For this blog I thought it would be fascinating to ask a handful of horse industry professionals to answer three simple questions with regards to things they wish they had known earlier in their lives; or things they wished they had understood better earlier on.
The first answer I wanted to be specific to either riding, if the speaker was a rider, or specific to horses if the speaker was a non-rider. The second question I wanted specific to the horse business; their career. The third specific to the horse lifestyle as a result of their career choice; balancing life vs horse life perhaps.
All persons asked have achieved in their own way a high level of success in the horse industry whether it be as riders, coaches, sales barns, vets,jJudges or blacksmiths.
I have really enjoyed doing this piece and have read through it almost every day since I started it, as I find there is at least one thing in everyone’s answers that I need to remind myself of often. I suspect I will refer back to it on numerous occasions throughout the years and I thank my friends for sharing their wisdom gained over so many years with us.
Christilot Boylen – Multiple time dressage Olympian, grand prix winner many times over, Dressage Diva in the best sense, producer of many successful riders and horses.
1. I wish I had stayed in a program with a Master Coach longer and competed longer at all levels, riding both young and advanced horses. You have to be firmly anchored in a classic system before going out and experimenting with other methods.
2. Treat every horse you have in as your own. Set realistic goals and keep your owners informed as to the good, and the bad. Stand your ground for what is right for the horse. Never be conflicted! You may not always be right, but you will hang onto your principles.
3. Horses keep you modest with your feet on the ground. They don’t care how much money you have or don’t have. If you don’t treat them right and do them well, they will make sure you fail regardless if you are Joe Schmo or Bill Gates.
Denise Rath – Former member of American Eventing Team. Owner/manager Grey Fox Farms, which produces and sells a large number of horses in the North American market.
1. I wish I knew earlier that two of the most important things about riding are patience and listening to your horse. Too often goals are set that are unrealistic and unobtainable and the ensuing failure results in frustration on the part of both horse and rider.
2. I wish I knew earlier that you need to wear many hats to be a success in an equestrian business. Everyone wants to ride and develop a business from that, however, many other skills are required – the ability, for example, to teach, and absolutely marketing skills and people skills.
3. I wish I knew earlier how much I would enjoy this career path. I think that as I came from a first career as a molecular biologist, it made me appreciate the everyday freedom that being my own boss aﬀords me.
Garry Roque – Canadian Olympian, producer of many Young Riders, producer of students that have gone on to be nationally listed, breeder of award winning young horses.
1. Riding only gets better with lots of practice.
2. The business is not an easy one. Try not to own more than one horse yourself.
3. It’s a fun career, but to make money in horses you have to have enough money to spend on the horse’s career in order to ensure its success and thus your own.
Kyle Carter – Canadian Olympian, producer of many Young Riders, part-owner and manager of Five Ring Stables, breeder and producer of horses and two beautiful young daughters.
1. Neither winning nor losing makes you a horseman. Make your horses last. Your goals shouldn’t exceed the ability and desires of your horse; listen to your horse.
2. I wish I had put 10% of every horse sale into an account to be saved, even when I was broke, as I would have had enough saved at this point to have paid oﬀ our farm a few times over. Keeping clients and sponsors happy is much easier than constantly looking for new ones.
3. It is essential to enjoy the process as you achieve your goals. It’s a great lifestyle, but your family is going to be drawn into it as well so make them a priority of your time.
Lesley Grant-Law – 5 star rider, listed Canadian athlete, writer, producer of Young Riders and Young Rider horses, mom to a nine-year-old son, part-owner and manager of Law Eventing.
1. In front of the leg, behind the hand. All three phases, all the time.
2. Walk away from mistakes quickly once you identify them, even if it means losing money, and realize that that is part of business. The world owes you nothing, you are entitled to nothing. It is up to you to make things happen, so find a niche, put your head down and be prepared to work your behind oﬀ.
3. Stop yourself for brief moments, even seconds, every single day to notice, appreciate and enjoy small things. The big exciting times are few, the sad disappointing times are too many, but if you make it a priority you can remind yourself every day how lucky you are to have this life and the passion that drives you.
JR Turner – Farrier for 35 years to many a top three day event horse and many an award winning Quarter Horse in the western world and family man.
1. I wish I knew right from the start that patience, going slow, and winning them over is the way to have the most success with horses. One doesn’t usually get very far trying to do things fast or harsh.
2. I found out I have the most success when I work with horsemen. Try to have clients that have a high level of horsemanship themselves, then you all can have maximum success.
3. The horse life I don’t regret but it is easy to get going full board all of the time. You need to make it a priority to force yourself to take time away; especially to spend time with your kids away from it all.
Jon Holling – 5 star American rider, producer and seller of many horses and riders, part- owner and manager of Willow Run Eventing, dad to one son.
1. I wish I had realized earlier that you don’t have to ride a world beater to be competitive. If you have a horse that is trainable and sound and the patience to train them you can compete against anyone assuming, of course, they have the necessary talent level required. You have to have a horse that shows up to work every day more so than one that blows the doors oﬀ.
2. I wish I had paid attention to how my dad treated his customers more. The horse world doesn’t need to be weird and diﬃcult. Once I realized that each of my customers were just individuals looking for a service tailored to them life got much easier. Not everyone has millions to spend on their horses, but all are willing to put in a reasonable amount of time, eﬀort and money. Make it work for them and it will work for you.
3. Just because you work hard and dream all the big dreams doesn’t mean it will happen. It takes more than dreams and work so you better enjoy riding the novice horse more than the advanced horse as there will be far more of the former rather than the latter in your life.
Paul Delbrook – 5 star event rider and upper level show jumper, owner of Fun Factor Announcing, producer and seller of many an event horse and hunter/jumper, part-owner Wentworth Farm.
1. Many horses throughout the years taught me that a soft understanding and patient approach towards my riding, and life in general is the way to go as well as the importance of mental and physical strength.
2. As given to me by my dear friend Bridget Parker (GBR), “Don’t let moss grow under the horses’ hooves.” Meaning if you are in the business of selling horses and someone oﬀers a fair price, accept it! Small profits are better than no profits.
3. I cannot imagine a better lifestyle than a career with horses, but my advice is that dedication is the key to success all the while being mindful that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing well!
Jen Holling – 4 star Rider, producer of many horses and riders, part-owner and manager of Willow Run Eventing, mom to one son.
1. A temper is more detrimental to your ability to ride and improve than any other emotion or handicap. Until you can keep your temper under control you can never really feel a horse.
2. Find a good business program and keep track of all expenses. Until you have a good idea of your expenses and costs you cannot create a good business plan.
3. Surround yourself with a solid group of supporters – friends and family. Horses are a tough business and a solid support system is the answer to longevity in this world.
Brian Leith – Farrier for over 30 years to top 5 star event horses. Had many horses go to Olympics, Badminton and Kentucky.
1. Horses are much like spouses. If they are not hitting, kicking or biting you, they are OK by me. Remember there are very few unicorns so have tolerance.
2. It’s a very physical, and time demanding job. It can be very rewarding, but you have to commit to the 24/7 aspect of it to be successful.
3. It is a lifestyle working with horses and you have to always be a team player and try to surround yourself with other good professionals…it makes life much easier.
Peter Gray – Eventing Olympian, 5 star dressage judge, part-owner of Wentworth Farm, producer of many riders and horses.
1. We never stop learning and we are continually humbled by our sport. The passion for being around horses and the appetite for excellence in riding and training must never fade.
2. While I detest self-promotion on social media by the unqualified, I wish I had hired a PR manger at an early stage, branded myself, and promoted myself in a very professional way. As the realization hits that the sport also must be a life sustaining career I wish I had been better prepared; perhaps even some university courses on business and economics.
3. A new accountant was looking at my farm income ad expense sheets and was silent. I piped up, “At least I earn my living doing something I love!” And he replied, “Mr. Gray you are not earning a living.” In short the business side can put immense financial pressure on you, your family and your day to day lifestyle. But I would not trade in that lifestyle for anything!
Dr. Lisa Casinella – Vet at Peak Performance doing work for top 5 star eventing barns and some of the largest names in racing in the United States.
1. Patience. The horses do not read our minds they are only as good as the info you put in and sometimes they just can’t do what we think they should do. Better be able to adjust your expectations!
2. Hear and not just listen. Be mindful of what is happening around you and always be empathetic to what is going on at the other end. Strive to keep things black and white, stick to facts and stay on track.
3. Gratification for me in the life we live with horses 24/7/365/eternity comes not from fame, money or title, but from the fact that I can solve some of their [horses] problems. I can make a horse feel better, help them do something they struggled with before, even save a life on occasion, but most importantly, I can be a voice for the horse.
George Morris – Needs no introduction
1. Two things. First everything originates from the hind quarters. EVERYTHING. All exercises you do on the flat should be done to encourage the back to front riding. Second, one must stay WITH the horse. The rider and horse’s centre of gravity must be in balance with the exception of the odd time being behind the horse is required.
2. Maintain a standard of excellence in everything you do, your riding, your horse care, your appearance, everything. As soon as you let one standard slip others will follow. A standard of excellence with ensure success in business.
3. The motivation for a horse career and lifestyle must come from within. From a passion not ego, not status, but from within. It must be a passion to live and breathe the horses, the competitions are icing on the cake. When the competitors are the motivation which is seen too much today; it is being done wrong.
Kai Steﬀen Meier – German 5 star Rider, runs the popular event “Eventing Arville,” German Beriter, and Trainer B, past winner of Bundeschampionate, multiple times top finisher, dad to two young ones.
1. Riding is all about rhythm and everything becomes much easier once you have that rhythm.
2. The horse business is a hard way to go, but a way that lets you meet so many great people, a way that lets you train so many incredible horses, so it must be the good way!
3. I try to remember that everything happens for a reason.
Max Corcoran – One of the biggest names in professional grooming. Groom to the Stars, also heavily involved in some show organizing and newly minted USEA President.
1. Horses keep you humble and remind you that there is something bigger than you. They also remind you to keep things simple; there is no time for drama, lying, or emotions. Look at every horse as an individual, be patient and you will often get further.
2. Don’t underestimate your worth, but don’t charge more because of who you are working for. Don’t go for the glamorous job when you have already committed to your local show, for example, or you may find yourself sitting with no work at all. Doing the big shows is great but sometimes you get more out of the smaller things.
3. Don’t ever think of it as just a ‘job’. It is a lifestyle but also have respect for the people that do horses for a hobby as they are the ones that usually pay our bills. There must be a balance though. Don’t get so caught up in our little world that you miss life passing you by; you can’t take back time spent with people.
James Burtwell – Top class dressage rider, trainer and judge. Previously based full-time in the UK, now blessing America with his presence!
1. Attention to detail of getting the basics honest and correct. You are only fooling yourself if you try to skip past these and will get caught out in the end! Also always remember the horse only reacts to the information you give be more positive it showing them what you want rather than telling them what you don’t want.
2. Never assume. Be very black and white in all matters of the business and try to own controlling share of your horses if possible.
3. Haven’t quite figured this out yet! Work in progress! Hope someone else here tells me the answer!