Turning Professional Isn’t For Me…Now What?
August 27, 2020 -
I often hear from people I have encountered throughout my time in the horse industry, and they almost always tell me that I have their dream job. I can only assume they follow my social media channels and see me ringside at competitions in all corners of North America and beyond, interacting with their childhood heroes, meeting four-legged royalty, and living out an equine-inspired professional fantasy.
First, I would like to point out that social media does not always reflect reality. Second, opportunities abound in this industry, and they are not just found in the saddle. It’s a common misconception that the only way to do what you love (if the thing you love is horses) is to ride or train. When I started college as an Equestrian Studies Major at Houghton College, I was operating under this delusion. My plan was to ride and train horses. If I wanted to keep horses as a permanent part of my life, what other option did I have?
During my freshman year, all Equestrian Studies students were required to remain on campus for what Houghton referred to as “Mayterm.” For the month of May, we taught lessons, managed the lesson barn, led all aspects of care for the lesson and competition herds, and spent our days at the barn. After week one of “Mayterm,” I was seriously questioning whether I was on the right path.
When Passion Becomes Work
I grew up in a family with zero horse experience, and if wasn’t for my second-grade teacher I would have likely never started riding. Thanks to the persistence of that woman — who I now refer to as my “Horse Mom” — my parents made the pony dreams of a lucky 10-year-old me come true on Christmas morning in 1996.
My father built me a barn and I figured most of it out on my own. I was mucking stalls before school, feeding before soccer practice, and riding back roads to take lessons at a local barn on the weekends. I was not afraid to work hard for horses. It wasn’t the work that scared me away during that fateful “Mayterm,” it was that the one thing I truly loved was starting to feel like work in a way that it never had before.
The summer after my Freshman year, I came to terms with the fact that horses would likely be nothing more than a hobby for me. I returned to school that fall, dropped the Equestrian Studies Major, and moved my Writing and Communications concentration to the “Major” column. I still competed throughout college, brought an eventing prospect to school with me, and graduated with horse fever still running through my veins.
That gutsy little jet-black horse that accompanied me to school also helped me post-college graduation to cope with the withdrawals of a care-free college life and minimized the sting of the real world. When a severe bout of colic took him from me a few years later, I was suddenly horseless. I was working as editor of a local newspaper in upstate New York, and without my consent, horses were no longer a part of my life.
Soon after, I knew I needed to figure out a way to combine my professional talent with my passion for all things horse. I sent my resume to hundreds of places, some with only a loose connection to horses. I even applied to work as a wrangler (yes, wrangler) at a summer camp.
I secured an interview for an assistant position with the public relations and marketing department at HITS Horse Shows. Frankly, I didn’t care about the title; this was my chance to reconnect with the equestrian world. I didn’t get that job and I was devastated. I had started to come to terms with the fact that horses were a bygone era for me when, a month later, I got a call from the director of marketing at HITS. She offered me a manager position on that same call and two weeks later, I was moving to Saugerties, NY. I was back!
A World Of Possibilities
Fast forward almost 10 years to my current position with Jump Media, a team I joined during the company’s formation in 2015 thanks to two of my professional mentors, Jennifer Ward and Jennifer Wood. I have traveled thousands of miles covering horse shows, interviewed the best riders in the world, learned that I don’t take a half-bad photo, written countless words of content, and met so many inspiring industry professionals along the way.
My time at Jump Media has taught me that riding professionally is far from the only way to have your work and your passion align. I have met many young people who are struggling with the same battle that I did after ditching out on my Equestrian Studies “Mayterm.” Public relations was my saving grace, but there are so many stories out there of people finding their niche and blazing their own career paths in the horse industry. Over the next several months, we are going to be sharing some of those stories. Stay tuned!