I’d Be a Bad Professional. Why are USEF and USHJA Trying to Make Me One?

Photo © Sara Shier Photography


As I was reading over the proposed amateur rule updates for both USEF and USHJA, I got stuck on a startling question: Why exactly are we trying to create bad professionals?

Our sport has some really bad professionals. Is it their fault? Well, yes. All pros are responsible for the choices they make for horses and clients. But it’s also tough when anyone can hang a shingle out and call themselves a trainer. 

When no one is vetted or evaluated, it’s hard to understand their records or training history. Most have never taken an ethics or business course. The horse industry is nuanced and complicated. Shaking hands and going out to dinner is just as important to some people as a trainer caring for and training their horse. I think education is everyone’s responsibility to create for themselves, but I also have empathy for trainers—especially young ones. It’s rough out there. 

Of course, I need to add that our sport is also home to the most exceptional professionals. The kind that never leave the barn. The ones who take the time with the horses who need it and have 10,000, 20,000, even 100,000 hours of work behind them. That’s what informs their instincts to push, pull, nurture, and bring along the toughest horses and students. They spend your money like their own, and conduct their lives above reproach. We cherish these members of the industry, and I am always thrilled for the opportunities to observe them at their craft. 

Photo © Sara Shier Photography

I am not a trainer. Or a professional. But I am a nerd who studies them. I love riding my horse, but I don’t want to ride 10 in a day. Instead, I want to be at my computer running data sets, and strategizing my next formation. I want to be in front of a classroom lecturing and challenging those around me with my latest theories and ideas. 

I love education and how people learn, but I failed to become a trainer both because I lack natural ability and also because I lack diligence, time commitment, and discipline surrounding the sport. After riding one or maybe two, I’m happy to be nestled back on my computer with the smile of accomplishing something so hard for me while working on a project that frankly, just makes a lot more sense to my brain. 

This all makes me very much an amateur. I ride maybe monthly and am spoon fed the data I need for a particular horse by people who care for me and appreciate me for what I am and also what I am not. They don’t say “if you practiced, you would be better.” They take me as I am and train me to accomplish what I can that day, like any of the best coaches. None of us are wistful of what could have been. My riding will be a culmination of desire, hard work, and whatever is going to happen. 

Do I get free review copies of books sent to my house? Absolutely. I receive a review copy of just about everything. Just like my husband, Professor Hill, does. He receives all the latest copies of chemistry texts hoping that he will assign them for his classes. I too get all kinds of the latest texts in many fields hoping that I will assign them for my classes. The publishers looking to make money on selling books (not learn to ride or have someone train their horse) view sending me a review copy as a great investment. 

Under the new rule changes, does this make me a professional? USEF and USHJA would say yes. 

Photo © Sara Shier Photography

So, what is an amateur? What is a professional? Is this professor a professional rider for receiving a potential teaching book in the mail to her home that she neither ordered nor asked for? 

We are so worried about what is or isn’t an amateur, but I don’t think that’s the important question here. I’m more worried about what is or isn’t a professional. Instead of focusing all our attention on what is and isn’t an amateur, can we please ask what our standard for being a professional should be? Should one become responsible for impressionable children and powerful animals by simply checking an online box?  Does Professional connote ability, knowledge, respect, or reverence in the community? 

Instead of simply “not an amateur,” I do believe anyone with the title of Professional should have something to offer the community—be it exceptional ability to ride, teach, train, manage, or even step foot in a barn on a regular basis. Why do we allow people to label themselves as a Professional when maybe they were just a “horse dad” until last week? Isn’t putting unknowing and unqualified people in positions of power and in the middle of horse deals and client relationships one of the biggest issues in our sport today? 

Most people who have ever seen me on a horse realize that I ride like someone who has very little mastery over the basics. Probably because I have very little mastery over the basics. Deeming someone with very little mastery over the basics a “Professional” seems counterproductive at best for the sport. 

Photo © Sara Shier Photography

Could I teach a lesson? For sure. I am excellent at mimicking language. Not helping riders to improve. Mimicking language. I have a great outdoor voice, coincidently the same addressing thunder required to meet the very last row of a lecture hall with confidence and precision. “Good rub.” “Stay straight.” “Look. LOOK. LOOK!” 

Except what would be missing is being a real professional. Where Emily Elek would tell me, “tilt your right shoulder three clicks and then pull your elbow back,” and my disastrous trot is magically cured in a single stride. You know, effectiveness. You know, good, quality training. The type you get by studying, learning, and earning the distinction of being a Professional. 

This past summer, I walked out of the ring on Reuben and met Emily at the in-gate and told her it was a great round and I was thrilled. 

“But, not really though,” was what I got back. My score was a 78. Which met my amateur standard for what I was struggling to complete that day, but not the standards of “thrilling” an educated professional. 

By any measure, I do not meet any rational standard to invoke the status of professional. I would be an unqualified professional. I have not put in the work. Simply put, I’d be a bad pro. So why are the governing bodies trying to make me one?