If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in life, it’s that there’s never one path to anything. I like to believe the same is true with riding.
As young riders, we’re consistently exposed to the dilemma of choosing between pursuing upper level riding or a non-horse career. You either go to work for a rider full-time after school, or you put riding on hold and pursue another career. Even if not explicitly stated, there’s this construct that to ride at the highest levels of the sport, you must make it your entire life.
That is one path, and yes, it is the one that will best prepare you for a successful career as an upper level rider. I spent time working for a team rider, being exposed to the high performance world and what it takes to make riding your profession. It was hard work, but I really enjoyed it and learned an incredible amount. If I’m being honest, it was the path I was sure I would take after going back to the University of Maryland to finish the last year of my undergraduate degree.
So what happened? On a Friday night shortly before graduation, I came home from a meeting with Rob Burk at the USEA office where I had “interviewed” him about his career for a class assignment. We had a fantastic discussion, involving everything from careers within the sport to graduate school degrees, and I had a lot to think about on my two hour drive home, the conclusion of which was my decision that regardless of how hard it would be, I was going to give riding a full time shot upon graduation.
Twenty minutes after pulling into my drive way, I had a call from the company I now work for, offering me a job. Many would expect this to have been completely exciting and for me to be jumping up and down – oddly enough this was not the case. It was a great offer, at a great company, for a position I had been interested in – yet here I was, having just decided that I was going to ride full time, but presented with a job I couldn’t rationally say no to.
After many sleepless nights (and discussions with riders who had open positions) I took the job – and I’m immensely glad that I did. At the time my main reason was that I honestly did not have the means to support my horses and myself without a full time job (what is often forgotten about riding full time is even if your living and board are covered, there are still the costs of health insurance, car insurance, food, gas, farrier, vet, competitions, emergencies, etc). My parents did everything they could to support my horses and I through college (along with the three jobs I worked at any given time), but those expenses were my own upon graduation, as they should be.
A year later, I have many more reasons why I’m happy that I took the job besides simply finances. Initially, I joined a rotational marketing program, where I had the opportunity to support many different areas of the business. One of the most interesting was working with our sponsored winter Olympic athletes, which involved flying out to various video shoots. As a fellow athlete, hearing about how they trained and prepared for high level competitions was incredibly insightful.
I’ve also worked on several government related projects, including some in my current full-time position of helping design and facilitate strategy sessions for our clients. As a result, I’ve seized opportunities to become more involved in the work we do in the space, and it has been incredibly fascinating and rewarding. I’ve fostered an interest in national security, particularly counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence, for many years, but having the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the government has helped me really focus in on my interest in that area and where I’d like to go with it. Had I not taken this job, and worked hard at the opportunities that have come my way, I’m not sure I would have ever put the time into pursuing this interest.
My point in sharing my personal story of the last year is that you should never feel that there is only one way to accomplish your goals. In business, there’s a big emphasis on re-imagining the art of the possible, and same can be said about the journey we take. So find a way to pursue what interests you. While you can’t do everything, take the time to figure out what you really care about, and then give those things your full effort.
And be warned: you will always feel the pressure to follow the path well traveled. I experience it daily when I see posts of riders down in Florida or Aiken, spending their days working around horses and competing in the warm sun. But then I sit in a fascinating meeting at work, or read an interesting article and realize I wouldn’t be happy leaving everything else behind. Our country (and world) are in a very delicate place, and if I have an interest in the problem, I feel the need to do what I can to be a part of the solution. I’ve come to realize that I will never be fully content with just riding, but still have a strong desire to reach the top of eventing. So at the moment, I put all my time and energy into finding a way to make both work together, and seek opportunities that position me to succeed.
I’m always happy to speak with anyone that is going through a similar dilemma, or feeling similar pressures – don’t hesitate to drop me an email or Facebook message! I also have to give a shameless plug for the USEAs Intercollegiate Eventing program – if you’re thinking about college or already in college, make sure to check it out. The USEA is continuing to develop it, and I’ve found it’s a wonderful place to find peers going through a similar time of life.