Following up on my last blog post about the sheer expense of being an active participant in the horse world, I want to elaborate on steps that you can take to become self made and help secure your position career-wise in a world that is hard to penetrate without having a fair amount of money. As I've stated before, no amount of hard work will guarantee that you'll be able to compete at the pinnacle of the sport or to live a comfortable life working in the horse world. Situations differ and for some, it just simply does not pan out. For myself, although I am actively working within the horse world, I'm also pursuing a post-secondary education because the inconsistency of the horse world and how dependent my (dangerous) work is on me staying injury free...scares me. I want a back up plan.
Now, luck will have it that the current age of social media is beneficial to helping people coming from more humble financial backgrounds. Companies are offering more and more ambassadorship or sponsorship type positions to people who have a solid following on social media. This allows for more exposure as well as a break in financial costs for certain products, should you obtain a partnership with a company. So, my first recommendation to building your "empire" in the horse world would be to network. This includes social media and everything outside of it. Share what you do, let people get to know you as a person and the work that you do or intend to do. Share your riding journey; be honest about your goals and dreams. Never stop dreaming. Most of all, be conscious of the fact that everyone knows somebody in the horse world and because of this, it is exceptionally easy to burn bridges. You may think you can get away with acting a certain way online or talking out of turn about other riders at shows, but chances are, someone important will eventually see said behaviour. So, be a role model and portray yourself as elegantly as possible. Refrain from saying or doing anything that could severely damage your reputation. Reputation is everything in the horse world. Companies and clients alike do not want to work with someone who will inherently make them look bad. Do not be that person. Try to connect with as many people locally and out of area as you can. Build your list of references, be they work related or merely character references. Build your list of people who are invested in you not only as a rider, but also a person- people who care about your success and want to help you succeed. You will need them.
Now, with sponsorships or ambassadorships, as "unfair" as it may seem, they are largely only beneficial to companies if you have a decently sized audience to advertise to. So, build your audience. This could be done in person through showing and building up your show record and becoming a "known" rider on the circuit. That way is undoubtedly more of an expense, but it does work. On social media, this can be done, once again, through networking. Share your story and be a relatable, listening ear. Have something that you offer that's different from others: develop your brand and make your account follow the equestrian niche. Good quality photos, eye capturing videos and honest, real captions tend to draw the eye. Comment on the accounts of others, connect with your fellow riders and watch as your connections grow. Instagram and YouTube, in particular, offer a lot of incentives when it comes to partnering with companies. Through the use of my social media, I have developed professional relationships with a string of companies, including some big names like my recent sponsorship with Back On Track. Without my audience online, I would have little to offer due to my inability to show as frequently as most people on the circuit at my age. So, trust me when I say this: social media matters and with the social media age comes more opportunities.
My next tip kind of goes hand in hand with the last paragraph about social media. Don't be afraid to reach out to people. Don't be afraid to try to create your own opportunities. I've contacted a lot of companies to express interest in developing a professional relationship and if I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten a lot of the opportunities that I now have. Similarly, I've contacted a lot of people locally to express interest for certain job opportunities or collaborative work and if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have my job currently. I reached out to my now boss about 4 months before I actually started to work for her over 2 years ago, and she turned down training me as a gallop rider due to them looking for someone already trained. I then turned to people I know, including my own mom, to find mutual connections to racetrack people. Turns out, one of my mom's high school friends works for my now-boss, so I asked permission to contact her and voila, instant reference. I was referred to a different trainer, under whom I started training before he became injured and after that, my current boss took me on. Things don't always go smoothly, so you have to be resilient and always willing to persevere. My very first gallop, on a 4 year old grey TB gelding at Clyde Racing Stables, I ran the horse right off the track. Yep, you read that right. He bolted on me and blew through one of the corners of the farm track and ran into tall, uneven grass and probably almost gave my boss a heart attack. The track did not have rails so he had nothing to flip over and some how managed not to end up falling on his face, so we both made it out unscathed... and for some reason, my boss allowed me to get on another horse, which I promptly did even though I was shaken from what had just happened. And so, I kept trying and trying, doing what I could to learn as quickly as possible and now, hear I am, one of the main gallop riders for this farm and also the person who helps market their retired racehorses and obtains commission from it. It was a very rocky start, but here I am.
The margin for error is often slim in the horse world. People are impatient and expect you to learn your job fast or get out. They are blunt and it can be demoralizing at times. I want to prepare you for this by being honest about it. It is so easy to get burnt out working in the horse world. Be aware of this and be prepared for it. Now, that aside, if you aren't in the position to try to secure a job like I did in the racing industry and prefer to go the training route, listen up. I also now work professionally as a trainer, mainly breaking horses, working with green horses and retraining OTTBs. The key to this was getting on as MANY horses as possible in my younger years. I'd get on anything. Anything that was offered to me no matter how unpredictable or green. With that said, I've always been a pretty ballsy rider and had people around me whom I could trust not to overtax me or intentionally put me in a dangerous situation. Use common sense and if you're uncomfortable with something, speak up. Anyways, get on all the horses you can. Seize opportunities to learn the ropes of riding green and unpredictable horses. Ask to shadow trainers and watch the starting process of unbroke horses. Look into working student positions, and take as many lessons as you can. If cost is a prohibitive for lessons, look into situations where you can work lessons off, look for up and coming trainers wanting to practice instructing, film your rides and watch them back and so on... There are many options out there, you just have to create them. Watch lots of videos online. Read studies pertaining to the horse world. Read books and articles written by important people in the horse world. Soak up all the information you can like a sponge.
I think what a lot of people fail to mention is that with training, it's often a slow start. You'll likely have to ride a lot of horses for free or very cheap but you need to do so in order to build your reputation and have references in the first place. You need a means of proving that the work you do is worthwhile. That takes time. This is why relationships with already established trainers are so important- they lend you credibility. Don't take that for granted.
Now, truth be told, not everyone becomes the type of rider you need to be to do things like horse training or galloping racehorses. Both of these jobs are fast paced and involve getting on scary and difficult horses. If you are a nervous rider or too inexperienced to start in on this, you need to be honest with yourself and re-evaluate your goals, at least for the time being until you get more confident and get more experience. With that said, there are lots of jobs that involve working with horses that don't require the same type of iron will and affinity for near death experiences! Starting out in grooming positions can provide a wealth of learning. You can learn everything associated with the day to day care of high caliber horses while getting your foot in the door for showing purposes and getting good trainer references. This is something I would highly recommend to anyone. Similarly, there are management positions at a variety of equine based organizations that would be worth looking into, especially if you intend on pursuing a post-secondary education. There are jobs in the marketing side of equine businesses: in equestrian fashion, in journalism, vet science jobs, vet tech, working in rehabilitation centres and so on. There are lots of opportunities out there, so do your due diligence and look.
Touching back on what I said about social media, there are ways to make money using your social media platforms that I'd highly recommend, not really as your "job" per se but as a means to helping you develop security in trying to find your career or just having a bit of extra cash. YouTube, in particular, can be a lucrative business if you get enough views. Setting up AdSense, which you need to do to make money, is more of a pain nowadays but totally worth it if you're dedicated to producing good content. Similarly, blogging, like what I'm doing right now, can be a means of both getting free products to test and review as well as making money should you choose to place ads on your website. Companies also pay for advertisements on a variety of social platforms, provided you have the audience they seek after. You can make a modest income from this that can go towards paying for shows and all of those extra little expenses that come with horses. It can be a hobby, just for fun, but also a small income. Definitely worth considering and I don't think enough people are aware of it.
Lastly, a call for all of the writers out there. Did you know that you can contact equine magazines and send in articles for them to potentially publish? Most don't offer money, at least the first few times, but this is a great way to establish yourself as a writer. There are rules for submission, so take a look around and establish what exactly you need to write to be able to submit it, but please consider this if you're looking for a way to get your name out there as a blogger, writer, journalist etc. The same goes for photographers, you could do this very same thing and even try to contact businesses to express interest in featuring your work for product photos. Once again, worth a try. There's always the chance that they'll say no, but the chance that they'll say yes is worth any potential, short term disappointment.
This has been what has worked for me. Obviously, I'm still young and very much up and coming but if you'd asked me a few years back if I'd be here now, I would have said absolutely not. Companies that have taken a chance on me have helped to pave the road to my success, to allow me to use products that have helped me fit the part and helped with the health of my horses that I wouldn't otherwise have been able to afford. And of course, the people. My success would not be possible without the immense support from people like my mom, my barn owner, my boss, trainers and everyone around me that pushes me to continue reaching my dreams and has never made me feel like I can't accomplish something. Thank you!
So, to every young rider out there with big goals, this is for you. Create your own opportunities and dream. Dream abundantly, dream viciously, dream with a love so complete that you put your whole self into the things you do and nothing less.