Becoming A Professional
A few weeks back I was talking with my friend, newest Chronicle blogger Becky Young, about her turning professional and it was ironic timing because around that time I had been thinking about what it means to me to be a professional. I am a young professional and I want my niche to be in starting and bringing along young horses as well as working with stallions. The one thing I appreciate above all else though, and working with horses will keep reminding me of this, is that I will never everything there is to know about horses. I will keep learning and refining my ideas and methods till the day I die.
So often times I hear people tell me they want to be a professional; they want to ride, teach, or breed horses. I am the first one to tell people they should go after their dreams; with hard work, passion, and drive anything is possible. This is a sport where people will constantly tell you how difficult it is to make a living and be one of the best, but look at the “greats” who never would have gotten to where they are today without perseverance. I remember talking with Joe Fargis one day and he was telling me about how early on one of trainers told him he would never be good enough. Thankfully he pushed on and tried harder because he is one of the best riders and horsemen around.
What I think is important to realize when you go into this business though is that you are signing up for a career with animals who cannot fend for themselves. Horses are not a 9-5 job even if you are a rider or trainer; it is our responsibility to ensure these horses are cared for. I love my horses and what I do and while some days I am exhausted and just want to sleep, I know that I need to get up and go teach that lesson or ride a horse that needs to be ridden. There are also sacrifices that must be made and all riders and trainers will tell you this. It’s hard to go out and party with friends till the wee hours of the morning then get up and show. There are some that can do this and are fine with it, but I am definitely not one of those people. Sure, there may be a special occasion that warrants this, but I can’t do it every night. I want to be great at what I do not only for myself, but for the horses I bring along and that means they deserve my all. When you have a horse that is colicking or that does not look right but you are supposed to go to dinner with a friend, the horse has to come first. I know it has been hard on my family, friends, and boyfriend when the horses have had to come first but I am so lucky and grateful to have people around me that support the horses and love them just as much as I do. It’s hard, you want to please everyone and go on that trip your family has planned, but you also know that important show is coming up and you and your horse need to be in top form. As professionals, we have to make sacrifices and sometimes people will not understand and will resent you for it.
To be a rider means to be an athlete. Any professional athlete will tell you that in order to be the best you have to push through the difficulties and disappointments. This is especially true when working with horses who have a mind of their own and who rely on you to guide and care for them. Everyone thinks I have been handed horses who are perfect or extremely talented and I have been so lucky to have such great horses. But what they haven’t seen is the horse who bucked me off 14 times in 10 days at Lake Placid when I was 12, and who I kept getting back on until I learned how to stay on or the horse who kept stopping on me until I learned how to ride him and give him confidence. These are the horses that taught me how to ride and taught me determination. You’re not always going to be given the easiest horse or most talented horse, but as a professional it is up to you to make the most of what opportunities you have. (this is why I started breeding) I remember reading an article about Todd Minikus where he said he bought Quality Girl very inexpensively because she was difficult to ride; this year they won the $1 Million Prix in Ocala!
Your horse may have a bad day and stop at a jump or have a cheap rail but that does not mean you can give up on them. You might ask them to add in another stride or go forward and they will do the opposite. You might not be able to afford a made horse and instead have to buy a “project.” It’s the people who pick themselves up and work harder that become the best.
If you want to be a rider or trainer you have to know that sometimes you will have to push through the pain. Look at Margie Engle, Leslie Howard, and all of the other “greats” that have ridden with broken wrists, collarbones, etc. I am not saying that you should ride with an injury especially if it is something that could be made worse or that could put you or your horse in a dangerous situation. But… to let a headache or sore muscles stop you from riding over and over means to give up and you are letting both yourself and your horse down. A few weeks ago my head was killing me, but we were leaving for a show the next day and the horses needed to get ridden and I was the only one able to ride them so I rode 8 horses that day then came in to a meeting for the farm and then laid down and cried because by that time my head hurt so badly. You cannot tell me that when McLain came back to riding after he broke his knee that it did not hurt, but he pushed himself because he is an athlete. On that same note, if you are riding and in so much pain or having such an off day that you are only doing more harm than good, I completely think you should just put away your horse for the day and be done.
To be a professional means you need to put 110% of yourself into being great and the best you can be if you want to be successful. I have made so many sacrifices, and done things I have not wanted to do but these are what I am hoping will make me a successful professional who brings along wonderful horses for the future of our sport and I would not change them for the world.