Money Isn’t Everything—Here’s How I Know

The horse winning in the 3’3” Junior Hunters at the Kentucky Horse Park. Photo: Shawn McMillen Photography.


I grew up in this sport as most of us did—wanting it all. I worked my tail off, never got anywhere, got super jealous and bitter, eventually flamed out and focused on school instead. When I came back to the saddle at 27 with a fresh perspective, it all clicked for me. For the first time in my life, I was riding made, great horses with great people. Finally, I felt confident and able. 

In the last five years, I have had a lot of success. I’ve had the opportunity to show many different talented horses and moved up the divisions. Some were easier for me than others. Some exposed major weaknesses in my riding. But all have taken every ounce of concentration and bravery I could possibly muster. Getting around a course at a horse show takes more out of me than most people realize. 

Lately I’ve shown at bigger shows for the first time and to be honest, it opened my eyes to the opportunities I could have had as a youth if I had been able to get key factors to come together. Now that I have the opportunities, I battle anxiety and fear. It makes me sad sometimes, how much bravery feels like it was wasted in my youth. 

I was thankful enough for amazing lessons and week-long opportunities at top shows, but then I got the horse. My first horse. The one I’ve saved my whole life for. You know, the one that people stop and stare at. He’s always only one bath away from being swooned over at any horse show. His trot is by far the bounciest in any under saddle, and he is well-rewarded for it. He is kind when I miss and miss and panic and stress and miss again from nerves. He never stops trying. You know, the horse that would have made me as a junior. With him, nothing could stand between me and my goals… right?

Photo courtesy of Piper Klemm

He won many big things before I got him – WEF, Hampton Classic, etc. After I got him, I got to watch him win in the Children’s and 3’3” Juniors and even at Thermal this year in the professional divisions. But I know I will never be the biggest line item on his resume. I will never ride him as well as Carleton Brooks, Scott Stewart, Tracy Fenney, and Brianne Goutal. He doesn’t jump that well for me (thank goodness, he’s cognizant that I probably couldn’t hang on) and I’m always forgetting to squeeze something somewhere. 

So here I am, sitting in the place of my childhood dreams. I own a winning hunter, but I’m not moving up the ranks like I hoped. My rounds sometimes make people gasp (not like I hoped). I’m not winning. 

I think a lot of times when we’re not doing as well as we hope, we fill the voids with “If onlys.” If only I had a nice horse. If only my trainer was more connected. If only I got to go to the best shows. 

But now, my “if onlys” are naught. Each is fulfilled, and I’ve realized that I still am not that competitive. I still am afraid of single oxers. I still shake at the in-gate. It’s kind of a harsh reality, if I’m truthful with myself. Growing more successful and having more resources to use on horses has opened up many doors for me, but it hasn’t fixed any of these flaws. I could not jump a grand prix in three years with all the money in the world. 

Both in life and this sport, money can buy opportunities. To suggest otherwise would be naive. That opportunity might be in the form of going to an expensive horse show, an expensive and quality training program, and quality horses. 

The horse winning at Thermal 2020. Photo: Andrew Ryback Photography.

What we all do with the opportunity we have is up to us—no matter where we fall on the financial spectrum. Some of us have more opportunities, and a lot of times this is (unfortunately) based on wealth. But everyone has some sort of opportunity to work with, time to pursue that opportunity, and gumption to kick the barriers in front of them down. What we do with our opportunity will determine our lives, our show ring success, how much we give back to our community, and how we treat our horses. 

If you’re stuck with your riding career and feel like you have zero opportunity, I’m willing to bet you’re either not being creative enough or not realizing what opportunities look like. All of us, even ones without bottomless pocket books, have something to work with. 

Reuben and I are both doing the best we are able with the opportunity to have found in each other. His only job is to love me and forgive as he teaches me. It is the job of his life, and he approaches it with the utmost care and diligence. When he makes a mistake, he studies how to not let it happen again. 

And me? I work out like a fiend to try to manage all the buttons and have the strength to loosen and tighten every body part independently and simultaneously. I’m putting his health and welfare first, always. No matter how it looks on the outside, lack of consistency and all, I’m making the most of this opportunity. Even if my horse show is your warm-up. Even if my 3’ oxer is your 1.50m classic. And along the way, I try to share my experience and be open with other riders like me. I salvage anything I can from missing my own mark. 

I think, beyond the classics and year end prizes, here is what is really important in our sport:

  • Currycombing for five minutes longer than you actually have to spend
  • Doing right by other people by lending a hand anytime you are able and offering opportunity to those coming up behind you. 
  • Making the right call for your horse whether it aligns with your sales or competition goals or not. 
  • Welcoming new people to come join us in our pursuit of equestrian excellence. 

If you do those things, I will consider you a friend and a success whether you have a $500 horse or a $500,000 one. Please join me in embracing everyone taking advantage of what they do have to work with, instead of shaming people whose circumstances might be different than yours are. 

About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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