2016. I find myself riding back from Tampa International towards Ocala. I am right where I want to be right now. This has been my fourth trip of this year going back and forth. Cat stays with LLE South and takes care of Denver and the horses while I go home to teach, ride and check in with LLE North. She arrives right on time and we head back to our winter home. This year we are located at Leah Lang-Gluscic's farm. It is a great set-up for us. We have 9 horses in the 10 stall barn that I lease and 2 rooms in her house. At this time I am lucky to have Amanda Mayros, a young creative and responsible hard worker helping us out. She has been wonderful to have on the farm. Hard working, cares about the horses, great attention to detail and a fun addition to the team. She started her own business, Stock Tie, and sets up at the horse shows selling her beautiful work. It can be seen on her website, www.stocktie.com.
I just read a blog that Jessica Pye had written; "The World of Eventing: Business vs. Sport". I thought it was very well written and would like to touch on a few points. So if you haven't read it - here is the link. http://pyeequestrian.blogspot.com
Pye’s first point talks about needing money in order to be a professional. She also states that majority of equestrian professionals want to just ride and have their own string of horses. In my opinion, I would have to say that is mostly true, but not every equestrian professional just wants that. I do know a lot of trainers that have stated they do not want to teach, they just want to ride, and if they had the money the would do just that. Point proven. However, I love teaching. I absolutely love working with students of all different kinds with a variety of goals. I thoroughly enjoy watching someone process, try, fail, try again, learn and succeed. Perseverance, determination, and teamwork. All of which are very important to the program that I run. Mistakes. No one is perfect. I have made plenty of mistakes in life, riding, my career, relationships, friendships, etc. and I will continue to. What is important is to learn and continue to strive to be your best everyday.
Pye’s next point touches on the endless hours, and how I interpreted it, ultimately getting burnt out. She speaks to being well-rounded. When I was younger I didn't want to be well rounded; I wanted to ride, sleep and breathe horses 24/7. As I lived and learned in my 28 (almost 29) years here, I have come to find that variety is important. Outside of horses I try my best to spend time with family, friends and do other activities. I enjoy playing volleyball, which I do quite a bit in the spring, summer and fall. I have met a great group of people through other sports and adventures I have allowed myself to go on. Even though my ideas have changed over the years, hopefully as I have matured, so have my beliefs. I absolutely believe in going on family trips, spending the holidays together, and keeping your friends close by your side and being there for them when they need you.
Yes, there are times I am frustrated with the business to the point of tears, but where I am right now, I wouldn't trade it in for anything. I absolutely love what I do. Pye states, "This isn't just your business it's your universe." It very much is. It takes a very unique person to be successful and happy doing this job. It is not for everyone, but there is nothing wrong with trying it out, working for people, and seeing if this world is what you want to be a part of.
When I graduated high school, I took a chance to indulge myself day and night into the world of horses. I worked full time for an amateur dressage rider in Connecticut and then in Wellington. When I found myself craving to be closer to the eventing world, I moved north to Ocala and became a working student for an Olympic level rider. I soon discovered that is not who I wanted to be or who I wanted to be around. More importantly, not who I wanted to be my role model. I was lucky enough to have experienced a small part of the eventing world; unfortunately it was the dark side: bute-ing horses before sale trials, lying to client’s faces, going behind people’s backs. It was appalling to me and an eye opening experience. Being on the inside for once taught me a lot, but it maybe was not the best place for me at 18. It taught me about training, riding, business ethics (or lack there of) and life. It was an experience, which is what life is. You grow and learn from every experience you have. I put every upper-level equestrian on a pedestal, I was naive to the fact that it isn't all just happy-go-lucky when you get to the top. Let me be clear, some, not all, of these professionals will do whatever, and I mean whatever, it takes to get ahead. I am not about that. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Don't get me wrong, I've made mistakes, I have learned on many horses, I have taken falls, not only in riding but in life, only to come back fighting. I will learn, I will do better, I will continue to try to be my best. Each day.
I've been down in Florida now since December 28th. I have shown, taken lessons, gone schooling, hacked, swam with manatees, met new friends, new clients, built new relationships and strengthened old ones. Each day I try to be better, I try to make my horses better and I try to make my students better. Constant reminders to myself and students of posture, positions and goals. Making plans for each individual horse, what works for them, how to get more from them, what do they enjoy, how can I make them happy and working hard? How can I get them to let me in?
Pye’s next topic is your facility and your clients. She very clearly states what people want to do is ride their string of horses and compete them. While that is true for a lot of professionals, it is not true for all professionals. Like I stated earlier, I. Love. What. I. Do. All of it.
You do need a facility to work out of and you need clients. How do you get those? Hard work. Teaching yourself to be better. Absorbing as much knowledge and information as you can. Be good at what you do. Not only at teaching but relating to clients and students. Horse people have got to have people skills. Just because you can tell them what to do while riding doesn't mean they want to be around you other than that. Keep in mind that for the majority of your clients, this is a hobby. This is for fun. If they aren't having fun, and you aren't a part of the fun, then they don't want anything to do with you. This business can be hard because it is not traditional to be friends with your clients. In the way I run my business, I am friends with my clients. They are my second family. Unfortunately this can make things uncomfortable at times, but you have to be very clear with your boundaries and over time I have learned to be more upfront about what I can and can't do, or what I will or am not willing to do. You will also have to do some small managing of client-to-client relationships.
I agree with Pye’s quote: "You will meet some amazing people in this world and you will have some wonderful clients. You will meet a select few in this business who set a wonderful example of a farm owner, a trainer and/or a manager. You will have clients, human and horse, that make you love your job and you'll find yourself beaming with pride at their accomplishments, big or small. But you should also know, you will meet many more people who disappoint you, frustrate you and send you home at the end of the day questioning yourself and your actions. You won't leave this job at the office."
You will find both sides to be true. The clients will weed themselves out as you progress through your business. Some of those you think you’re closest to may choose to leave unexpectedly when you thought you were doing everything that they needed. This is where I have learned that communication is key. I try my best to stay in constant contact with my clients. Being in my second winter of heading south for the season, I have already learned a lot about managing and helping clients from afar. One of the biggest things I have learned is communication and honesty. I have to trust that if my clients have concerns that they will come to me and be honest. There is not a whole lot you can do if your client says they are happy only for you to find out that they are not. A coach-client relationship is exactly that, a relationship. In order for any relationship to work, there has to be the desire to make it work on both sides. As soon as that desire is lost, it is better for both parties to move forward in their own directions. I have learned a lot since last year and I am moving forward and aiming to do better for myself, my clients and my horses.
Your clients will have their own opinions and beliefs on what they want for themselves and their horses. It isn’t about forcing your client to do what you want them to, it’s about working together and compromising what will be best for them and their horse. I have been teaching since I was 15 and in my short time of teaching, coaching and training, I have found a solid system to produce horses and riders. I have learned to trust myself, trust what I do and that it works, because it has shown to work time and time again. You will bid adieu to some clients that move on to different programs, and hope everything works out for them. I believe in my students, I believe they can take away from me knowledge, experience and be able to continue to use that in their everyday life and riding. Knowledge not only on how to ride, but how to care for horses, how to be a positive individual, how to build relationships with horses and people, to support others, and to be genuine to yourself.
At the end of the day, both types of clients will make you who you are. You have to accept and acknowledge if you have made mistakes and learn and grow from them, rather than pretend like you did nothing wrong. Clients are relationships. Relationships are two sided.
In Pye’s next paragraph "The rules of engagement in the horse business are different from the real world", she states that many horse business transactions are not typical. However this may be true in a lot of aspects, it all depends on the individual. A great example is buying and selling horses. There are a lot of different opinions on how to buy and sell horses. As long as you are clear of your expectations up front with any party you are engaged with, you can go home and sleep at night. Be forthcoming in how you take a commission on the buying or selling end of horses. I know a lot of professionals will take a client’s horse, ask what they want and tack on another $10,000 for themselves. Fine, as long as they are completely transparent to all parties, which is not usually the situation. Recently, I found myself buying horses in Ireland for a client, and was very sure to be dealing with honest, hard working, trustworthy individuals. There have been times I have been talking to other professionals that have bragged about selling a horse for a ridiculous price, or that wasn't going to do the job that it was sold for. I refuse to be one of these professionals. If my horse isn't going to do what you want it to do, you will be told. My clients and my horses are expected and trained to go in a very rideable way. If that isn't suitable for a beginner, I will tell you; if the horse won't progress past a certain level, I will tell you. The other important thing I've learned is to be picky in who you sell your horses to. Just because someone can write a check doesn't mean they are the best for your horse. If you sell your horse to a person they aren't well suited for, it ultimately reflects back on you and your training. The only thing you have in this business is your reputation and if you throw it away for a quick buck it will certainly become known within our small industry in which everyone is connected.
Pye states, "The degree of success you achieve in this business is primarily dependent on money and/or luck with the addition of talent and dedication." I once was told, "Every time I see a gold medalist stand up & say, ‘If you just work hard and never give up you will live your dream,' I feel like kicking them, because it is just impossible for that to be true & I know so many people who have dedicated their lives to winning a gold medal and just tear themselves up because they don't make it, even a couple of our guys who have won gold medals, they are not satisfied & not happy with themselves & never will be. It's like money, the more you have, the more you want."
I have found this quote very true, in myself and people I know, or people I have watched and admired. For a lot of other equestrian professionals it is about a gold medal, it’s about being the best, the absolute best in the world. But who is to say that? If you can't think of yourself as the best then what are you going to do? If you are not happy with your goals and your accomplishments then what? Goals are great. Set them, meet them, make new ones. New realistic goals. Make sure you also enjoy the process of reaching those goals. Take the time to recognize each accomplishment as you set new ones.
"You can love the sport and the life without loving the business." That is true also. If you don't want to be in the business, then don't. If you don't enjoy the business, stop doing it. Go find another job. Horses have also, as Pye states, made me brave, daring and adventurous. They have also taught me responsibility, building relationships, respect, empathy, and integrity. Your mind will always play games with you, maybe more so in this business than others, but you learn to deal with it and move on. You have nerves, you deal with them, you have doubts, you get past them. Horses teach you so much about life. It saddens me to read a blog that states "the business, however, has made me colder, more jaded and less hopeful." I can see how a young professional can become victim to this. This is what I almost fell victim to in my year off after high school. But I decided to make sure that isn't the experience that my students go through. I want them to have hope, I want them to have fun and I want them to be safe, good, quality riders that understand and enjoy their horses.
Overall I agree with what Pye is stating, you have to enjoy this business to be a part of it. I relate it to any work industry, although as most of us know, the horse industry doesn’t quite follow all of the mainstream business rules. This is where it is really important to stick to your morals and do what is right and be true to yourself. Don’t over complicate things. There is so much to know in this world that at times it can be overwhelming. Very recently I’ve had it related to the riding. Make riding your horses simple. Don’t confuse your horses with too much information overload. It is the same thing with living your life.
At this time I am also reading a wonderful book that was gifted to me from a close friend: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, written about Coach John Wooden. I am just in the very early stages of reading the book and feel that it offers very valid points in not only being a successful coach, but on how to lead a good life and be a positive role model. Wooden states, “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.” I try my best to better myself each day so I can be a better role model for my students. Have I always made the right choices? No. I am only human, but I can try to continue to better myself and take accountability for mistakes I have made. I highly recommend his book.
Wooden talks about his father’s Two Sets of Threes Rules. They are very simple. The first step is about honesty. Never lie. Never cheat. Never steal. The second set deals with adversity. Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses. I think this is very simple advice to live by in every aspect of your life.
Another point Wooden touches on is to make each day your masterpiece. “You can’t do anything about yesterday. The door to the past has been shut and the key thrown away. You can do nothing about tomorrow. It is yet to come. However, tomorrow is in large part determined by what you do today. So make today a masterpiece. You have control over that.”
This year I have been lucky to ride a lot with Robin Walker. He has taught me a lot about just riding the horse that I am on. Go back to the basics. They have got to stay in a frame, give in their back, lengthen and shorten their stride, not spit you out and not tell you to piss off. The horse has got to let you in. And that is where you start. Until that is accomplished, you should not move forward or you will quickly find yourself falling back into the holes you never filled. I have quite a variety of horses in Florida this winter, one very different from the next, and each one has helped me improve my riding and training methods with the help of Robin.
So, as my first blog of 2016, my goal is to continue to do better, learn from my mistakes, keep things simple and enjoy the process.
I want to finish by thanking everyone who has been a part of the amazing crazy journey! Stay tuned for a detailed update of the horses and students!
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