For junior riders, ‘catch riding’ is a huge thing in the hunter/equitation world, and to some degree in the jumper world.

As a freelancing professional, it’s a little tougher; most barns have their own riders, but there are still some opportunities in the industry.

I think as a trainer, the thought process behind choosing a catch rider is that we are looking for the kid that we feel our horse would be happy with. Usually, a catch rider for a junior ride is used for sales purposes for that specific horse. Sometimes, it’s to accumulate points, but mostly, it’s to get a solid record on the horse to get it sold.

Saying that, for kids looking to get into catch riding, it’s easier if you have a horse industry mom or dad who knows people. But there are plenty of talented, non-horse-family kids that can get this “job” too.

If I have a great-riding kid, it’s something that I feel, as a trainer, is my responsibility to promote. I try my best to make sure people come to me if they need catch riding. I also work really hard to get my great-riding kids rides in all rings—on sale horses, for sure—but also if it’s just someone looking for a rider. I think for professionals trying to break into the industry, catch riding isn’t so easy.

It’s usually a case of being very talented and being in the right place at the right time. If you’re fortunate, you’ll land with a support team that “advertises” you and helps to promote your riding. Again, this happens more easily when you come from a horsey family and have connections. But it can also happen if you are not from a horsey family and can find the right trainer who wants to help you. Putting yourself in the right hands is the most important thing!

From a judge’s eyes, I love seeing more riders on horses that are in need of learning the ‘next steps’ from a catch rider. I think it’s good for our industry: having the opportunity to judge great young professionals who ride a lot—or talented juniors getting lots of chances—is not only healthy for our sport but also fun to judge.

For those looking to break into catch riding, I think what’s most important is that you must be that ‘right match’ for the horse in order for someone to want to use you. You have to be very correct as a rider; which, again, is not necessarily determined by being from a horse industry family (though it often does seem to come easier for those who are). Having that trainer in your corner to back you is how we most often see these opportunities happening.

From a mom’s perspective, this is super hard, especially when it comes to your kid catch riding as a junior. There is so much on these young kids’ shoulders, as sale horses’ values are high, and reputations can be ruined very easily. I think it is so important for catch riders to have parents, trainers, etc. behind them to make this dream come true and be successful.

A lot of riders may dabble in catch riding, but not many can hack it and stay with it for mental reasons. So that support team is so important. Catch riding can be a good way to gain practice rounds and build your reputation, but you need to go into it with your eyes open—not to mention ensuring it’s a safe situation in order to make things go well. As a mom, I advocate for caution: it’s not always as good as it sounds.

What’s most important is that everyone involved is honest, comes to the arrangement with the right intentions, and that your team, as the catch rider, is all-in for you.

Dana Hart Callanan is a successful hunter, jumper, and equitation coach, an ‘R’ judge, and a sales broker. In this column, she answers common questions about A-level sport. Send your questions to for consideration in a future column.