The Crooked Path to Happiness In The Horse Industry

Photo by Susan Banas


“When you’re following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first.” — Kelly Cutrone

Growing up I lived in the most northern part of New York State. It was such a small town that if you didn’t know what you were doing – no worries, because everyone else did. It was a friendly, quaint area to raise a family with beautiful scenery during fall foliage. However, I realized early on it would not be a forever home for me.

Through an extensive AAA hockey career before starting my equestrian adventure, I found a very inspiring world outside from my little town. Chasing every major hockey tournament throughout Canada turned into a truck with trailer and horse in tow. Attending low level, 3 phase events later led to going up and down the state for A and AA rated horse shows. Coming from humble beginnings, my experience and exposure to the circuit were limited. As I competed more, I realized this hobby of showing horses was truly my passion.

Sean and Desenfrenado, a New York bred OTTB retired through the Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation. Photo © ESI

As time passed, I realized I needed to gain experience and would need to find jobs to learn and grow from. I began browsing the “grooms wanted” section and found my first grooming job. Growing up with the United States Pony Club, I acquired many valuable horse management skills from people who invested a lot of time and energy into me until I felt confident and ready for such a position. My first grooming job lasted three months before I realized it wasn’t feeling like something I wanted to do long term.

Days after leaving my first job, I got an excellent opportunity to work with a 2nd and 3rd generation, mother daughter duo who stressed horsemanship above all else. It wasn’t about winning and how to trick every horse into the winner circle, but instead how to confidently bring a horse to its full potential on individual basis. That philosophy resulted in winning and success.

Photo courtesy of Shaun Sellers

I took what I learned and tried a stint in a breeding and young horse program. I learned fast that broodmares, foals and stallions require very special people… and I maybe wasn’t one of them. Still trying to figure out what I wanted from the equine industry, I attempted a teaching some lessons in a pre-existent program. That also came with great riding opportunities, but I still felt very unsatisfied.

Longing to find what made me feel inspired, I found an opportunity as a barn manager in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Not quite sure what I was getting into, I gave my 2-week notice at the lesson program, packed my car with my personal belongings and my little dog, and set out on the 12-hour venture. Happy to say that two and a half years later, I’m still here. What really keeps me motivated about my current job is, through established trust, I can do my job as effectively and efficiently as necessary.

Photo courtesy of Shaun Sellers

Though I came from a small down in which everyone follows the same simple path of their parents and family before them, I managed to escape. I truthfully never saw myself at the point I am today, but also never set a limit. I found positives in every stopping point of my travels, even when they were less than ideal times, and learned to enjoy my journey.

The horse world is a forever changing, fast paced, lucrative industry. You have to take the time to figure out your likes, dislikes, what makes you happy, what’s too much, not enough and what makes you always feel satisfied. Remember — your path doesn’t have to be (and most likely won’t be) like anyone else’s.

Managing top-level barns and horses isn’t for everyone. Perhaps it’s something smaller low key that makes you happy? Social Media can portray things to look very glamorous, but like anything you’re going to do, there are situations and issues that arise that you must be ready to handle at a moment’s notice.

Photo courtesy of Shaun Sellers

If horses are your passion, consider 25-50% of your pay being fortunate enough to do what you love, then everything else is a huge bonus. Through perseverance and determination, I have been able to achieve and accomplish things I never thought were imaginable.  I am extremely grateful for my supportive mentors, family, friends and for the opportunity to live my passion every day.

Shaun Sellers manages Corporate Way Farm, in Mettawa IL. Working with his co-worker groom, he makes sure all the horses are pets before show horses, and enjoy the ring.