by Bryce Richardson, owner of The Long Spot, and writer for The Legal Equestrian.
Some of us are fortunate enough to be born into a family that can sustain the unquenchable thirst to guide majestic, four-legged creatures over courses of jumps.
Most of us are not.
Most of us cannot afford a six-figure (or even a seven-figure) mount. Most of us cannot afford thousands of dollars in training and board on top of the tens of thousands of dollars in costs to compete at the dazzling venues from California to Florida. Most of us cannot justify dropping three pay checks on a hunt coat every year. Most of us cannot fathom jetting off to Europe in pursuit of a shiny, well-bred partner – much less paying to get them home with us.
Most of us are not in that financial position. Most of us have these big unsustainable dreams because we fell victim to the addiction that is horses at a young age, and in turn, we got sucked into a vicious world where it is survival of the richest.
Due to this, many people scrimp and save through their junior career until they reach college where they vow to get a good degree so they can hopefully one day be a happy ammy with a cute hunter they can show a few times a year and spoil to death.
But.. then there are those of us who dream of more. There are those of us that didn’t just catch the horse bug, but let it become our identity. We are the kids that were working students our entire junior career. We are the kids that would ride anything from a fancy warmblood to a barely broke Thoroughbred to a wicked pony. We are the kids with saddle sore scars on our legs from the thousands of hours of no stirrups. We are the kids that braided and groomed our way to the shows. We are the kids that have never known what it means to show up at the barn just for our lessons and classes.
However, I have found myself more and more alone as one of these kids. My tribe has seemed to dwindle to a select few willing to nearly sell their soul to ride one naughty pony or one green hunter.
While my tribe dwindles, I watch an entitled attitude manifest itself amongst those who once were right beside me working until we couldn’t see straight just to get a lesson.
Whether it be via conversation, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram, I am hearing more and more “This isn’t fair” and less and less “I’ll work my way there.”
I see many people complain about so-and-so being able to afford a string of Grand Prix horses and performance hunters and how she doesn’t deserve it. I hear about how because this sport caters to the rich and famous, it’s not fair to the “normal” people at the bottom. I hear people declare they deserve a hand out because they were not born into a wealthy family but have some natural talent.
Well, guess what: Life is not, and never will be fair.
No one is going to hand you a horse and a blank check simply because luck wasn’t on your side when you were born into an average income family that could not keep up with the upper echelons of the equestrian community.
I tell you this as one of these “normal” kids. I am a trainer’s kid. No, not a Big Name Trainer (“BNT”) with a massive barn I stand to inherit one day. I come from a small town trainer who dabbled in the California A Circuit. I grew up with my horses at my house. I grew up mucking, tacking and feeding.
When my mother moved away when I was 13, I became a working student and have been one ever since. I’ve only ever had two horses of my own, a little mutt pony we paid next to nothing for and my jumper. The rest have been catch rides.
When I wanted a jumper, my dad got me an unbroken three year old from an auction, and I broke him myself when I was 11. I took that little unassuming WB/TB from my backyard to the NorCal Prix de Nations team that competed at Spruce Meadows. We took the bronze. I never for a second had that little horse in training because from an early age my dad made it very clear, if I wanted to make it in this sport it was not going to be on his dime, it would be on the sweat of my own back.
I have gone through phases where I get very lucky and have significant financial support, then I go through times, like now, where I have no horse and no money. One thing that has stayed constant no matter who I am riding for is that if someone like myself wants to see the inside of a Grand Prix from the back of a horse, you have no choice but to shut up and work.
No one is going to pity the fool who sits around and complains while they could be working. No one is going to pity the fool that passes up even the opportunity to muck stalls when it could lead to some rides. No one is going to pity the fool who thinks they deserve a handout.
Because this world owes you absolutely nothing and if you want to see the inside of the Grand Prix ring, it will happen a lot faster if you pick up a shovel or a brush with a smile on your face than if you continue to sit there and degrade those more fortunate than yourself.
At the end of the day, even if you find some clueless soul to pity you, do you really want to look back and know you made it to the Grand Prix ring on a pity check rather than your own merit?
I think those of us underdogs that are waking up at dawn and working through dusk are lucky in a different way. We are lucky because once we reach the big ring, we can look back and know every single painful step was taken by our own two aching feet. Every inch of that climb to the top was achieved through our own dedication and determination. No one else came in and paved the road for us with their financial support. We made it every unpaved mile and achieved a success all our own. We are lucky because how many people can actually say that sincerely in this sport?
If you have let this sport make you bitter and cynical enough to believe hard work is not enough, look to the top riders. Many started as grooms and working students and rode catch rides to the big ring. Look at Mavis Spencer whose family told her she would have to pursue a career as a professional on her own merit. Look at Sam Hutton who started in a little yard in England and now rides in the 5* Grand Prix classes and is on the Global Champions Tour.
If you’re going to play this game coming from a modest background, you have to change the rules. You will never level the playing field through your financials so you must compensate through grueling work and an attitude that attracts those with the means to give you a chance.
Neither of those things are possible if you never get up, shut up, and saddle up.
Bryce Richardson is a college student, working student, and catch rider. She grew up a trainer’s kid in California and became a working student at the young age of 13. She has been a groom and working student ever since. Though her family supports her love of riding and her dreams of going pro on the international Grand Prix circuit, she has had to make it on her own merit and work ethic.
Currently, Bryce is catching riding in Southern California. She works hard at a barn in Colorado when she is home with her father. She has a great passion for matching horses with riders. She realized this passion after making her first sale in Europe, where she was working as an intern in Holland, to a rider in the United States this past summer. Bryce hopes to one day own her own international sales barn that helps equestrians find their perfect match.
Bryce also has her own blog that can be found here.