BY JESSIE LOCHRIE
Careers in the horse world are known for long hours, low pay, and a high rate of burnout — so how do the professionals we admire manage their careers in a sustainable way? We reached out to some of our favorite people in the equine industry to find out. Today we’re chatting with Jamie Kosele, a custom saddle fitter and Pacific Northwest representative for Stubben North America.
How did you get started in horses, and what led you to your particular path in the industry?
My grandmother got me started in horses. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was a young kid and my dad’s mom always had horses, so she got me into riding at a young age.
I was in the army, and when I got off active duty, I bought a horse. I had just gotten into eventing at that time so I needed a jump saddle and a dressage saddle, and I’d always had good experiences with Stubben. I was pretty unhappy in my corporate job at the time, and I was looking at the Stubben website and saw that they were looking for saddle fitters, so I decided to give them a call and see what that was about.
I went to Virginia, where the Stubben North America headquarters are, and did my initial training. They gave me some demo saddles and sent me on my way. I go back at least once a year for additional training to learn about new products or technology. Stubben is also teaching the fitters who are interested in learning about flocking and small repairs, so that we can be more useful to our customers. I think when you add the additional skills of being able to do flocking and repairs, that helps you to stick around longer. If you’re strictly a salesperson, I think that can make it harder to stay around and have a longer career.
What was the most difficult part of starting your career?
Like most things, in saddle fitting, the more experience you have, the better you get at it. After a while you start to recognize patterns. I’m at the point where I can look at a horse and look at its rider and already have an idea in my head of what they’re going to need. In the beginning, you just don’t have that experience and you’re not as sure of yourself. If you’re a horse person, you love horses and you identify with the rider, so you want them to have a good experience and love their saddles.
Also, the nature of being a brand rep is that you’re by yourself. It’s not like you can pop your head over your cubicle wall and ask your colleague for help. Certainly I can make a phone call or take pictures and send them to a colleague or my boss, but really you’re out there by yourself. If you’re not the kind of person who can operate independently, it’s tricky.
What does a typical day or week in your life look like?
It depends on demand. I live in Central Washington, so I’ll try to stay local four or five days a week, and then two or three days a week I’ll go to Seattle and Portland. Once a month I’ll go further away, to southern or eastern Oregon. Or there are some islands west of Seattle, so I’ll go on an island tour.
It really varies, so if you’re the kind of person who gets bored with monotony, that’s what’s fun about saddle fitting: it’s always something different. And I make my own schedule, so if I’m stressed out and want to have an easier week, I can have one, or if I’m feeling super motivated and want to have a bunch of appointments, I can.
One of the things that I really like about my job is that it does afford me a decent amount of free time, and I use that time to ride my horse and go to competitions.
Do you feel you could remain in this position for the next 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
Absolutely. It’s already been seven years. I think it depends on what company you work for, but speaking just for Stubben, it’s definitely something I could do for 10 or 20 years. There are people who I work with who have been with the company for 20 years.
If you weren’t in horses, what would you do?
Given what I did in the Army [as a translator], I could move to Washington tomorrow and get a government contracting job, but that’s not really the lifestyle I’m looking for. I’m in wine country so I’ve thought about working at a vineyard; I enjoy that sort of thing. But I just really enjoy being able to work in the equestrian industry and be around horses. I’m lucky to be close to what I love.
What’s the hardest part of your career? Has any aspect of your path or role in the industry surprised you?
It takes a while to build a business and get your name out there, and for people to realize you’re in the area and you’re an option. When I moved to Portland, I had another part-time job because I knew that I wasn’t going to just move here and start selling a bunch of saddles.
Don’t think you’re going to become a saddle rep and sell a million saddles in the first month! You have to be realistic and set realistic goals for yourself. You have to be diligent and patient. It will happen eventually, but you have to keep plugging away at it.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career path?
Do you have the right personality for this job? You have to be a resilient person because you have to deal with a lot of variable factors. You can’t take things personally. You have to be able to take a step back and take things with a grain of salt. Sometimes people aren’t going to be nice to you and you have to be okay with that.
You might not make the same amount of money each month, so you have to have some financial flexibility and be good at budgeting. You also have to be good at being alone and good at time management. Certainly my company gives me goals, but it’s up to me to decide how to get there. You have to be the kind of person who can do things on your own without a lot of guidance.
You have to be smart to be a good saddle fitter. You have to be a good salesperson. You have to be technically proficient. You have to do a little bit of accounting, you have to do some marketing, some social media, you have to be good at a lot of different things, so it is satisfying.
I feel like a lot of people waste their time working at a job they’re not passionate about to make money, so they can spend what little free time they have doing the things they like. I feel like I’m winning because I’m always around things that I like and I have a lot of free time. Yes, I sacrificed having a regular income and really good benefits, but I feel like in the end I’m winning because I’m not commuting to a job I don’t care about and sitting at a desk for 8 hours. I like my schedule, I really like what I’m doing, I just really like this lifestyle.