One of the biggest complaints (and stereotypes) about horseback riding is that it requires a lot of money, especially if you want to get to the higher levels of competition. While this is true, for the most part, it is possible to get to where you want to be even if you’re not filthy rich. This is also one of my favorite subjects as I don’t have all the money in the world to buy a six-figure horse and get myself to the top levels of this sport right now, so I try to make do with what I have. I have a huge soft spot for other riders that have potential and passion but not always the finances to get to where they want to be in this sport.
I interviewed Kayla Larson, also known as “CatchRideLife” on Twitter. During her riding career, Kayla hasn’t had the money to afford this sport, but she found other ways using her dedication, passion, and making connections.
Whenever I do an interview, I ask the rider to introduce themselves because I feel my interviewee can do it better than I can. Here is what Kayla had to say:
“Hi! I’m @catchridelife on Twitter. I’m actually more of a working student that a catch rider, but I do catch ride as well. I am in my first semester at Texas A&M University and am aging out this year. My family has never been able to afford this sport – not even lessons, so from the start I’ve been working for what I have. It’s been hard, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way.”
Kayla started riding in 2007. She sold Girl Scout cookies in order to attend Girl Scout camp and participate in the horse-focused sessions. She rode at Girl Scout camp during the summers of 2007 and 2008. In 2009, her best friend at the time bought a horse property, and Kayla took whatever opportunity she could to ride horses there.
During her time riding, Kayla has ridden both English and Western. Her English lessons consisted of riding a “crazy, green” 21 year old Morgan gelding in the backyard of the Girl Scout camp’s barn director. In addition to that, Kayla worked at the camp in 2012 and 2013.
“After I got back from camp in 2012 I began searching for a new barn. I just emailed a bunch of barns in my area, went out and rode for the owner of my current barn (quite horribly if I might add) and for some reason they let me ride and work there,” she said. “I started there in September of 2012 and for the first year I hayed, swept, and turned out twice a week for our 54 stall barn in exchange for 1 lesson a week. When I came back from working at camp in August of 2013 my trainer asked me to work for her, helping the younger kids and riding the green horses in exchange for lessons.”
Kayla competes as well. Her first show experience was during her senior year of high school participating in basic flat classes in IEA. Now, she mostly shows green horses. The classes she competes in vary and include anything from walk/trot poles to 2’6” local shows. She also shows on the Welsh Pony and Cob Circuit in classes such as Cob Hunters, English Pleasure, Hunt Seat Equitation, and the Welsh Rider Classic.
Kayla’s first time catch riding was at a show when she showed an 18 hand Clydesdales in walk-trot classes, which also happens to be her favorite catch ride she’s done. The first time she showed him, he had 22 days under saddle. However, Kayla said she has always been the type of rider that will get on a new horse that she knows nothing about.
Not everyone can have the privilege of catch riding or finding a person/facility that will allow them to work off lessons in exchange for riding horses in training. But Kayla had some advice for riders who want to pursue their riding dreams and don’t necessarily have the money.
“Find somewhere to get your foot in the door to start getting lessons, even if at first you are doing the really crappy work for the barn in exchange for a lesson a week,” she said. “If you work hard enough someone will notice, and the opportunities will come.”
Kayla has also done other things to afford riding. This past year she started braiding for shows as well as pulling manes for boarders. She uses the money for purchasing tack and paying for gas.
Kayla experienced the dreaded “aging out” this December and also just started college. She said she’s found the transition to be pretty hard.
“Since I don’t own [a horse], I had to leave all the horses I ride as well as my amazing barn family. They have done so much for me, it is really hard not being there working and helping and repaying the favor to them,” she said. “Luckily I am only about 3 hours away from home so I’ve been able to go home a lot to ride and go to shows. I am still riding while at school as well. I found an opportunity at a barn in my college town to go ride a lady’s horses for her a few times a week, which while it’s not quite the same, has helped quite a bit.”
Kayla is majoring in animal science. She has dreams of going to vet school but is also not sure whether she wants to put her riding on hold for another 4 years after college. In the future, she said she would like to become a trainer, teach young children to love riding, and help riders like her who have the passion but not the finances.
Although Kayla hasn’t worked for anyone notable, she said she trusts her trainers’ abilities and program “100 percent.” Many of the individuals at her barn are like her in the sense that they do not have the finances for showing on the A circuit. However, she said that everyone at her barn is taught to work with the horse they have to show him or her off to the best of their ability, which is a hugely valuable skill, especially if one wants to be on a college equestrian team or participate in IEA.
Kayla said her riding strength is being able to get on a lot of different horses and get good results. She also is happy with her equitation on the flat. Her biggest weakness is looking down, which her trainer said is from riding a lot of green horses. Kayla also tends to be affected a lot by how well her ride went (Editor’s Note: I’m the same way!) She also gets attached to horses easily which is a weakness because many of the horses she rides do not stick around for very long because they are either sold or put into a lesson program after she works with them.
For 2015, Kayla has “no idea” what’s in store but hopes to continue showing on the Welsh Pony and Cob Circuit with a goal of obtaining a national year-end title.
“Other than that, I’d just like to get as many rides as possible and make sure that while I’m not able to ride as much being in school that my riding doesn’t suffer,” she said.
For those of you wondering what a typical catch ride day is like, Kayla said it involves getting to the barn an hour or two before everyone else, cleaning tack, lunging or schooling horses, taking lessons, help out with lessons, and hacking. If she is going to a show, she makes sure the show kids have everything packed, gets the trailer packed, and ensures all the horses are appropriately groomed. Once they are at the show grounds, Kayla gets the horses’ stalls ready, unloads them and unpacks the trailer, schools horses, and braids the horses.
Kayla has often been frustrated by the amount of money needed to be successful in this sport, but she channels that frustration into a drive to work harder to attain her goals. Despite this, she does think it’s possible to make it to the top of this sport – even if you don’t have the money.
“I think if you work hard enough at it and make all of the right connections it is definitely possible,” she said. “However, I think at some point some money will probably need to be involved since you will be working a lot to get ahead in the industry but will need some sort of living arrangement, that could come with your working though. It really just all depends on your passion, willingness to work hard, and connections.”
Kayla has loved her path during her riding career and has found that the hard work and dedication is 110 percent worth it.
“The things I’ve learned by immersing myself in this sport and the connections I’ve made has been more than I had ever dreamed of,” she said.
All photos are property of Kayla Larson. Please do not use without permission.