By Sissy Wickes
November passes and with it the flip of another calendar year for riders. Some move up in age groups, some move out of the junior ranks (the oft- dreaded “aging out” process), some are off to college and some to other adventures. For all of us in the horse show world, it is a time to pause, assess, and look forward. Show schedules, training programs, job hunts, school searches, career choices- the New Year’s tapestry unfolds resplendent with resolutions, goals, and plans.
For many of us, the resolution, the goal, and the plan is to stay in the industry in some capacity. We want to envision a future with horses. So, how to proceed? What kind of job can I get? What do I need to do to make it in the horse world?
The Plaid Horse contacted a few of our industry’s most successful women. Why only women? Because this is a time in history for women to mentor women. These riders and trainers have forged a path for the younger to follow. Through grit, talent, and perseverance, they rose to the top of this profession. Representing a perfect mix of wisdom and hindsight, their words resonate.
To each of the women interviewed, The Plaid Horse posed two questions:
- What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to begin a career in the show horse industry?
- What advice would you give your younger self?
Margie Engle, Louise Serio, Jenny Karazissis, Leslie Steele, Sandy Ferrell, and Anne Kursinski were all kind enough to respond. Now giants in our industry, they recall their journeys as riders and young professionals. While times may have changed in some regard, the road to success still remains steep and not for the weak of heart.
Anne Kursinski operates her business, Market Street, in Frenchtown, NJ. A member of five Olympic Teams and three World Equestrian Game teams, she is the winner of countless Grand Prix and Nations Cup classes, as well as dual Olympic Silver Medals. Anne generously gives her time to the George Morris Horsemastership Clinic, where her flat sessions are legendary. Anne can be seen competing in all levels of showjumping throughout the east coast.
Follow your passion. I think it is important to get an education as a fallback. I became a professional as soon as I was out of the juniors, but I am not sure I would give that advice to others.
Ride anything and do anything to be able to ride. You can learn from the good, the bad, the tough, the wonderful – all of the horses teach you something.
Read every book that was ever written about horsemanship and riding theory and technique. Most importantly, work hard and never give up. Create your own luck by working hard, absorbing everything you can, and putting yourself in the right place at the right time.
Keep asking yourself: how can I be a better horseman? Make sure that the horses always come first and never sacrifice them for money or ribbons.
Advice to my younger self? Enjoy the journey more consciously. Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go perfectly. Have some compassion for yourself. And, don’t forget about the future. Put money away and make a long term plan.
Jenny Karazissis and her husband, Kost, are based out of Far West Farms in Calabasas, CA. Jenny is a familiar face in the show hunter ring, having won multiple Championships on both coasts. Most recently, she won the 2017 WCHR West Coast Spectacular aboard Undeniable, only to ship him east and win the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix. In addition to riding and training, Jenny is an active participant in the governance of our sport.
I think it is important to pay your dues through hard work by doing jobs that you may feel are beneath you or not related to what you ultimately want out of the industry.
Advice to my younger self? Just when you think you have it all figured out, you learn a valuable lesson and realize how much more there is to know. Also, when you set goals and achieve them you should savor them a little while before moving on.
Margie Goldstein Engle is an iconic name in American Showjumping. She is a ten time winner of the American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year award, as well as a multiple Pan American and World Equestrian Games Medal winner. At 5’1″, she is pure grit and talent. Margie has suffered multiple injuries in her career, each time returning to competition well before predicted. She can be found riding in the Grand Prix ring as well as training horses and riders at all levels. She operates Gladewinds Farm in Wellington, FL.
First of all l would suggest to anyone getting into this industry in any capacity, as with anything in which you want to succeed, is to make sure it is your passion!
You will need to being willing to work hard and long hours. As in any business, it is very important to maintain integrity. Perseverance is a must which takes discipline and focus. Always put the horses’ needs first and remember to have compassion for not just the horses but others as well.
If you have to be a working student so be it. You can learn by watching and working with some of the better horseman. Try to use every opportunity available to you even if it is working around the barn as a learning opportunity and to develop a type of horse sense. These experiences will ultimately help with your horsemanship. It should not be about the money but more about learning what the horses’ needs are and how they think and respond to different actions. Every horse you encounter can teach you something even the more difficult ones. In the end it will make you appreciate the easier ones that much more!
Louise Serio is from Kennett Square, PA, where she operates Derbydown, an iconic farm founded by her parents in the 1950’s. Louise is a second generation horsewoman, and her children, Christina and TR, have followed her lead into the horse industry where Christina is a rider/trainer and TR is a farrier. Louise is the most successful female hunter rider in history. She has been Champion multiple times at the largest horse shows in America, including Devon, Pa. National, Washington International, the National, WEF, etc. She teaches juniors and amateurs as well as riding both green and seasoned horses.
If you want to be a rider or trainer, work for a good rider or trainer. This is a hard business to understand and to do well, so give yourself some time to figure it out. Pick someone who is patient and kind to animals, and remember that you are the advocate for the horse.
If you are second in command, watch and learn from the person who is first in command. You may just want to stay where you are! It is stressful to be the boss and take the he at all of the time.
When you start on your own, enter at a level where you can have success and make mistakes and move on. Do not go in at the top. Establish values, find your moral framework, and learn to bring clients and horses along.
Make sure you consider your personal life when you decide to have this career. There is a lot of travel to work into your life. Ask yourself if you really want that life.
Advice to my younger self? Don’t get married when you are 18 years old!
Sandy Ferrell is one of the most prolific hunter riders in the show ring. She has piloted such famous horses as El Primero, Indian Summer, Bolero, and Fifty Shades to Championship honors at premier hunter events throughout the east coast. She can be seen exhibiting young horses to seasoned veterans- each benefitting from her uncanny eye for distance and keen sense of pace. Sandy splits her time between Wellington, FL and Bel Air, Maryland.
I honestly believe that the horse show industry is one of the few that women and men are equal on every level. We must achieve strength, knowledge, education, talent, financial backing, horsemanship, people skills, high levels of integrity, and love of the animal. Work ethic is essential and striving to be a good influence. There is neither the need nor the room for discrimination of any kind. Our loyalty
begins and ends with the horses!!
Advice to my younger self? Be proud when you refuse to deviate from what true horsemen and horsewomen taught you, even if it means missing out on an opportunity.
Leslie Steele has been a fixture in the west coast horse show scene for over thirty years. She has won Championships at all major horse shows on both coasts. Her riding skill extends from the top echelons of the hunter discipline to the Grand Prix jumper ring. Operating her own Acres West in Calabasas, CA, Leslie is a consummate trainer and teacher with students competing successfully in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. Most recently, Leslie showcased her venerable catch riding skills. She rode Milissa Summer’s Top Shelf to Reserve Championship honors in both the 3’6″ Green and Green Conformation Hunter Divisions at the Washington International Horse Show.
I think first and foremost I would tell anyone who wanted to be in any part of the horse industry to get an education. Whatever part of our industry you are in, go and work for people you respect. Get as much work experience as you can. You can never learn too much.
Read and know about anatomy – how the horse works. Too many people want to teach, ride, and manage, but haven’t been hands on in the trenches and learned about shoeing, feeding, health care. There is so much to know about our industry that you can never know enough.
Also, I think you need to know what’s going on in our world. Too many people in our industry can only talk horse. There’s a big world out there. Keep current and remember this is a very small industry in a big world.
Advice to my younger self? Spend smart, save money, and make better financial choices.
Seven of the show horse industry’s most successful women offer their career advice. What is the common thread? To succeed you must be willing to do any job and work tirelessly. To succeed you need to find your mentor who may be an employer, an owner, a trainer. Surround yourself with people who will help you learn not only the tangible parts of the business – the day-to-day horse care, riding skills, training techniques – but who will also mirror moral and ethical values. Being the best involves much more than winning ribbons. Support each other as we all endeavor to produce better sport and better horsewomen.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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