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.
Hi all – I know I have not been as active on the blog.
That’s because I have been investing time in my new equine law practice! You can find it here.
And, I’ve been riding more and unfortunately, having more migraines, which means riding less.
So, I was riding more and less at two different times.
Anyway, my “riding more” was going really awesome. We were working on being softer to jumps, distance, rhythm, me keeping more horse’s body straight, getting leads properly over jumps, all of that.
My “riding less” means I’m writing this having not ridden for two weeks and not have jumped in a month.
Anyway, I was laid up with a migraine watching the WCHR Hunter Spectacular on Saturday night, and of course I saw the greats – Scott Stewart, John French – they came to Sophie Gochman. When they introduced her, she was introduced as being an “eighth grader at [insert school name here].”
And I thought, this eighth grader is competing in one of the biggest hunter classes in the country, and I’ve yet to even break into the Adult Amateurs.
I had a total meltdown and self-doubt moment, and I know each of us has has this, whether you’re a seasoned junior, an adult just starting out, or a late-bloomer when it came to showing or jumping. I’m sure professionals even experience these moments, too.
So, being me, I love writing letters to things to get negative feelings out. I wrote a letter. To my self-doubt.
I know your entire purpose is to make me feel like I’ll never make it there, like I’ll never be a professional or experienced Amateur. Its purpose is to get in my head so bad that sometimes I wonder why I’m even riding. Its purpose is to sit there and tell me all these stories that simply are not true.
Because, your self-doubt is just telling you a bad story – it’s letting the competition, or the money, or the nice expensive tack, or the fancy imported Warmbloods get in the way of one thing you have that will make you more successful than anything else: Your passion.
Your passion is what lights you up. When you ride horses you forget about any other problems you may have. You feel more confident, more disciplined, more mature. You feel at one with the horse while still recognizing it’s two hearts and two souls working together. You can’t wait until your next trip to the barn, your next show, your next lesson.
This is your passion.
So, to the beginner, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your own riding journey on its own riding timeline. You are going to be exactly where you need to be at the right time. You’re going to learn everything you need to learn. You will get there when you need to and are supposed to. Just remember: You will always be successful at what you do, no matter how “behind” or “inadequate” you feel. Remember this, too: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. And, finally: If you keep the passion, you’ll never go wrong.
To the equestrian who never did the Big Eq: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your own riding journey on its own riding timeline. You are going to be exactly where you need to be at the right time. You’re going to learn everything you need to learn. You will get there when you need to and are supposed to. Just remember: You will always be successful at what you do, no matter how “behind” or “inadequate” you feel. Remember this, too: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. And, finally: If you keep the passion, you’ll never go wrong.
To the late-bloomer to competing: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your own riding journey on its own riding timeline. You are going to be exactly where you need to be at the right time. You’re going to learn everything you need to learn. You will get there when you need to and are supposed to. Just remember: You will always be successful at what you do, no matter how “behind” or “inadequate” you feel. Remember this, too: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. And, finally: If you keep the passion, you’ll never go wrong.
To the Amateur fighting to become a professional: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your own riding journey on its own riding timeline. You are going to be exactly where you need to be at the right time. You’re going to learn everything you need to learn. You will get there when you need to and are supposed to. Just remember: You will always be successful at what you do, no matter how “behind” or “inadequate” you feel. Remember this, too: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. And, finally: If you keep the passion, you’ll never go wrong.
To the equestrian, any age, any rank, who feels he or she won’t be as successful as the equestrians with the money: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your own riding journey on its own riding timeline. You are going to be exactly where you need to be at the right time. You’re going to learn everything you need to learn. You will get there when you need to and are supposed to. Just remember: You will always be successful at what you do, no matter how “behind” or “inadequate” you feel. Remember this, too: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. And, finally: If you keep the passion, you’ll never go wrong.
To every equestrian everywhere, no matter what their “self-doubt” is about: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your own riding journey on its own riding timeline. You are going to be exactly where you need to be at the right time. You’re going to learn everything you need to learn. You will get there when you need to and are supposed to. Just remember: You will always be successful at what you do, no matter how “behind” or “inadequate” you feel. Remember this, too: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. And, finally: If you keep the passion, you’ll never go wrong.
Many of you have probably seen the quote referenced above. There is no doubt that riding different genders of horses is extremely different. There is also no doubt that many equestrians tend to prefer one over another. You have your “gelding people” and your “mare people.” I don’t know if I’ve ever met or talked to anyone that preferred to work with a stallion, but I am sure they are out there.
For much of my riding career, I only rode geldings. I think the first mare I rode was after I had been riding for a good 10 years. Most of the mares I had experienced once I started going to different barns were, to be frank, bitchy and unpleasant to deal with.
I much preferred geldings over mares. I just clicked with them better. Unfortunately, my lack of experience with mares added with the fact that my trainers that had me ride mares never explained to me the differences between mares and geldings had soured me to working with mares.
It wasn’t until my current barn and my current trainer that I fully understood how working with a mare is completely different than working with a gelding. And, I also discovered that not every mare is mare-ish. Some are actually very pleasant to work with and ride. In fact, my barn owner has told me that having a relationship with a mare is one of the best horse relationships you can have because when you really click with a mare, they give you their all. They want to make you happy and do what’s right, and they truly cherish their relationship with their human.
There is no doubt that mares are much more sensitive than geldings. They can be more temperamental. They need to be ridden a certain way and worked with a certain way. Oftentimes, you cannot demand things from them like you would a gelding. They will test you, but, they are also incredibly loyal. When you earn their trust, you know you’ve done something right. If you respect them, they will respect you. And, while I have not yet experienced this myself, I have heard that a bond with a mare is like no other.
Senior Editor Liv Godfrey has her own chestnut Thoroughbred mare, Lulu. She gave her thoughts on what it’s like working with a mare.
Lulu is my first young horse and off the track Thoroughbred that I started from the beginning. I taught her how to be a rideable jumper that happens to love jumping and being in the jumper ring. She has taught me so much over the past two, almost three years. I truly believe mares are a completely different ball game than geldings. Mares just have different personalities than geldings. Geldings tend to be more happy go lucky. Mares give their all to people that they trust and that they like being ridden by. A connection with a mare feel likes a different kind of connection, especially when you click with the mare. It teaches you to constantly want to be a better rider. Personally, my mare make me strive to be a different, more motivated, stronger person.
I’ve found when you ride a mare you need to constantly be talking to them and figuring out what will make them go their best depending on how they’re feeling that day. For example, sometimes Lulu goes like a little hunter, and some days she will throw harmless, sassy bucks in when we are cantering around the ring. When I am spending time with Lulu on the ground, she has a different kind of attitude. I feel like I constantly have to remind her how pretty she is in order to put her in a good mood before I get on!
Oh, and lots of treat help too…..
Overall mares are the best, in my opinion. When an equestrian is patient and listens to a mare, he or she will learn what buttons to push to make a mare go the best she possibly can. For me, that also involves a lot of good training from my trainers. Personally, I highly suggest working with professionals, even if you can only afford to once a month. Working with a professional helps a lot, sometimes more than one cares to admit, when you have someone on the ground observing and giving you suggestions.
To wrap it up, mares are the best when an equestrian is able to connect with them and take one’s time to understand their personality. I personally do not think people give mares enough credit all the time, but as far as I am personally seeing, some of the nicest horses (Sapphire, HH Azur, Cylana, etc.) in this era are mares.
Take your time. Understand what makes them tick. A mare will be the best teammate you could possibly ask for.
Hi all! I know it’s been a while. I’ve been swamped with other projects and with riding as much as I can now that my migraines have been improving & my concussion seems to have fully healed (it only took a year!).
I know it’s only December 13th, but I’ve been itching to do a year in review and to lay out my goals for next year. And as always, I have my usual disclaimer that my goals may be somewhat ambitious. I like being ambitious. It keeps me on my toes, and it keeps me pushing forward and working hard for what I want to accomplish.
First, my year in review:
I learned a lot this year. Although my riding time was affected a lot because of my concussion and my doctor’s orders to stay out of the saddle for about 4 months, when I was allowed back in the saddle, I came back with a vengeance. Here’s my top 10 lessons from 2016.
- Get everything in writing, even if you trust the person. Verbal assertions mean nothing. Also, I should know you need everything in writing, especially as an attorney, but I let my non-attorney mind take over for a split second, and it definitely cost me. Lesson learned. I’ll never do that again.
- Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
- Have confidence in yourself and your riding ability. I’m lucky to have a trainer I trust wholeheartedly and that I know won’t ask me to do something I am not ready to do, so even if I am nervous, I have gotten better at pushing that aside and just going for it.
- Take all the time you need. Riding isn’t going anywhere. Neither is showing. Taking time off of riding to fully heal was super hard for me, but I knew it was something I had to do, especially given the severity of my concussion and of the neck injury I sustained.
- Let any hate or jealousy you receive motivate you. While the deactivation of my Ask.fm has really cut down on the hate I get, it took me a while to actually get rid of my Ask. Why? Well, I did also get nice messages and messages from people, who didn’t necessarily want to make their identity known, asking for help, so I didn’t want to cut off those individuals’ method of talking to me. However, the effects of the hate eventually got to me, and I decided it was best for my health and mindset that I just get rid of the medium. I am still here to talk to anyone who needs it, and I promise not to judge anyone’s questions or situations. I also promise to keep anything you say confidential.
- Making connections in the horse world is extremely important. I have been lucky enough to make a ton of connections through this blog and through other things in which I am involved. I have found that these connections have helped me along the way, whether it is with excellent customer service from a company, opening up other opportunities for me, or giving me friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. These connections have been with other equestrians and with equestrian/equine companies.
- Don’t get bogged down in the drama. I know this is a HUGE revelation, but the horse world is filled with drama (I’m obviously being sarcastic). I used to get involved with a lot of drama, and it bit me in the ass. I’ve done a lot of work on myself and on my social media, and now I only get involved if it is absolutely necessary (Note: If I see you bullying someone, I will step in. Bullying is never okay).
- If you are feeling burnt out by riding, take a break. Even after I was given the okay to ride, I felt myself getting burnt out by riding halfway through this year. I felt like I was losing my passion and love for the sport, and I had to drag myself out to the barn most days (and that’s if I was lucky; some days I just said ‘f it’ and didn’t even go). I’ve seen a lot of riders experience this same feeling, and I always advise taking a break. Like I said, riding isn’t going anywhere; neither is showing. Don’t feel pressured to keep riding or showing if you’re just not into it at the moment. Sometimes we need to take something out of our lives to realize just how much we love it and need it.
- Find your “equestrian tribe.” I have been extremely lucky to have an amazing trainer, who also happens to be one of my best friends. But, I also have been extremely lucky to have finally found a group of riders that support one another and are not concerned with drama and trying to one up each other. In the past, I’ve found myself at barns that have riders who are more concerned with being better than one another rather than honoring the fact that each equestrian is on their own journey, and that equestrian should be supported, not ridiculed or talked about behind their back. Who cares what height you’re jumping, what horse you ride, or where you are in your career. Support is the best thing you can give another equestrian, and I finally found that in the great group of equestrians of which I am a part.
- Trust the process. After I was cleared to ride, I took about 10 lessons and was jumping 3′ – 3’3″. I was over the moon. Am I jumping that height every lesson? No (and, it’s best to preserve your horse anyway. I know a lot of riders that don’t jump very high at home, even if they’re competing at a certain height, simply because it’s better for the horse). At first I was like, “well, why am I not jumping this height all the time now?” There’s a reason behind everything your trainer does. Every exercise I do in a lesson has a goal behind it. For example, Monte likes to land on the left lead after jumps simply because it’s his stronger direction. I do a lot of work, over smaller jumps, that focuses on setting him up correctly so he gets the right lead (if we are tracking right or turning right after the jump) or focuses on me asking for the right lead in the air. If I was doing this over bigger jumps, especially with me being new to jumping bigger, I would be focusing on a ton of different things over a big jump, such as keeping my heels down, releasing enough, not crashing on his back on the landing side, getting my two point correct, keeping my leg stable, getting the right distance, etc., and adding getting the correct lead to that would just make everything overwhelming. Of course as I become more comfortable, all of those things won’t be so overwhelming, but I need to trust that every single lesson and every single exercise has a purpose, and that is to make me a better rider. On top of that, I have become a much better rider than I was this time last year. While Monte is an amazing horse that most of the time seems like an old soul, he can have green moments. Now, I am able to ride those green moments and help with his training. Just last week, we did an exercise that he had never done, and I pretty much nailed it. A year ago, I would not have been able to do it confidently (or at all), and doing it confidently did what? Gave him confidence and helped me execute the exercise in the exact right way so as not to confuse him or get him frustrated.
As I was typing that list, I realized I had way more than 10 things to list as lessons from 2016 – but I decided to cap it at that.
Now for my goals. As for my goals that I laid out before 2016 started, I am not sure if I accomplished all of them nor do I remember exactly what they were, but I do know I accomplished at least some.
- Be jumping 3′ – 3’3″ consistently;
- Begin showing in the 3′ Amateur Adult Hunters & 3′ Adult Eq. (My trainer thinks I can make it to this level by the summer if I keep my progress up and keep working hard);
- Jump 3’6″ for the first time and, if I am being ambitious, school 3’6″ occasionally;
- Find a way to get rid of my show nerves;
- Continue to improve my riding, especially when it comes to training horses and working with green horses;
- Become a textbook picture perfect hunter rider;
- Find my next young hunter that I can hopefully help bring along more with the assistance of my trainer;
- Start dabbling in the jumpers (I know I said this last year, but now that my confidence is higher and my riding is much improved, maybe now I am ready);
- Get Monte qualified for Indoors & Zone Finals;
Ambitious? Yes. Totally unrealistic? I don’t think so.
Here’s the thing. It’s great to set ambitious goals, and I love people that shoot for the moon. The key is: Don’t be attached to your goals (Click the bird to tweet this quote). In metaphysical & spiritual principle, this makes them much less likely to be accomplished. It’s okay if you don’t accomplish all of them – or any of them. But, listing out your goals makes it much more likely that you will reach them, and if you back them up with hard work, you’re also much more likely to put checkmarks next to everything you want to accomplish.
I am wishing you all tons of success in the New Year. I know 2016 was rough, but I hope you at least were able to accomplish some of what you set out to do last January.
Got goals for 2017 or lessons you learned this year? Let me know! Comment below or shoot me a tweet.