What no one tells you about riding after you turn 21
The year you turn 21-years-old, is your final year as a young rider. As your glorious and promising young rider years come to a close, things suddenly become very real. You are now a senior rider, and it is time to either pull your big kid breeches on or liquidate your horsey possessions and pursue a non-equestrian life. Decisions, decisions…
I have made a choice to stick it out in the Eventing world because I cannot fathom any other lifestyle but I certainly do not feel like anything is going easily. As a junior rider (under 18), I felt like I had the riding world by the tail, success at Preliminary (against fellow young riders) came easy. Making the junior team was simple; everyone who qualified made it that year. Things got more challenging once I was a young rider but I did not understand what was coming my way once I aged out of this category. Here are the five hardest-hitting realities about continuing to give riding your all after you are no longer a young rider and how to cope:
1) Have fun getting on teams: If you want to ride for your country, you and your horse need to be amongst the four best pairs in the entire nation. For example, if you are American, you are vying against Phillip Dutton, Kim Severson, Boyd Martin and Buck Davidson (just to name a few). Whatever your nationality is, you ride against the greatest eventers from your country, and at 22-years-old, the odds are strong you will not even be remotely in their category. This means you have to bite the bullet and realize that realistically you will have a tough time getting an invite to so much as a single team training session for many years to come. Do not obsess over making teams; instead, shift your focus to earning strong results. Be realistic though; do not head to your first three-star thinking I’m going to win this thing. Go there to achieve your personal best. If you have a personal best at most events, you will be improving at a steady rate. And guess what? If you keep working away, by the time you are 35, you just might be in consideration for a team.
2) Finding sponsors just got way more challenging: Welcome to the adult rider world, where you do not get sponsors just because you are a cute young rider who is popular on Instagram. Now you need to have top results at FEI events to compete with the world’s top riders. You likely will not score any sponsorship deals with big companies but what you can do is seek out smaller brands that can benefit from working with you. Make sure you maintain a good social media profile to make yourself as appealing as possible to potential sponsors. You will need competitive results behind your name if you want serious consideration from most companies, which brings me to my next point.
3) The old pros are going to kick your butt: You will now have to compete in divisions against all the big name professional riders, and it will be hard to better them. Those Junior/Young Rider divisions made for a more level playing field than the Open divisions you will be riding in now. Do not get down if you head home from event after event without a ribbon to show for your efforts. When the pros were your age, chances are they were not leaving events with a wheelbarrow full of ribbons either. Study how the pros ride and try to mimic them. The pros are human beings too, and if you set your mind to it, someday you will be one of the riders to beat.
4) Making money in this industry is way tougher than you really think: Even the world’s best riders are not flush with money. You are going to have to work your tail off if you want to stay afloat in this industry. In the horse world, you will never find a nine to five job that pays over minimum wage. You will need to get creative and extremely frugal if you want to support your riding. Consider galloping Thoroughbreds at the racetrack in the morning, clipping horses, braiding horses at every show in your area, working at an event, haying, etc. There are lots of odd jobs in this industry that you can fill your schedule with to make extra money. Make sure you do not waste your money on unnecessary things such as eating out, expensive clothing, tack you do not need and so on. Money saved is money made. Roll up your sleeves and give it your all because you CAN earn enough money, you just need to hustle.
5) No one cares about your NAJYRC years: Just because you were a star young rider does not mean people will think you’re special now that you are an adult. You will not have owners lining up at your door and students begging for lessons with you. Competing for business against the old pros that are consistently beating you at events is HARD. People will not throw money in your direction based on your young rider results. You need to carve out a name for yourself in this industry, and it will be a slow and painful process. Setting your rates low will help drive some traffic your way, and if you treat all of your clients like gold, word will eventually get out that you are worth doing business with. All businesses take years to build and so will yours so keep your head down and work away.
6) Your confidence and love for the sport will be tested: Nothing comes easy in the horse world and you may find yourself experiencing severe self-doubt. Push through it. Ask yourself; if money were no object, what would you do with your life? If your answer is… “ride”, then this sport is for you. Savour every minute you are in the saddle because you love it and that is why you are working like a dog, day in and day out. Your non-horsey friends may already have a house and a nice car, and you are driving a beater and mucking stalls non-stop…that’s the horse business. However, without horses would you be a happy camper? Do you want to sit at a desk all day working a job that you are not passionate about? No, you do not.
When times get tough, and you feel like you are hitting rock bottom, look at your horse and remember why you are living this crazy lifestyle – because you love it more than anything else in the world.