To all the young riders:

When I was 16, all I wanted to do was compete at Junior/Young Riders. First it was in dressage, then show jumping – and in the end, I never made it there. I had coaches that told me I would never make it, I had problems with funding, finding horse power and finding my distances – I even had my YR prospect put down due to illness. I’m sure my story rings a chord with many of you. For one reason or another, we just never made it – to Young Riders, to grand prix level before 21, to WEF – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make it in life.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the horse industry, it takes a village to raise a grand prix rider or horse. Everyone has their part to play and the key to finding the kind of joy you think you’d have standing on that podium is to find something you’re really, really interested in and be the crazy person, the know-it-all and bold adventurer into the unknown. For me, that was Equine Science. I’ve spent the last four years with my nose in some kind of scientific journal, watching horses trot up, or following some vet or equine therapist around. During those four years, I’ve had people tell me it was a waste of time, that I should’ve been a vet, that there aren’t any jobs for someone like me. Sure, it bothered me, but I never, ever gave up. It’s unconventional, but that’s me. At the end of it, my passion and perseverance got me an incredible job, and proved all the naysayers wrong.

Thirteen years later and I'm still that horse-crazy kid.

Thirteen years later and I’m still that horse-crazy kid.

The horse industry needs people with new ideas. You may not have a Lillie Keenan automatic release, a Reed Kessler leg or Beezie’s way of being so tidy and fast in a jump off, but you’re good at something (and it doesn’t mean you’ll never have it if you don’t at 18). A girl recently wrote a blog about feeling undervalued because she was always assigned the green horses to ride, but we need people like that. Young horse producers make the stars of the future. In the same vein, we need photographers, barn managers, grooms, accountants and journalists. We need therapists to put the horses back together after a hard season, we need farriers because it really is true “no foot, no horse”, we need vets, nutritionists, people to come up with the latest boots and the PR person to make sure these boots are successful.

Maybe you want to be that top rider, but don’t sell yourself short. Riding is a life-long pursuit and grand prix aspirations don’t have an expiration date. Don’t believe that ‘rider’ is the only way you can make it big with horses. Just ride. Find your way through trial and error and don’t be ashamed to be part of the support team rather than the big star, because at the end of the day the only one who is responsible for your happiness and success is you.

Céleste Wilkins