By Gillian Pemberton

Five years ago, I you asked me where I saw myself in five, ten, or even twenty years, I would have answered the question without hesitation. ‘Horses,’ would have been my answer, with no doubt that it would be true. I was a lifer, after all. Fast-forward to today, and my life is much different than I would have imagined.

Three years ago my health took a devastating turn and a year ago I quit working in horses full time for good. In those two years I was still working, I knew my time was limited and I began to prepare for the day when I wouldn’t be a full-time horse professional. Fortunately, I worked with some amazing people, in the best barn environment one could ever hope for. They supported me as my work attendance became more inconsistent and I became less able to perform some of the more physical aspects of my job. I did and still do consider these wonderful people to be part of my family and I’m extremely lucky to have them in my life. When I’m feeling well, I still go to work for a half-day to groom and tack horses, go for a hack on one of my favorites, and spend quality time with my friends.

When I left work, I didn’t leave horses behind. I still have four horses at home, all of them retired or semi-retired, and they keep me plenty busy. I also always have something to ride if I’m so inclined. Now, I’m a full-time writer and I work from home. Though I’ve always loved writing, it took a back seat to horses, as most things tend to do. But, now that I’ve made writing a career, it’s become clear to me just how many ways being a horse professional prepared me for my new life.

Things Don’t Always Go As Planned

You learn this very early on in horses. Horses are unpredictable. Maybe Fluffy lost a shoe the night before the show. You went off course or had a fall at finals. Or, you trained hard all winter only to have your horse get injured in the paddock and require three months of stall rest, not to mention the mountain of vet bills. I got sick and my career in horses ended. Life happens and it isn’t always what you wanted. Sometimes it’s inconvenient, other times it’s heartbreaking. Get up, dust yourself off, and move on to the next thing.

I Know How To Be Poor

No one in their right mind gets in to horses to make buckets of money, and the same goes for being a writer. Spending nearly my entire life as a horse person has taught me how to survive, and still thrive, on what most people would consider very little money. Starting out in most businesses is hard, and there might be a period in the beginning where it’s a financial struggle. That may last forever, who knows? Horses fully prepared me for a life where I’ll probably never be rich,  at least not in money. Which leads me to the number three…

Doing What I Love For A Living Is A Privilege

Both in horses and in writing (and many other pursuits), there are going to be days when you hate it. I never liked riding in the rain, and now, I loathe editing. But, when I step back and take a look at what I have the opportunity to do every day (and get paid for!), I love it and it’s something I’m passionate about. I’m incredibly fortunate to make a career out of something I truly enjoy, and to have had that opportunity with horses, as well.

Don’t Be A Jerk

Many great horsemen will tell you that the hardest part of working in horses is actually working with people.  I’ve seen many talented people not goes as far as they should simply because they had poor people skills. I learned early on to be polite, kind, and respectful of people I work with, whether they are my employers, clients, or other employees. I’m also not afraid to ask for the same in return. It served me well in the equine industry and continues to benefit me in all aspects of my life.

Learn How To Accept Criticism And Failure

I have spent a lifetime in front of coaches, instructors, clinicians, and peers, many who were paid to tell me what I was doing wrong (and hopefully help me figure out how to do it right). It was never personal and the end goal was always to help me improve. As a horseman, there were times when I failed at my job and made countless mistakes. But, I moved on and tried to learn from each mistake, failure, and setback. As a writer, I started over in an industry I knew little about with practically no real experience. I have received tons of feedback, not all of it kind. Because of all of those years in the ring and in the barn, I have a thick skin and I’m able to process the criticism and use it as a tool.

Hard Work Does Pay Off

It’s been a slow process, but as a look back at how far I’ve come in just a few short years, I’m pleased with how I’ve progressed as a writer. I’m also fully aware of how far I have to go. It will take years and possibly the rest of my life of hard, difficult work to continue to improve and make it in this business. Fortunately, I know that hard work will, whether it’s writing all night to meet a deadline, or spending countless hours, days, and years in the ring and in the barn perfecting what can never be perfected, will eventually be rewarded. Even if it’s only with the satisfaction of a job well done. 

About Gillian: 

Gillian is a freelance writer living in Virginia with four horses, three chicken, two dogs, and one very fluffy cat. She has 30 years of experience with horses in hunters, jumpers, breeding, and foxhunting.

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