As someone who has grown up in the horse business and turned professional at the age of 18, I feel I have a great perspective on how to make it long term in the Hunter/Jumper world and any aspect of the horse business. I have been a professional for over 20 years working for several different big “A” barns as the assistant trainer and have had my own business for almost 13 years. I run Cloud Nine Farm out of a beautiful 18 acre farm in Midway, Kentucky just 10 miles from Lexington and The Kentucky Horse Park.
Stevie and student Lili Marshall with Anne Kursinski and her partner Carol Hoffman at Market Street in New Jersey
I have seen firsthand the lack of effort and care that several young professionals have put forth, and frankly, I am so shocked and saddened that it still continues year after year. I am writing this article in hopes that I can inform and inspire our future workforce and educate young people of what it takes to make it in the horse world. I always tried to grow up learning from others mistakes so that I could be as successful as possible. Hopefully, some of you will get a little something out of this.
Advice for becoming a professional horse trainer and rider:
First things first…..Be Reliable and on time!
It does not matter what line of work you are in...show up on time and when you are supposed to. No excuses!! This is a big one for me. There is nothing worse than someone constantly showing up late. In fact, showing up early and being extra prepared for the day will allow you to be organized, and you will make a great impression. You will impress not only your boss but your fellow employees. I promise you that if you constantly show up late or not at all, you will lose respect by those around you and it will take a long time to get it back. One thing that is so important in the horse business (and any business) is teamwork. Everyone must work together to get the job done well and in a timely manner. If you are not around and are not able to pull your weight because of your absence, everyone will suffer collectively. As a pro, I have heard every excuse in the book of why someone was late or just didn’t show up. Trust me when I say that your future boss will see right through the excuses so just be on time and reliable if you want to succeed!
It goes without saying that you must work your butt off
The horse business is a tough one whether you are riding, grooming and/or teaching. There no better time to work hard and earn the respect of others than when you are young and first starting out. If you have any ideas of being a professional with your very own business one day, I advise you to get your hands dirty in every single aspect of the horse world. This industry is incredibly competitive! I promise that it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, if you are not willing to work hard and put in the time, you will not survive. There will ALWAYS be someone else that is maybe a little less talented than you but is willing to work hard to move forward and advance in their career. As a professional who hires riders, assistants and grooms on a regular basis, I would much prefer someone that is a little less knowledgeable but willing to learn and put the time in than someone who knows it all but doesn’t want to work hard.
Be a sponge an admit you have things to learn
This was a particularly hard lesson for me to learn as a young professional. To give you a little background, I skipped college and turned pro right out of high school at the age of 18. I had an amazing opportunity to work for my trainer at the time, Karen Healey, so I decided to defer to college for one year and take the job. I think in hindsight I always felt uneducated by skipping college. Even though I was in a business that didn’t require a college degree, I was constantly trying to seem very smart and educated. That ended up hurting me in ways because I didn’t admit to being ignorant to certain aspects of the horse world. Once I realized that you never stop learning in the horse world it opened up an amazing opportunity to learn so much. I started paying more attention to the chiropractors and vets that came through the barn. I would sit and watch different pros teach and try to absorb as much of their teaching as possible. I asked a ton of questions. All the pros that I worked with would always take the time to teach me and they loved the fact that I was hungry for knowledge. Try to get experience in as many aspects of the horse industry as you can. This includes but is not limited to grooming, basic veterinary care, knowledge of hay and grain and how to best feed your horses, medications and giving shots, being able to operate farm equipment like a tractor and manure spreader, daily maintenance of riding arenas and knowledge on basic hoof care. If you decide to have your very own farm one day you will have the confidence and wisdom to run it smoothly.
Keep your head down and act professional at all times
It goes without saying that the horse business has a reputation of being a party atmosphere after hours. As you read in one of the previous points, you must work hard and be reliable and be on time. In my opinion, you can NOT party like a rockstar every weekend and still continue to do the job to the best of your ability. I always felt that in my younger years I needed to keep my head down and work my butt off and then I could enjoy my life more once I had established a place in the industry. I can honestly say that I am still not quite the partier (people that know me are laughing right now), but I am able to enjoy time away from my business because I worked really hard to build my solid reputation.
Remember the horse comes first. That is why you started this path
I think once you start the path of the horse business and have some success it is easy to lose sight of why we got into the business in the first place. The horse MUST always come first. The horse business can be lucrative at times but we must never forget about the welfare of the horse. I see far too often that horses get used and abused so that professionals can make money. I hope that once you become a professional you will always think about what is best for the horse even if you lose money. Without horses, none of us would be doing what we love. Horses are our lives so let’s do right by them and they will do right by us.
The Business side….the forgotten aspect
My last piece of advice would be to educate yourself on business. Figure out how to budget, do basic billing and learn about different categories of taxes. This is the most frustrating part of the business for me as I hate sitting behind a desk. But, without billing I would not get paid. There are several equine specific bookkeepers that could help teach you the different elements that are important so try to learn these things before you get too far down the road and don’t have time to do it.
More about the Author Stevie McCarron Wigley
Stevie grew up riding and showing in California, turned pro at 18 and worked for many different professionals including Karen Healey, Butch and Lu Thomas, Candice King and Anne Kursinski. She then moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2005 to start her own business.. She has been a pro for over 20 years and is very passionate about the horse business. Stevie is currently looking for someone to fill a working student position at the farm in Midway. Please apply via email.
If you have any questions or would love some advice, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Get in touch here.