Like many young, twenty-something riders, I have always dreamed of making it to the big leagues of the FEI dressage levels and being able to ride professionally. Now as I wind down my time in school and begin to think about my desired career, I realize that I’ve reached a pivotal point in my life. After getting a few more years of experience under my belt, I’ll have enough talent and knowledge to be able to consider becoming a trainer. However, there are plenty of factors to consider before making the jump to going pro.
Know the Rules
First off, you should check the rulebook of your country’s governing body of equestrian sport (USEF, Equestrian Canada) to understand what constitutes as a professional. Professional status has nothing to do with one’s skills or how many championships they’ve won, but rather depends mostly on whether they accept remuneration. Remuneration is monetary compensation or otherwise that is accepted by the professional rider. In short, an amateur is restricted from accepting pay for training, showing, instructing, and many other services. Additionally, you should be absolutely sure about being ready to ride professionally, because once you have a professional card with the USEF, it is exceedingly difficult and time consuming to become an amateur again.
One huge amateur vs. pro dilemma is that of attaining sponsorship. Sponsorship can be a great win-win for a pro who receives free equipment in exchange for bringing the sponsor publicity. Often, some up-and-coming riders are able to forge partnerships with horse owners who offer rides on exceptional horses that would otherwise be unattainable. Such opportunities can launch professional careers by allowing riders to take their competitiveness to the next level. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not available to amateurs.
Living Up to Expectations
Another downside of being a young professional is the added competition that comes with the territory of competing in open divisions. Obviously, it will be much harder to win against pros on expertly trained horses and horses owned by sponsors than it would be if you were competing against amateurs. Not to mention, professionals must meet higher qualifying requirements for championships than amateurs.
In my opinion, it is probably wisest for me to first spend a year or two refining my skills and cleaning up in the amateur division. I’m very ambitious as a rider and as a person, and I have never found it difficult to put myself out there and jump on opportunities. This aspect of my personality usually works to my advantage, but sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down! I’m still young and I try to be open minded enough to gain new insight about my sport and to network with everyone I meet. I have plenty of lofty goals that I am eager to chase down, but I have my whole life ahead of me!