be fluid. I had months or years where I would gain many each day, week or month but then there would be months where my follower count would remain much the same or even go down. YouTube grew incredibly slowly for the first two years. Just this year, my channel has really seemed to grow at a faster rate. Currently, my analytics show 3,000 subscribers a month, but in a mere couple of months this could cut in half or even more. Hitting the tipping point where your account hits an upward trend can be a matter of weeks, months or years. It varies so widely and there is really no guarantee. My first year monetized on YouTube yielded only $250 annual earnings, with some of the months yielding less than $10 monthly earnings. AdSense minimum payout amount is $100/monthly. This means I only got paid twice between 2015 and 2016. By 2017, this revenue had gone up to $1,800 annual earnings. 18 Adsense payouts (1 payout of at least $100 per month). But, $100 really still isn’t much. It sounds like a lot to earn from YouTube, especially for people who may have not had a monetized channel, but with the amount spent planning and editing videos, you aren’t even making anywhere near minimum wage especially after factoring in camera costs and other costs associated with creating videos. Anyways, my channel has continued to expand this year and we are coming up on the end of 2018. This year, my AdSense earnings have increased to over $6,000. This is more than I ever could have imagined earning from YouTube, however, it is super important to keep in mind how very much these monthly earnings fluctuate. I’ve earned 1/6th of that total income in the last month, the beginning and middle of this year yielded less income from YouTube. My monthly income can also drop at any point, as views do. If my content stops being viewed and enjoyed as much or my fan base stops engaging, the income will suffer as a result. This undoubtedly has been influential in helping pay for school and horse expenses, however, it would be a lie if I were to say that it were anywhere near my main income. The AdSense payouts have really only served to help cover towards major vet bills or huge and unexpected expenses whereas my main income from riding is what I use to pay for all regular bills as well as the vast majority of the unexpected ones… In fact, when taking my budget into account, I really cannot rely on social media earnings because of their lack of reliability.

A few years ago now, I started the brand “Milestone Equestrian” which first came out in my merchandise designs, sold through Teespring. What started out as a few simple designs has expanded to much more than that. I still choose to use Teespring for much of my merchandise marketing because of the fact that they handle all printing and shipping services. I am far too busy to reasonable handle that much shipping and on top of that, the costs associated with buying clothing in bulk and selling and shipping it drew me away from that, despite the freedom that would come with self sourcing my own merch along with the fact that the profit margin would be higher. Teespring is a lot more risk free, I don’t lose money because I don’t initially put out my own money to buy products that may not end up selling. For this reason, it is super appealing to me and I would recommend it to anyone starting out or wanting to market their own designs. In the future, as I become more financially stable and grow my brand, I would like to do my own merch so I can offer more unique clothing styles or perhaps have someone design garments specific to me, but the cost and risk associated with doing so is a barrier for now.

Anyways, to date I have brought in over $13,000 CAD from Teespring. This sounds like a lot but costs associated with advertising the merchandise, buying camera equipment for instagram and YouTube, web hosting etc are also fairly high. I was losing more than I was making for a little while because of this. The profits for the first few years were also extremely low, this is really the first year that my company has really started to blow up and make a lot of sales. So, it is important to make it clear that this is not something that happens overnight nor something you can count on for an income. Sales are not fluid, they vary a lot and the ability to sell something depends on having people to sell to. Not all products will sell, many of my designs have failed but the ones that did succeed are what allowed me to earn money off of merch sales.

Most recently, I created this website and this resulting blog, another way to profit off of social media. In writing a blog, I can partner with other companies as a writer, for reviews or also represent the brands that I am currently partnered with. On top of this, I can also monetize this website with AdSense, which brings in ad revenue from hosting Google ads, just like my YouTube videos. My blog posts also serve as another way to share my thoughts and opinions and potentially have them be shared by lots of other riders who can relate. This really only serves to further promote my social channels, which are also linked to this website. Another way to help expand the reach of my brand while feeding my passion of writing and sharing my opinion on a variety of horsey topics. If you enjoy writing, starting a blog can be a very relaxing past time that allows you to share your thoughts with those who may be able to learn from them or relate to them, it is also a good way to let those who follow you get to know you further. Wordpress is a free way to start your own personal blog. Domains like the one I have this blog on are expensive. I spent over $300 USD just for a year of hosting this website. This is the first year that this site has paid for itself. That does not include the cost of paying a graphic designer, who designed this whole site for me. This does not come cheap and I am so lucky to have friends willing to help me with this and offer me a price point that I can afford.

I’m sure by now that this sounds like a fantasy. Social media does not come free. Costs associated with marketing, branding and purchasing necessary equipment like cameras, camera accessories and so on to continue to allow the posting of videos and photos are not cheap. Often times, creators have to put out a lot of money before they’ve actually earned it, meaning that money intended for expanding their brand may end up going nowhere if the brand does not succeed. I have spent thousands on cameras, tripods, memory cards, editing softwares and so on to allow myself a better shot of producing desirable content. For many years, all of this money went absolutely nowhere but I didn’t complain because I simply enjoyed doing it regardless of the payout. Now that I am actually seeing a real income, it is really exciting but I feel the need to warn people that this does not come easy and none of the money that comes in from this is consistent. Ad revenue can fluctuate greatly, as can merch sales or brand deals and so on. Going into social media with the sole goal of making a fortune would be ridiculous. Share your life online if you so choose and because you enjoy it, earning money off of it is simply an added bonus, not a guarantee.

Please be smart and do not set your income reliance on social media or set your hopes to high. I work 3 real jobs off social media that are the largest factor in affording the lifestyle I live. Maybe going forward social media will allow me to live more luxuriously than I am currently but for now, it really just serves as a pleasant surprise and an addition to an income that I absolutely do rely on. The opportunities with brand connections and income that social media has offered me have truly changed my life, but more importantly, the relationships I’ve built with people and companies that I’ve been introduced to due to my presence on social media have really changed my life. I can guarantee that would not be the rider or the person I am today without the crucial people I encountered on social media who helped me to continue to learn and grow as a person and who still help me today. I am forever thankful for the brands that have partnered with me and offered me opportunity, allowing me to further myself as a rider and the ability to use and try products that I otherwise would not have been able to have. I am so thankful for everyone who has contributed to my growth and for everyone who supports my pages and enjoys my content. It is truly humbling and I honestly cannot believe that I am where I am today.

2018, a year of ups and downs.

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Now that I am nearing the end of what has been a rollercoaster of a year, I think it is time for me to reflect on all that was accomplished… or wasn’t accomplished, throughout this year. Perhaps it is just me getting older, but this year has felt so incredibly long that some of the events from the beginning of it seem as though they happened years ago. So much has changed for me in such a short space of time that it is hard to fathom where I was at the commencement of 2018 compared to now, almost ready to ring in the new year.

In February of 2018, I finally made the jump to start my professional career by offering public training services. I hummed and I hawed for a while but ultimately, the benefits of it outweighed the risks and thus, I started my professional career, something I have quite literally been dreaming about since I begun riding at age 4. This was obviously a big decision for me and felt like it was the end of an era. For a while, I had a slight twinge of regret and wondered if this were the right decision for me. What if a career in horses never pans out? What if I don’t get any clients? What if when it simply comes down to it, I’m just not good at my job and I end up upsetting clients? So many worries that eventually began to bleed together, until all I could do was push them out of my mind and continue carrying on with my goals. We’ll come back to my journey as a newfound pro.

At the beginning of 2018, my main competition horse and main riding horse, Milo was also very much still out of commission. He was in a rehab program that extended to new movements through very small intervals. In January, we were maybe doing a couple of minutes of trot and a whole lot of walking. It was tedious. He moved choppy and stiff, he just did not look great. I just wanted my horse back. I often wondered if I would ever truly “get” him back or if we would have to start from ground zero all over again and try to make our way back to doing things that took him years to wrap his little head around as it was. But, I remained patient and I toughed it out. When he was doing enough in his rehab program to justify lessons, we started taking dressage lessons and so began my journey down the realm of dressage, with a newfound and more serious interest in it. By May, we were starting to jump again and by June and July, we were showing again. Milo was back, looking better than ever. Moving better and jumping great. Things were finally starting to come together. By late Spring, I had amassed some clients. Some for full training, others for the occasional training ride, but I was making an income from my professional services as well as from galloping for the racing barn I’d worked for the last couple of years prior.

I sold one of my project horses and bought my truck in July, a 2005 Chevy Silverado. Nothing fancy, but the thing was a beast that could tow. Sure, I don’t have power windows, but my previous beater of a car didn’t either and the truck is certainly an upgrade from that due to having air conditioning, the one thing that was an absolute must in my truck search. I was excited, the purchase of this truck, all from money earned from horses, made me feel as though my dreams were coming true. Now to learn to tow. Luckily, I work with some great people and my boss offered up her 3 horse angle haul both for me to practice towing with and to eventually borrow once I figured out how to safely tow horses. This has allowed me to learn and to have the accessibility of using a trailer without having to purchase one at this time. It made owning this new truck even more beneficial and special than it would have been in the absence of trailer usage.

I am happy to say that I can now tow a trailer and am fairly comfortable with doing so, minus the panic I feel when someone tailgates me when my beloved animals are in the back, a short distance away from some impatient driver’s bumper. But, hey, I can tow a trailer now. Something I’ve wanted to learn how to do for years. Something I used to be so incredibly envious of, watching other riders hitch up and load their horses into their own trailers and have the freedom to go wherever the heck they wanted. I still lack a lot of that freedom due to not owning the trailers I borrow, but my next goal for 2019 or 2020 is to buy a trailer and then, perhaps, I will feel fully immersed in the equestrian lifestyle.

Throughout show season 2018, Milo went on to win a lot. In pretty much every jumper show that we attended, he won division champion or reserve champion. We finished the show season with two coolers, several saddle pads and a lot of smiles. While the jumps were not big, this is a huge victory for a horse that has such confidence issues on course and was being disqualified from many of his rounds just a year prior. To come out of a rehab program and do so well is truly an accomplishment for my sweet boy. I am so proud of him. While his confidence issues are definitely not eradicated and while he is definitely still a quirky and sometimes impossible horse, this year was a huge jump forward for us and hopefully 2019 will be even better.

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Later on in the summer, ironically due to something not so pleasant, I landed a job that has been huge for me. I made a post addressing some defamatory posts someone who is a complete stranger to me made about me. Along with the support from locals and those who can speak for my character, I was offered a job. A job riding for one of the very people who jump started my riding career, the mother of my very first coach. At the same barn I did so much of my learning at. This was exciting. The farm breeds Arabians, Arabian crosses and Warmbloods, all of which are beautiful and well bred, encompassing so much talent. This allows me to work with some incredible young horses who will be unstoppable in the show ring once they get going. I am now sitting on some of the fanciest horses that I have had the pleasure of riding and with so much opportunity set out directly in front of me, it is a uniquely terrifying and humbling feeling.

This job has pretty much filled all of my training slots, now that I’m riding 8 horses in full training at this particular farm, along with a couple of my other clients who have more infrequent training rides. With school and other obligations, to say that I’ve been busy would be an understatement but, I still took on more because, when opportunity comes knocking, you should answer. I was offered another unique and incredible job working with my dressage trainer, this would allow me to learn directly under someone far more experienced while allowing me to get on more young horses as well as some other, more experienced ones, thus allowing me to expand my learning further under the teachings of my trainer while working off my lessons. It was too good to pass up.

I’ve learned so much in the past year, more than other years prior combined. It has been an incredible journey finding new connections in the horse world and allowing myself more opportunities to learn and grow as a horse person. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve been offered and to those who have been generous enough to give them to me. I would not have thought that in under a year since opening my training services that I would have a full load of work and be making a full living off of it. It is truly incredible and I am so thankful for everyone who has helped and supported me in my riding journey.

Something else to acknowledge is the presence of social media and how it has assisted in my growth and, in some cases, slowed it, due to the critical nature of people online. Social media has been a blessing by allowing me more opportunities to make money and make a living off of doing the things that I love. Through advertising and company partnerships, I’ve been able to partner with sponsors that I may not have otherwise connected with. I signed with Back on Track, a huge company that I’ve been a major fan of for years, due to reaching out to them via social media and making connections. The growth of my YouTube channel has also been substantial, amassing thousands of new subscribers each month and thus making a significant difference in my ad revenue that I earn from videos, this has opened new possibilities in terms of advertising as well as allocation of funds and it is something that is worth noting. I would do YouTube regardless of whether or not I got paid for it but the influence it has had on my ability to accomplish things within the equine world has been phenomenal and I am so thankful for it.

Through my university schooling and other more academic goals, I have managed to land a job writing some free lance articles for another web page called Horse Rookie. This has been an empowering experience for me and has helped me realize how much I want writing from both a personal blog approach and a journalistic one to be part of my day to day work and life. This has set in stone what my goals are in my journey to getting my degree as well as offered other ideas for job opportunities that I can do alongside training. I feel motivated and on the right path, even if I do often feel burnt out and exhausted at times. I know that before things become smooth sailing, they have to get harder.

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Given the fact that I’m young and still learning, I have to work twice as hard as those who are more established in my profession or who have more resources available to them than I may have. Everything I do with my jobs and my life is surrounding the overall goal of being an independent horse owner and trainer who is able to do the things I love and enjoy, with the eventual goal of being able to afford to buy my own equine property. It would be a lie to say that this amount of work does not make me feel burnt out at times. It does. I feel as though I am constantly on the go and there is always something to do. It can be hard to stay motivated when the work is so physical and when I have to work rain or shine, sick or healthy as well as arranging my own schedule to boot. This has led to a fair amount of self doubt at times and wondering if I’d made the right decision along with frustration at times with the rate at which my own horses as well as client horses move along in their training. Looking on at other trainers who may take shortcuts in training to achieve quicker results can be difficult for comparison’s sake when I’ve put months into developing a flatwork foundation on horses who lack it or building confidence on horses with stopping problems. Good things do not always come easy or quickly, however, and looking back on where I started from after months in a program with any given horse is a reward.

Due to my social media presence, I have had my fair bit of doubters. Often times, these people present themselves anonymously which is no coincidence and typically, the messages from such people come in hoards around times where I have accomplishments or successes to be proud of, for example, when I bought my truck. While I cannot say these messages are utterly painless, I can say that listening to these types of people would be a mistake. People who send such messages are lacking in success themselves. No person with goals, ambitions and a means to achieve them wastes their time telling someone else working hard to achieve their dreams that they do not have the right to hold a professional title. Not only are such words ludicrous, because by all definitions I AM a professional and frankly, I believe I’ve earned the title BUT these words are coming from a place of another person’s own feelings of inadequacy. I think the ability to differentiate between the behaviours of those who are unhappy with themselves and those who are so motivated with themselves that even if they think negatively of others, they will not voice it, is important. I am far off being one of the well established professionals who has had years to build their clientele, but for my first year as a professional, I think I’ve made leaps and bounds in developing my business as well as developing myself further as a rider and for that I am proud, whether people agree with it or not or believe I deserve it or not.

Another notable thing for 2018 is the growth of my merch business and the sales of my shirts. Sales are at an all time high this year and I’ve been able to create a number of popular designs myself as well as work with a number of incredibly talented designers. This has allowed me to make a humble income off of something that started off merely for fun and for the sole purpose of offering people unique horse related graphic designs that they may otherwise be unable to come by. The fact that the sales from such have allowed me to pay off some unfortunate vet bills far sooner as well as pay towards tuition and other important expenses is something that makes me feel incredibly fortunate. I never fathomed such growth in this realm of my business, or the training realm for that matter, so quickly.

More recently, in September 2018, I took a leap of faith and rescued 2 ponies sight unseen from an auction 13 hours away where both would have shipped to slaughter had I not had someone bid on them on my behalf. They both arrived, luckily sound, beautiful and with so much potential. One of the ponies, however, was completely feral and absolutely terrified of people to the point where he would attack if you came too close or let your guard down around him. This led to a journey of gaining his trust and turning him into the now halter broke and able to be handled pony that goes by the name of Simon. This tried my patience and often we took steps forward and then several back, making me feel like I may never help this pony learn to trust. Now, three months later, the difference is astonishing and though there is still much to be done, I am proud to say that I’ve made a difference in both of these ponies’ lives but more notably, Simon the feral pony. It has also taught me the immense importance of patience and how incremental improvements may not at all be noticeable at the time but definitely are down the road.

In October 2018, I purchased a Thoroughbred off of the racetrack, one that I used to gallop a bit while he was still racing. This was for the purpose of achieving the long term dream of applying for and ultimately attending the Thoroughbred Makeover Project in Kentucky. “George” is by one of my favourite local thoroughbred stallions, who unfortunately is now deceased, and has an incredible temperament and is so very flashy. Unfortunately, shortly after purchase, we realized there was a disconnect in opinion on a bone chip that was found in his initial pre purchase exam and despite the initial opinion that it was set, it actually needed to be removed for his future health. This resulted in some stress, now having to find a way to fund what ended up being an almost $5,000 surgery… But, I’m happy to say that most of the nightmare is over and George is on the road to recovery. I’ve also applied for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover and now have to wait on for my acceptance or denial on February 1st, 2019. This is something that I am so very excited about. I am passionate about the Thoroughbred breed and even more so about ex-racehorses. It is something very close to my heart and being able to showcase a racehorse that I had a relationship with on the track and trained with people I respect and care about would be an absolute dream come true. So, I cross my fingers that I receive the esteemed acceptance letter and that George’s recovery continues to go well. I hope 2019 will be bright for the both of us.

2018 has been full of ups and downs, highs and lows. It has been a year where I’ve received a ton of critique and a lot of hatred from people on social media. I’ve had doubters, people who’ve dedicated far too much time to try to break me. But, I’ve had so many supporters. So many people dedicated to assisting me in reaching my goals and bringing me up when I’m down. I’ve had so many meaningful connections and as a result, have been able to grow a ton both as a person and a rider. This year has been as rewarding as it has been difficult and I am excited to be able to bid it farewell and hopefully experience the same amount of growth, or more, in 2019. Thank you all for your support, I appreciate it more than you could know.

I implore all of you reading this to never give up on your dreams. Do not let other people, especially strangers, define your worth. Had I listened to my doubters over the years, none of this would have been made possible this year. Keep those who bring you up close and smile and shake your head at those dedicated to trying to bring you down. Such negativity only serves to damage their own lives, do not let it damage yours.







40 Gift Ideas for Horse Lovers

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Shopping for a horse-obsessed loved one may seem like a daunting task, especially if you are not particularly equine savvy yourself. More often than not, it seems, horse lovers are looking to shop for their equine partners and not themselves. As such, they generally seem to be elated to receive horse related gifts (e.g. grooming kit) that give them a break on the costs associated with being an equestrian.

First and foremost, it is important to choose the correct type of gift for someone, given they may or may not be a horse owner. For those who do not own or lease horses, it’s often best to stick with gift ideas catered towards the rider, not the horse. For people who own or lease, you have more options because you can consider gifts for the rider or the horse.

If you’re looking for advice on where to start the search for presents catered towards the four legged variety, look no further. I have some awesome tips, tricks, and ideas when it comes to shopping for your horse loving friends.

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The Great Blanket Debate

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If you’re a horse person with a Facebook account with other horse people on your friends list, I’m fairly certain that you must have, at some point, had that one person share the anti-blanketing post. You know the one. Generally, it shows a fluffy, fat, happy horse hanging out in the snow with a snow covered winter coat, looking pleased and happy. The article the photo is attached to generally goes on to say things like “this is the way it is in the wild!” and “horses are MADE for the cold” and lists a whole novel’s worth of reasons as to why blankets are the devil and why horses should never, under any circumstances, wear a blanket if their owners care about them.

While some of these articles do make some decent points that hold some truth, the general premise of them is incredibly close minded and fails to recognize a number of reasons why people would opt to blanket. Thus, the great blanket debate ignites unnecessary internet drama over something that quite literally should only be looked at on an individual basis. So, here is to hoping some of the anti-blanket individuals come across this post and perhaps reconsider their words when yelling into the darkness about their hatred for a glorified quilt.

One of the funniest things about the whole focus on the blanket debate is that I see it more talked about than the fact that horses are ridden and worked in the hottest points of the day during the summer when they’re far less able to handle heat. I see it more talked about than the importance of adequate shade and cooling stations, in particularly hot areas, during the summer. I see it more drilled into people’s heads as they start learning about horses and riding them than the idea that horses are poorly equipped for the heat and to exercise caution during work in the summer… Why is there such a focus on something that quite literally never negatively effects horses except maybe in the circumstance where negligent owners leave blankets on when it is too warm for them?

First thing’s first, you have to consider the climate where you live. Cold, dry areas are generally easier for horses to manage over the winter without a blanket. Snow doesn’t dampen their hair nor is there anywhere near the same risk of skin issues like rain scald that come with constant dampness. Second, you need to consider your horse’s winter coat. Some horses literally do not grow a proper winter coat. Ever owned a thin skinned Thoroughbred? Some of them may grow fabulous winter coats that could give a yak a run for their money but a lot of us are not so lucky to own a winter prepared Thoroughbred. You see, many of these horses either do not grow a winter coat or grow the most pathetically short winter coat that oddly resembles the services that a toddler-run barber shop would put out. These horses are also generally hard to keep weight on, even in perfect conditions, let alone if we were to throw them out into the arctic completely naked. For that reason, many people blanket their horses. Thin skinned, sensitive horses prone to skin disorders, losing weight or who simply do not grow a winter coat will more often than not at least require a rain sheet over the winter. Over time, as these horses grow used to the elements in their area, they may grow a better coat that allows them to deal with the winter more effectively without a blanket, but it certainly doesn’t make their owners negligent or helicopter parents to cater to their high maintenance childrens’ needs.

Another point regarding the great blanket debate is that those promoting it have clearly never had a clipped horse. Sure, your yak may look nice and toasty out in the snow, but have you tried cooling it out after a workout? I’m guessing not, or you’d realize that the dampness of their sweat is something that is more likely to freeze before it dries… I guarantee you that being damp in the winter is a lot more uncomfortable than wearing a wet blanket. Many horse owners opt to clip in order to keep their horses in work through the winter. Not everyone takes the winter off and not everyone is a hobbyist rider who doesn’t have a set workout schedule, some horses are worked hard year round. Clipping, in this case, is the kindest thing to do for your horse when it comes to working through the winter. And, well, if you do not blanket after clipping… you’re a real jerk. So, you best be blanketing your clipped ponies, no wonder what Bonnie with the fat winter steed with a braidable coat says to you.

I’m Canadian. Now, before all of you reading this nod knowingly and imagine polar bears, igloos and snow mobiles, I’ll stop you. I live on the west coast of British Columbia, aka where all of the weakest Canadians hide out. You see, winter, in the Canadian sense, is not really a thing here. In fact, it just rains most of the time. Go into the interior of BC or go one province over to Alberta and you’ll feel like you’ve been teleported into the land of Frozen, with singing snowmen and an ice queen. Not here, though. Even still, my horses are blanketed. Why, you may ask? Well, it is a rainforest here. It has been raining, downpours, for the last week straight. I haven’t seen the sky in ages. Hope is dwindling… jokes aside, but rain scald is a real problem here. As are damp, trembling ponies in our “almost freezing, but imma rain anyways” weather. My auction pony came from Alberta and has a winter coat like a polar bear. I left him naked through some of the wettest weeks due to being unable to get a blanket on him at the time and he developed HUGE disgusting puss-filled balls of rain scald that I later had to clean and put cream on, much to his dismay. They left some lovely bald patches, too. Guess who is wearing a blanket now? Simon, the polar bear pony.

This is why an individual take on blanketing is so needed. Sure, Shirley-Anne from Saskatchewan may look at you with condescension when you tell her you blanket your horses, but she clearly doesn’t realize that your OTTB is nothing like her Fjord who looks ready to go to Winterfell and battle the white walkers. Sure, some people may look at my fat, puff ball of a pony and laugh at his teeny little Bucas blanket while he stands in 1 Celcius “heat” (because real Canadians apparently think it isn’t cold until it’s 20 below) but I guarantee he is a lot happier living a life that doesn’t involve me picking off puss filled scabs and slathering him in Hibitane.

So, next time someone gives you a hard time about blanketing your horse, kindly remind them that your horse is a special type of pansy.

The Prevalence of the Shutdown Horse

If you’ve ridden in public before on a young, excitable, nervous or anything but roboticly perfect horse, I’m sure you’ve at some point met comments regarding how your horses antics are “disrespectful”, “rude”, “pain related”, “due to lack of training” and so on and so forth. The mindsets regarding any type of playing behaviour or any exhibition of personality beyond what is specifically asked for during training tend to revolve around the ideal that a happy, well trained horse is one who responds to all commands that are asked of it and shows no other signs of life other than what is particularly beneficial to training or what the RIDER is trying to accomplish.

While exploring certain behaviours and ensuring they are not pain related is a must for any responsible horse owner, there is a line that needs to be drawn. There is definitive difference between the pinned eared, tight eyed, tail swishing horse that is bucking and rooting and the bright eyed, excitable horse leaping into the air with a soft expression and its ears forward. Many seem to be simply unable to tell the difference and people often seem to forget that play behaviours are exhibited in horses of all ages at liberty, so why would they not sometimes arise under saddle?

Due to the mindset that any ounce of personality is equivalent to vindictiveness or the horse trying to actively disrespect the rider, horses are often heavily punished for showing excitable, playtime behaviours in work when something particularly interesting happens or when they are just, quite simply, feeling good. This results in horses who do what they’re told and do it well but are caught in the constant state of “shut down” that comes with learned helplessness and unfortunately such blandness is often mistaken for a well trained horse. Well trained doesn’t have to exclude a personality, however.

Obviously, there is a line to be drawn when it comes to behaviour. Even if a horse is having fun, if they’re being dangerous and constantly misbehaving, obviously it needs correction. However, correction doesn’t need to be aggressive correction. It doesn’t need to be the rider getting mad, getting frustrated and taking it out on the horse. It can be correction via more interesting exercises to keep the horse more focused so they are less focused on playing and sailing through the air. With that said, the occasional aspect of playtime during schooling should be expected. You jump a horse for the first time and they strike out at the air. They just did something new, something that may have been a little scary and expressed their thoughts on it, why should they be heavily reprimanded? Your horse comes out on a particularly cool or windy day and is extra frisky, once again, should be expected.

As many people probably already know from my social media, my horse is a massive clown. I watch him playing and doing dumb things out of the window of my house on the daily. He is constantly harassing his field companions and trying to get them to give him the time of day, to go along with his antics. The fact that this sometimes crosses over into his work is unsurprising as most of his time is spent either eating or playing. When he plays or exhibits any evidence of happiness or excitement, especially in situations where he may have been anxious or frustrated prior (namely, jumping… our journey of confidence building has been hard), it actually makes me happy, because it is his release.

Riders should be sympathetic and remember that they are working with the horse, not against it. We all allow ourselves to have a laugh, to experience enjoyment and to take a joke. We owe our horses the same. Personality shouldn’t be something so consistently frowned upon, seen seldom enough that people are shocked to see it or refuse to believe that “misbehaviour” could be due to play behaviour. It is time for a change, a realization that horses are much like other animals when it comes to lighthearted fun. Like our beloved canine companions, horses are silly, inquisitive creatures that sometimes do ridiculous things. Like with our dogs, we owe them a laugh sometimes, instead of responding with anger.

The Real University Equestrian

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If I had a dollar for every time some big equestrian magazine or online resource wrote an article on overcoming adversity and the struggles of riding whilst in university but based it on someone who has all of their tuition and equine expenses paid for, perhaps I could afford to pay my tuition without loans. You see, the prevalence of selecting extraordinarily privileged role models to be set on the pedestal of accomplishing the impossible by managing university on top of worldwide travel to show the rated circuit is incredibly disheartening for, you know, normal people. The writers behind such articles are trying to be inspiring, in their defence, but they miss the boat by choosing riders who have an amount of privilege that is unimaginable for the average university student, let alone the average equestrian in university. To be frank, as someone who pays for my own tuition and all of my own show fees, I could easily find the time to show frequently along with attending school if the stress of finances and finding time to work in order to afford said expenses was taken away. In fact, that would be an absolute dream. Something that I cannot even fathom, having tens of thousands of dollars suddenly materialize and clear out my student debt. It would be living the dream.

These articles applaud students who, yes, are absolutely working hard and must have to have planned out schedules in order to get everything done BUT these students are having so much financial help along with help in way of grooms at shows as well as full training… This means that if they can’t make it out to the barn one day due to needing to write a term paper, someone is there to pick up the slack and get their show horse worked. This means that if they need to leave a show early in order to get to class on time, someone is there to care for their horse. These same people also generally have fairly accomplished show horses and are not trying to juggle breaking horses or keeping green broke horses in a consistent program so they are showable. They do not generally understand the struggle of having to juggle class, homework, barn chores, riding AND a job to pay for it all.

The most admirable people often get the least recognition, simply because most of them cannot amass the funds to show at prestigious shows and create a lengthy show career all in the same year of accomplishing a full course load but realistically, these people are the true heroes when it comes to time management and allowing themselves the full university experience, good grades and still somehow managing to afford the time and money to ride and show. I’ve yet to see a legitimate article on one of these largely self made people, the true weekend warriors who drag themselves out to shows after a long week of classes and with papers to be written and shifts to be worked. The equestrian world seems to have an obsession with promoting the top 1%, as though they are the true reality of the horse world. Most of us can’t afford to show every weekend and up and leave our classes at Harvard to climb into the first class section of a plane and fly out to ride our million dollar horse over large fences without having to worry about the sheer expense of it.

Most of us have jobs. Most of us are struggling with mental health issues or extreme stress because of how hard it is to get everything done. Most of us look at the receipt from our university semester and feel physically ill and honestly, sad, knowing how far that money could go in getting us out to shows if we didn’t have to pay for shows. Most of us are applying for as many scholarships as we can, trying to cover as much of our tuition as we possibly can. Most of us can’t simply go to our parents and ask for several thousand dollars to show or pay for school. That isn’t the norm.

So, here is a request for more online resources and big equestrian news sources to showcase the realities. Talk about the riders who have somehow made it to the upper levels on their own dime, while paying for school on their own or going through university via student loans. Tell us about the riders like us, who are working full time along with riding and showing in order to make it all possible. Who do not have the luxury of receiving significant help from family members or otherwise. Tell us about the people who have to cope with the same hardships of the average person. Let us know that it is possible, instead of reminding us time and time again that those who have the luxury of the help that we can only dream of having are the ones who always seem to receive the most recognition for it.

This isn’t to say that these riders who do have a lot of help don’t deserve it or don’t work hard. I am sure they do. But, people need to realize privilege when they see it and realize it isn’t exactly inspiring to people who can take one look at an article and realize the person in question doesn’t have to worry about something as basic as a full time job in order to afford the life they have. This creates such a large disconnect from the average riders and the commonly discussed ones on the circuit and honestly makes a lot of riders reconsider their dreams because it only serves to solidify how great the disconnect in finances and fortune is between so many in the horse industry.

We need more “underdog” stories, except, they shouldn’t be called that. They are the reality. Far more riders are struggling to make ends meet and working their tails off for little reward simply because they love the sport. Far more riders work overtime just to enjoy a lesson here or there or to feed their beloved horse that they may barely get to see between work and school. There are tons of us who struggle with the same realities of adulthood. The suffocating pressures of school, work and trying to move up the ranks in the horse world. Let us know that you see us. Let us have a glimpse of reality, of people like us.

For me, the reality of being an equestrian in university is this: Wake up, go to work and gallop up to 10 racehorses. Get changed in my car. Drive straight to school without showering. Sit in a lecture from anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Go home, ride some more horses for work. Ride my own horses. Shower. Eat dinner. Do some homework. Wake up, do it all again. And god forbid there is a show, because the reality for that is getting up before the sun, working prior to my classes and then speeding over to the show, tacking my horse myself, racing to the warm up ring and getting to my classes. Getting off my horse after cooling out, exhausted. Caring for my horse, cleaning his stall and getting everything set up for dinner feed before collapsing for a quick nap prior to doing more work. This, quite honestly, takes a fair amount of the excitement and joy away from showing because I am simply so exhausted and often stressed from having to juggle work and showing along with school. I can’t just book time off, either, because the money is what pays for it all. It is suffocating at times. It is all or it is nothing. If I want to show, I have to work. If I want to attend university, I have to find a way to pay for it on my own. If I want a horse or new tack, I have to buy it.

Burnout comes easily when you are constantly on the go and feel like no amount of work will ever cover just everything you need to do. Everything you need to afford. It is so hard to stay motivated in your riding and school work when you have to juggle so much else and to be honest, it does eat away at the joy horses bring you, even if for a short period of time. For people like this, staying in love with the horse show world can be a challenge. We need more recognition, we need to know we are not alone in the struggle of working our fingers to the bone to afford what we love. That we aren’t alone in questioning why we do this, whether or not we should just give up. Let us know we are not alone. Portray the reality of university equestrians, the ones who are truly going it alone and who somehow manage crazy schedules. We want to see it.

For now, I will go on riding my $400 rescue horse in the shows we can afford. Working everyday, consistently full time along with school and shuddering when I see my $15,000 worth of student debt that is sure to grow over the next few years. I will look on at other people my age graduating with their degrees with a twinge of sadness, because I couldn’t afford to take a consistent course load all of these years and am behind in my schooling in comparison. I will feel sharp pangs of jealousy when I watch others accomplish schooling debt free, due to the support from their parents who are financially able to help. And, I may chuckle with a small amount of bitterness every time I see an article about a rider’s “crazy university schedule” knowing that they will never have to understand the struggling of tackling a similar schedule but with the addition of tens of thousands of dollars that they need to find a way to afford and find more hours in the day to work a job in order to make it all possible. Yes, I’m cynical. Yes, I’m bitter. But, mostly, I’m tired of constantly being fed role models that only serve to make me feel bad about the reality of my university experience. That make me feel lesser than. That the average human cannot even begin to relate to.

You Are More Than Your Equitation

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the online age of equestrianism is both a blessing and a curse. The presence of so many other equestrians online can be amazing as it allows for friendly discourse and an influx of a variety of differing opinions, thus allowing other riders to learn about what other riders are doing and further study the ins and outs and rights and wrongs when it comes to horses. HOWEVER, many people abuse the privilege of being online and use it to be couch jockeys. They do not have the best interests of their fellow riders or horses in mind in doing so. Oftentimes, what they attempt to frame as construct criticism is actually bullying. On no planet is it ever constructive to send a complete stranger (or your friend, for that matter) a comment that just says “your eq sucks, lol.” If you’ve done this before, it is time that you come to terms with the fact that there must be some hole or inadequacy in your life that is pushing you to be mean to strangers. It is not a normal habit to fall into. Unfortunately, comments such as this are a driving force behind young riders being terrified to share their riding progress and editing videos to the point of perfection, thus further promoting the unrealistic online expectations of others. Or, they may delete equine related social medias all together and merely be a bystander, watching others even though they wish that they could post, but they live in fear of the all too common “hate” that seems to come with social media.

Yes, hate is inevitable if you are on social media, especially with a larger following. In no case does this mean that you should just accept mistreatment from others as the norm. They are the problem, not you. Do not try to normalize bullying and tearing other people down. It is not normal. It is a habit that miserable people sink into in an attempt to bring others down to their level of upset. It is not normal. It is not acceptable. It likely will not stop because there will always be miserable people, however, we should not stay idle and put the blame on those who choose to share on social media instead of those who are quite simply just being assholes.

Now, the focus on equitation and the “perfect ride” on social media is also utter ludicrous. As someone who virtually only gets on green, young and fresh horses, there is no such thing as the perfect ride… Especially when you are riding horses that need an education and have problems that are actively needing to be fixed. And yet, people view it as a statement on your abilities as a rider if the 3 year old with 4 months off spooks its first day back or the 7 year old mare with confidence issues squirts forward after a jump. When really, simply put, they are just BEING HORSES. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people making such nasty statements could not out ride a toddler. That is why they make these statements. They often have no riding footage of themselves or have privatized accounts so that nothing they say can ever be substantiated. These very people do their absolute damnedest to hide their riding abilities, as though lack of proof of any sort of experience or ability lends them more credibility (hint: it doesn’t).

So, I guess I am here to say that if you are on social media and want to share your riding, do it. Who cares if your heels come up. Who cares if you have a bad ride. Who cares if you fell off. Who cares if your horse was being fresh one day. This happens to EVERYONE. Even international pros. Everyone has stuff to work on. Everyone has bad rides. Every horse has bad days, no matter how perfect they may seem. Putting on this faux persona of perfection is exhausting and unrealistic, it is time that riders start showcasing the realities of horse ownership and equestrianism. We are constantly talking about how hard, unpredictable and dangerous riding horses can be but yet, equestrians are constantly at each others throats for the very same things when someone showcases a more “real” or hairy moment.

Here is the thing, even if you ride like a potato with legs, so long as you are appropriately caring for and loving your animals and the people around you, you are better off than the keyboard warrior sending you hate even if they have better equitation than Lillie Keenan. No one outside of the horse world gives half a crap if you have good equitation. Frankly, even if you are the greatest rider in the world, you’ll lose all your friends horsey and not horsey if you’re just a miserable sod of a human being. No one really cares about your riding prowess. They care about who you are as a person. They care about how you treat your animals and those around you. They care about the important things. Those who spend their time heckling other riders are likely not the type of person you would want to hang out with anyways. Do not let them stop you. Do not let them dampen your spirits or cut short your journey and certainly do not let them stop you from flaunting the horse person you are. There is nothing better than being able to look back on previous postings and see your personal growth. Do not let mean spirited people strip that opportunity away from you.

It does not matter who you are or how great of a rider you are, I guarantee that there will be someone out there that will find something wrong. Do not take it to heart. It quite honestly says nothing about you as a person and oftentimes says nothing about you as a rider either, because the vast majority of these people go on social media with the intention of looking for problems, so they’ll go out of their way to find them. I’ve seen these haters on the pages of Grand Prix level riders, critiquing them as though they could accomplish a fraction of what these riders have. I’ve also seen some pretty deplorable humans critiquing PARALYMPIANS for being unable to follow conventional equitation laws due to disabilities… Yes, you read that right. Legitimate humans sat from their couches critiquing disabled people who have overcome more than they could possibly imagine and still manage to achieve their goals and make it to the BLOODY OLYMPICS while battling disabilities and overcoming the odds in ways that the vast majority of equestrians could not comprehend.

You are more than your equitation. You are more than just an equestrian. Being a good person matters. Do not let anyone take that away from you and for the love of all that is important, do not base all of your self worth on your equestrian abilities. There are so many more important things, no matter how dedicated you may be as a rider. The most important thing is to be a good person. Be good to your horses, be good to your family and friends and while you’re at it, smile extra big at the troll under the bridge trying to make you feel bad about yourself.

Also, here is my personal offer to you. If someone is being a downright jerkface to you and bullying you, message me and I will go full mama bear in protecting you and trying to make you feel better. Also, another helpful tip for dealing with haters is that if they have some choice info on their profiles, it is fairly easy to find and forward their comments to trainers, parents or barn owners…. most of the haters are children and they do not seem to love the response they get when their real life connections see their real behaviour ;)

Cheers and happy posting!

You're Never "Too Good" For Lessons

Photo by Sixteen-Three Photography.

Photo by Sixteen-Three Photography.

With the prevalence of the equine niche on social media as well as my presence in the local equestrian community, I have noticed a rather disturbing trend that is particularly common with young, up and coming trainers. I’m not sure if such a mindset comes about due to insecurity, the need to prove oneself or perhaps, just complete and utter vanity. Who knows. But, alas, the trend is the mindset that as soon as you start working as a professional, you are too good for lessons. It is the “I don’t have a trainer, I am a trainer” mindset and it it utterly mind boggling.

Here is the thing, to view it as a weakness to express a need to continue learning and growing as a rider by getting a second set of more experienced eyes to watch and offer tips or new insight on how to handle different aspects of training is utterly self-absorbed and not in the best interest of the horse. Every trainer you will lesson with will have a different training style, different tools in their tool box and different ways of explaining things that may click with you in different ways, thus allowing you to perhaps finally get one of those “AHA!” moments and fix problems you’ve been struggling with or realize the best solution to resolve a problem on any particular horse you make work with. Lessons are extremely valuable. Taking lessons and attending clinics with a variety of different people is valuable, even as you grow and develop as a professional.

Admitting you do not know everything is not a weakness. In fact, I would say the trainers who refuse to consider other opinions, refuse lessons and clinics and ultimately insist that they know everything and know the best way to do things are weak minded. They do not want to learn different aspects of training theory that may allow them to train better and develop more as a rider. It is as though they care more about being egotistical than they do about making a difference in the horse world. Especially whilst being young, we are youthful and may lack tact in how we explain things to clients, we may lose patience, we may mishandle situations. We do not have the insight that older, more experienced eyes have and thus, we should want help from qualified professionals to act as mentors for us.

I have given up my amateur status and work as a professional, thereby identifying as a professional. Despite this, I still get regular lessons and attend clinics when I can, as well as expressing interest in training under a number of trainers. I am truly blessed to work closely with trainers whom I respect and can discuss training theory on a level ground with, they allow me to have an opinion and they will correct me or put me in line when I need it. Even just this discussion outside of lessons is absolutely integral to my growth as a rider and I have learned so much in the weeks spent taking lessons with my trainers and most recently, in being mentored by my dressage coach and learning about his particular methods in working with horses. This insight allows me a more varied tool box when approaching work with different types of horses and their different personality types, strengths and weaknesses and the continued growth has and will continue to make me a better rider and trainer.

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Here’s the thing: No matter how talented you are at your young age, you do not have the years of experience of other professionals who have been in the industry decades longer. Even just their people experience and viewing different scenarios play out, getting a variety of different horses and seeing the common trends in the horse world change over the years. This allows them to develop a different insight and while some may not change and grow with the times as our knowledge on horses from a scientific standpoint develops, many of them still hold wisdom that you should hear.

I find it disheartening to see young people that are around the same age as myself disregarding their need to grow and improve and disregarding the opinions of other professionals or blatantly avoiding taking lessons or accepting any ounce of outside views. I totally get the frustration with internet trainers and other online viewers weighing in on what you do and questioning what you are doing, but if you constantly shut down other opinions whilst refusing to seek help from the qualified individuals that can help assist you in person and help better you as a rider, how are you ever supposed to grow and learn? Not to mention, that these self-absorbed riders who view it as an embarrassment to seek help, despite being “green” to professionalism give other riders in the same age range a bad name. They cause everyone else to be taken less seriously due to their narcissism and unwillingness to take lessons or accept any bit of training, thus a lot of more “wise” clients may choose to sway away from the younger generations of trainers despite the fact that many of them are exceptionally talented with fresh new viewpoints on how to tackle horse training.

You are not superior for never seeking help. You are not superior for acting like you know it all despite being fairly new to training and even if you are not new to it, you still are not above seeking lessons from other people. Everyone still has room for growth. Heck, even long time upper level professionals still have trainers and other people to mentor them and act as a second set of eyes. Even people who seemingly know everything need to be humbled every now and then but ESPECIALLY the younger generation of trainers who seem to view it as superior to go it alone and never seek outside assistance. The superiority complex and viewpoint that they have it all figured out is concerning.

I have to thank my trainers for consistently humbling me. For pointing out my flaws and my strengths. For giving me other tactics to add to my toolbox so I have numerous ways to tackle the same problem, some that may work for very specific types of horses and may be a necessity in helping me tackle a particular complex horse. Not everything is going to come easy and with horses and their different personality types and different needs physically and mentally, it is really only a matter of time until a trainer gets handled a horse that they really have no idea where to start with. Having that mentor to go to when the going gets tough to request further insight and ask for some tools to help you out is so so SO important and I guarantee you that even the BEST OF THE BEST have these people that they respect that they can flesh out ideas with and figure out some new things to try in their training programs.

Photo by Sixteen-Three Photography

Photo by Sixteen-Three Photography

So, here is my advice to the younger generations and up and coming trainers: When seeking a trainer, avoid people who refuse to try to better themselves and view it as a weakness if they are to ever seek lessons or outside help from other professionals. Particularly if they are young and newer to training, avoid them like the plague. They have no one to humble them or to knock them down a peg when they are acting out of line. A huge ego does not really have a good place in horses, the belief that your way is always the best way and that no one else should have an opinion on it, no matter how qualified, is a dangerous one. Instead, select trainers that are okay with you questioning them and will adequately explain things. Don’t train with someone who you are afraid to question, afraid to ask WHY you’re doing X thing. Don’t train with someone who gets upset when you ask why you’re doing what you’re doing, who refuses to ever seek any outside help to better themselves.

I think the best thing my dressage coach has taught me is that as a professional, you need to be able to answer questions. So, during my lessons or during our discussions, he will ask me to explain myself. And… well… If I can’t, then that’s something I need to work on in my future as a trainer.

Now, for those of you wanting to get into training, here is my advice: Stay in lessons as much as you can. Ride with different trainers. Go to clinics. Get on as MANY horses as you can but never oversell your abilities. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do further research online. Learn the importance of credible sources. Find a good mentor who you are comfortable with and who you can have real discussions with, this will allow you so much growth. And ALWAYS, ALWAYS remember that there are no stupid questions. You are not a failure for being in lessons. For not knowing everything. Even the best of the best are still actively training to better themselves. They all have flaws. They all make mistakes. What sets the best of the best apart from others is their ability to humble themselves and realize that they are never above seeking training or asking for second opinions.