If you are considered a young professional in the horse industry you may have quite a challenge in front of you. I am constantly looking around and wondering what hands our future is going be in, and I’m seeing a gap. Who is going to be the next up and coming competent group of professionals? I worry.
If you are coming from a substantial amount of means then it doesn’t matter, I guess. I can’t relate. However, if you are not coming from means and are graduating out of the junior ranks, it is pretty easy to get discouraged when you finally realize how difficult it actually is in this world.
Being a young professional sucks. The reality of expense and failure hits home pretty quick and hard. I certainly can’t solve any problems for you, but I can encourage you to think outside the box.
Think about where you came from…Are you pretty confident you are going to mimic your trainer for the last undetermined amount of years? Did you have a trainer? You should probably not bank on mimicking anyone, but instead develop your own personal style along the way. Adapting to the environment is probably going to be more help to you than trying to make everyone around you adapt to you. When I see people unable to grasp the needs of people around them I think ‘wow, what a long road they are going to have’.
Know what you can do. I stay away from anything under 14.2 hands and humans under the age of 12. There are many more capable trainers for those things. And when I see young professionals who don’t drink try to teach adults? No chance. Those guys come with a certain wine obligation. I love my adults, but they are trained with grapes, not accolades.
Your job will be 80% ‘problem solver’ and less than 20% ‘ribbon winner’. People are attracted to friendliness and capability more than extreme talent, especially in this current millennium. There is actually no guideline nor road map, so your personality will have to prevail in the end.
What can you handle? What can you be humble about? What can you foresee? In the wake of bad press for some horses this year, both here in the States as well as abroad, there will probably be yet another shift within the horse world to put more focus on welfare. Too many people have witnessed too many horses winning (or just showing) at some strange and bitter cost. It is on peoples’ minds. The amount of classes a horse can compete in will be addressed. The amount of shows a horse attends each year will come under increased scrutiny. Certainly not overnight, but soon enough.
There are so many more adults and children riding these days. The importance of riding is going to head in the direction of letting people have fun—loads of fun. Your personality will dictate the amount of business you can generate. The focus on horse welfare will ultimately be on your shoulders. Parents are going to look for better role models when thinking about who their kids spend most of their time with, so not only will horse welfare get more attention, kid welfare will be in the spotlight, too.
When people ask me about being a working student I always encourage them to go work for the person with the worst reputation so you can learn how NOT conduct your business in the future. Sit on that struggle bus for a while, because you are learning far more than the fancy stable down the road has to offer with all those ducks neatly laid in a row. In a few years no one will remember you did your time at that place, especially if you don’t brag about it every four seconds. This is reality folks; the horse business is painful—learn how to solve the hardest problems in the most difficult situations, which there will always be plenty of. I came away with much more information from those dark and seedy stables than I did from the stables involved within the highest levels of showing.
Know your saddles. I cross the ocean a lot. I visit other barns a lot. I always pack a helmet, boots and half chaps. When I see professionals bringing a saddle on a plane it absolutely scrambles my brain. What, do you think they don’t have saddles over there? DO NOT DO THIS. If you can’t ride in every kind of saddle, something is seriously wrong, and if you haven’t ridden in 100 different saddles by the age of 25, you are really behind.
It is your job to determine if a saddle is not fitting a horse properly and someone out there will depend on you to recognize this fact. I have had to jump horses in dressage saddles, western tack, bareback pads, you name it. This is what we call ‘feel’. If a customer says a particular saddle fits the horse and you pout because you can’t use your own Butet, it might be time to rethink your profession. Your body is mostly liquid, it can adapt to a strange saddle, and a strange horse. And if you blame the saddle for chipping a fence…Actually, never mind, I can’t help you there.
Recognizing an issue with a saddle only comes from deep knowledge of all types, makes and models. You might get to a certain point when you can make your whole barn ride in a certain brand, and even a certain kind of stirrup, but until you are truly invested in the sport I do not recommend dictating that it’s “the Butet or the highway” (no offense to Butet, you all make a lovely saddle, it’s just your name sort of rhymes with highway). Try to remember customers come from all walks of life; having the ability to recommend a safe and affordable saddle to the client on a budget will be one of your greatest assets.
Diversify to different disciplines. This is pretty crucial and I only see glimpses of this every once in a while. Truly great horsemen can ride in more than one discipline. Whether it be Dressage, Eventing, Arab, Morgan, Saddlebred, Western, etc., there are so many things to do out there to give you a better knowledge of horses. One of my truly gifted idols rode Saddlebreds before becoming one of the most famous Hunter and Grand Prix riders ever. There are many Grand Prix jumper riders who can ride a Grand Prix Dressage test; Hunter riders who can do Reining. We need this more, not just by the handful.
Buddy up with an Eventer and give it a try, as you never know when said Eventer is going to be looking to find a new job for their horse who hates cross country. BAM! you have just found yourself a very cool equitation horse. Make time for new disciplines and encourage your students to do the same. It will open doors for you, guaranteed. If you think you are going to look foolish out there all awkward in a new discipline, you may be right, but chances are everyone else will see the big picture and applaud you for it.
Do not forget about the Thoroughbred. These horses taught so many of our riders of the past how to ride before we lost them for decades. Now, Thoroughbreds are making their way back into our sport, even at the upper levels.
I cannot emphasize enough that the inability to ride a TB is one of the true dysfunctions of today’s young professionals, by no fault of your own. We did it to ourselves by dismissing them for so long and now we have loads of people unable to teach others how to ride, or even sit a TB. This will resolve itself in a few years, but you will have the advantage if you start that TB education now. I’ll give you a hint: sit still and put your heels further down.
Learn how to put on a horse show. At some point you will be asked to help run a show. Get in on that knowledge now so you are not scrambling with all the rules and guidelines down the road. One of the biggest advantages in the industry is having an understanding of every facet of the sport. This will come in handy when you are sidelined from an injury and worried about income. All sides of showing are important, and when you are asked to help put together a fundraising show, you will actually be able to get things off the ground.
There is a good reason we keep hearing about equestrians in the industry today lacking depth, or breadth, or even 1/10th of the same knowledge as someone like Jimmy Williams:
“I learned to ride all kinds because he sold all kinds,” Williams said. Williams became a quick-change artist showing 75 to 100 horses a day–starting with fancy hunt duds to show thoroughbreds and ending with Western garb for quarter horses and stock horses.
“Dad carried a handful of rocks. If I rode sloppy, I’d get hit with one. He wanted me to sit straight, like an old Spaniard,” Williams said. “He taught me to ride like a gentleman.”
“It takes three years to train a horse and about the same to train a rider,” Williams said, though he emphasizes that horse, rider and trainer never stop learning. “I’m still learning. I’m better this year than I was last year.”
“It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that counts” is one of Williams’ favorite sayings. Fond of proverbs, his own and others’, he has them plastered on his horse trailers, pickup, golf cart and in his house.
We may never have another legend like Jimmy Williams, and I don’t recommend throwing rocks to achieve better position, but he thought outside the box every dang day of his life.
It is easy to start the shift back to better horsemanship for the future. All the information is right in front of you. Go get it.
Originally published at deloiseinamerica.com
About the Author
Deloise Noble-Strong runs Noble Stables in Upperco, Maryland. Following several generations of horse enthusiasts, Deloise has a lifetime of accomplishments in the show ring and has been importing high quality show hunters for over two decades. She shares her opinions on all things equine at deloiseinamerica.com.