Finding Your Place as a Professional in the Horse World

Photo by Quinn Saunders.

Photo by Quinn Saunders.

Growing up in the horse world, I more or less seemed to change my goals like a chameleon to suit whatever I believed the popular opinion to be. From a very young age, I always knew that I wanted to work with horses and that I wanted to be a trainer, but until recently, I never quite realized how broad of a definition “horse trainer” truly is. Being on social media and sharing my riding definitely skewed my opinion of what it meant to be a professional in the horse industry. It is hard to see so many riders showing Grand Prix on 6 figure horses, riding in the Olympics and living the “A-Circuit lifestyle” without starting to believe that is the norm in the industry and that their lives are what have earned the term “professional”.

So, because of this, I started to feed into the idea that I had Olympic goals and was working towards the end goal of being a rider who would bear the name of my country and compete at the highest level. I was working towards a goal that in reality, I didn’t even like. Because, let’s face it, is a life of travelling and constant horse showing all over the world really all that desirable for a person who is a homebody introvert and also happens to be absolutely terrified on flying on airplanes? Probably not. One horse show weekend, let alone weeks upon weeks of showing, is exhausting enough for me and I have to recharge for a little while after before dedicating more time into showing. I know now that if I’d continued to pursue that manufactured goal, one that came from watching other riders and trying to model my goals after them, I would have certainly burnt out. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE showing, but the lifestyle of showing the circuit and never being home simply isn’t one I could reasonably live long term.

Social media pushes the idea that the top riders on the circuit are what it means to be professional in the horse world, when in reality, the term professional is really only applied to anyone who earns an income from working with horses and isn’t the prestigious title some people make it out to be. On top of that, there are varying types of professionals who hold the title of “horse trainer” and all of them play a vital role in the horse industry. If we didn’t have the professionals who focus on teaching young and up and coming riders in lieu of showing in the Olympics themselves, we would not have a younger generation to start excelling on a worldwide scale. The professionals who build riders up from the ground and teach them a love for horses and a respect for the sport are an essential part of laying the foundation of this sport and their work shouldn’t be written off as nothing just because their names aren’t in the spotlight. People who open their hearts and their barns to inexperienced riders with a hunger for horse knowledge are the first component to producing the riders who we grow to admire as Olympians some day.

Similarly, people who work with problem horses or starting unbroke horses under saddle are working to create the future generation of show horses, or, if the horses they are working with aren’t quite show caliber in the Olympic sense, they help to limit the amount of wastage of horses and help to create rideable mounts who may go on to be lesson horses or lower level show horses to help ambitious riders climb the ladder of the horse show world. People who dedicate their time to laying the foundation for riding horses are assisting riders who lack the experience to do it themselves and supplying horses with the vital education and good start that they require to have a long and successful career in the horse show world. Generally speaking, the world class riders you hear about in the news are not doing as much or any of this foundational work in breaking horses to ride, taking on problem horses or rescue cases and that doesn’t lessen the value of what they are doing but it shows that there is value in all aspects of riding and work as a professional.

I’ve realized now that my goals aren’t really in relation to the prestige of showing. I love showing and would love to move up the levels, but I’m not really in a rush and I would much prefer to be moving up on horses who I’ve trained myself and whose progress I’m extremely invested in. Working with rescues and watching horses change from “crazy or “feral” and otherwise undesirable horses into mounts that can pack children around or start winning ribbons in their new homes is something that is so rewarding and I love it. I am passionate about changing the outlook on both Thoroughbreds and rescue horses in the A circuit show world and much of my work is about promoting the abilities of these horses that may otherwise be viewed as underdogs. On top of this, my breaking and training services for clients are valuable because I get to watch my clients’ eyes light up when they go from having an unrideable horse to one that they can enjoy themselves and ride safely. I know my work is making a difference and while I still have some people online occasionally scoff at my referring to myself as a professional because they don’t believe I’ve jumped high enough, I feel like I’ve earned it and I’m proud of the work I do now because I’ve realized that there is so much more to riding and the horse world than showing big classes and taking major titles. We need professionals taking roles like mine. We need the trainers who run lesson barns and predominately work with beginners. We need all aspects of professional trainers and coaches because they all take on a different role in creating the perfect competition horse or rider or, perhaps, they simply make a major difference for horses and riders who aren’t focused on achieving greatness in the show ring.

So, to all of you who have the goal of working with horses, keep in mind that there is a great level of diversity in the jobs that you can work as a professional. You don’t need to be on the Olympic team to be a professional or to hold value in the horse world and it is perfectly fine if you do not have high level showing goals because there is so much more you can do in the industry aside from showing. Don’t compare yourself to riders living a different life than you and most certainly, do not model your goals off of someone else’s. Think about what YOU truly want to do and work towards that while remaining flexible to different possibilities, because like me, you may find you were wrong about what you thought you’d enjoy.

I may never ride for Team Canada or get to Grand Prix level, but regardless of what happens in my future, I know that I still have value as a professional and that I’m making a difference. I love what I do and am so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing horses and people. My work with rescue horses in particular has been really eye opening to me in deciding what route I want to go as a professional. I am excited for my future and my career goals are ever changing as I gain more experience and get offered more opportunities.

Don’t base your worth off of what someone else is doing with their life. We all have our own unique skills and are all on a different path through life, we cannot really compare experiences. Different challenges will arise on your path through life, I’m sure, but don’t be deterred if you’re truly passionate about being apart of the horse world. There is a great wealth of information to be learned and as you make your way through the industry in different facets, you’ll discover where you fit in.