BY JESS ZUURBIER
Becoming successful in the equine industry is nothing short of phenomenal. This is not a job, it is a lifestyle. Horses will take every penny, minute, and joule of energy that you have. It’s why many professionals are burnt out and broke. Other fields don’t understand why we give everything to what we do.
If nothing else, the circumstances weed out the people who don’t have the dedication to make it in this industry. Where in other fields you may have a formal education partnered with an internship to be considered a professional, this one requires you to sacrifice everything short of your life. So what is so appealing to a young equestrian to dive into such a lifestyle?
I am an aspiring professional. I have been working with horses for almost a decade now, but I still have a long way to go before I am where I want to be as far as my career goes. I do not come from money. I have worked my way up from the very bottom by taking initiative, working hard, showing up when no one else would, sacrificing my time, body, mind and soul. I took advantage of every opportunity to come my way.
When my friends were out partying or hanging out, I was at the barn. I lost many friendships because I sacrificed my social life for work. All of my waking hours were spent at the barn, and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Why? I could have gone to law school and started my equestrian career later in life with a financial foundation. A lot of people go that route. It’s not easy to be the kid with no money in an industry that demands it. Yet, I feel this is the right path for me.
Throughout high school, I struggled with what I wanted to do as a career. I had the grades and the ability to do whatever I wanted, and I was aiming to be a lawyer, but I had no passion. I told myself that I would go through law school and then work for a decade or so in order to be able to afford my passion; horses, in my later life. That was the plan.
And then one day my coach said to me, “If you ever decide you want to pursue this as a career, I will do whatever I can to help you succeed. I believe you have what it takes.” And she helped me buy my first horse. Needless to say after that my career plans changed. I knew that this was what I was meant to do.
As I worked up the ranks at the barn, I started to see my friends drop off; drawn toward easier or better-paying jobs, boys, college… you name it. Slowly it became clear to me what my coach meant by “having what it takes.” It’s more than just talent. Whereas for most others around me at the time, horses were just an expensive hobby. But for me, they were my life. This wasn’t just an interest.
Not everyone has a passion for something. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out what it is. I was lucky to know mine at a young age. Not everyone has the drive to get through the long hard days that this industry requires, the unpredictability of horses, and the mental demands from horses and humans alike that challenge the best of us. Sometimes I look at my life and wonder if I will ever be able to have fancy horses, or show in the big arenas. It doesn’t seem like it should be possible to reach the level of success I envision, but I am inspired by people that give me hope.
The professionals that I have been lucky enough to work with have done more than their fair share of work. They are overly qualified for their job and are paid much less than they are worth. They do it because they share that same passion that has gotten me this far.
People like me need people like them; people that see an ambitious young equestrian and want to give them an opportunity. The industry needs those people who fuel that passion. Because those opportunities are what make the hard days and long hours worth it.
The phenomenon of success in the equine industry is made possible by opportunities given to the ones who have the drive to live this lifestyle.
Jess Zuurbier is a young aspiring professional currently working her way up the ranks in the industry as a trainer and rider. Her goals for the future are to get her degree in Equine Sports Performance and eventually run her own private business after gaining more experience in the big show rings.