5 Myths About Going Pro

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEKa

By Emily Urban

It’s time for a fresh take on what being a professional rider or trainer means. Income, life balance and more!

Let’s bust these 5 myths. 

Myth 1- You have to ride at the highest levels of your sport to go pro. 

False, we need prepared, passionate trainers at all levels to support our industry. 

Think about our sport as a pyramid. At the top we have the riders representing national teams, attracting multiple horse syndicates, and representing big brands. These pros certainly get the most media attention. 

However, if we think about the base of the pyramid, we have the rest of the industry. Primarily encompassing grassroots trainers, competitors, and pleasure riders. Without this “base” or even the “middle ground” our sports wouldn’t exist! 

While most of us professionals and future professionals are striving to increase our riding resume, the truth of the matter is that we can often bring great value to the market even if we haven’t reached the peak of our own riding goals yet. The only thing is, make sure you do not misrepresent yourself and your level of expertise. Don’t worry if you can’t serve everyone. Identify who you can help and do it well.

Myth 2- The only way to make some money in the industry is to start with a lot of money.

We have all heard this before: “There’s no money in horses.” 

Actually, I’m here to tell you that there is. However, you have to be strategic. 

Some professional riders/trainers are taking home over 6-figure incomes. Easily. 

Others are bringing in 6-figure revenue, but by the time they pay their bills, they are in the negative. Be careful when someone says “6-figures.” Do they mean after paying their bills (i.e. profit) or before (i.e. revenue)?

Nonetheless, some professionals are doing very well for themselves. They typically don’t keep this profit as liquid cash but are investing it back into their farm, horses, trailer, etc. 

When thinking about your future business, think about which activities you could have the highest profit margin (i.e. most money for as little input). Also, make sure this aligns with your true passions!

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEKa

Myth 3- If you’ve been successful in the show ring, you’ll be successful in business.  

Don’t get me wrong, having a track record of success in the saddle or as a coach is valuable… No matter what level you are at.  

However, running a business is an entirely different set of skills! 

I have seen some of the most incredible horse trainers (and genuinely wonderful people) deeply struggle to make ends meet in their businesses. 

What are “business skills”? Structuring your services and prices. Creating operation flows for signing paperwork, receiving payments, and record keeping for taxes. Hiring (and keeping) good people on your team. Managing client relationships. 

Gain as much training and experience as you can on the business side of things BEFORE you step out on your own. Work for someone who is running a business similar to what you envision your future business to be. Enroll in a practical business course (or a couple). This could be tailored to future professionals in our industry or be more general. 

Keep gaining business skills as you build riding/training/teaching skills. 

Myth 4- Being a full-time pro is the only way to go  

If you’re like most of us, your socials are filled with updates from your favorite riders and trainers out there. We are fully up to date on which horses are in their strings, what shows they are heading to, and which brands support them. 

But here’s the thing. 

Arguably, when we look at professionals across our industry, a large proportion of them have other careers as well. 

While their social media (and often their conversations) are 100% ‘horse’, their incomes are often not. Often behind the scenes, many of these pros are high school teachers, programmers, scientists, college lecturers, web designers, and accountants… just to name a few. 

Why? Stability. 

Financial stability for when times in the horse business can be rough. Emotional stability when your primary client leaves or one of your beloved horses passes. Physical stability for your body, because riding and training does eventually have a heavy tax on our bodies. 

The truth is there are many variations of what “pro” means. What is the best fit for you? Is it dual profession (i.e. part-time pro & full-time non-horse job)? Is it a partnership (i.e. you focus on training & sales and your co-professional runs the boarding facility)? 

Don’t settle for fulfilling stereotypes. Create the version of “pro” that is best for you long-term. 

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEKa

Myth 5- You can’t have other priorities in life outside of horses. 

Now, this is a big topic that is talked about more and more in our industry. 

However, I’m going to be honest, opinions vary. 

There are two main “camps.” One side says that if you are going to ride and compete at the very peak of the sport, you need to be all in… every single part of you, all the time. The other side says you need some balance in your life to stay in the profession long-term. 

Having balance and priorities is life is the most realistic approach. And feasible as well! It’s not to say that there aren’t professionals who are 110% focused on their horses, borderline obsessive, making every possible sacrifice for their career… they are top athletes, just like in any other sport (think Olympic swimming or skating). 

But the truth is, this is not the majority of professionals. Unlike gymnastics or competitive swimming, our timeline in the sport is much longer and it is necessary to think about our role with horses/riding throughout our entire lives. 

Having a family, especially kids, is a topic for another article, but I will say that your business can and should be structured around your priorities. Whatever those priorities may be.

What other things do you prioritize? Spending time with your family? Arrange your business so you can take off for that family beach vacation. Having non-horse related conversations with your old friends? Includes some horse-free Saturdays through the summer to spend hiking, wine tasting or whatever it is. 

Remember, YOU are the one who has to make space for your priorities. It’s absolutely possible. Think about how a business centered around traveling to shows versus starting young horses versus instruction can help you prioritize things in different ways. 

In summary, 

  • You don’t have to be full-time to be a professional
  • You do need business skills and strategy to be successful in your riding/training career
  • You can make a substantial income for yourself as a professional rider/trainer
  • You can be a professional and have other priorities in life
  • You don’t have to ride at the highest level of the sport to provide value to the industry

Emily Urban is the Founder of The Rising Equestrian Pro (www.risingequestrianpro.com), a platform to help young riders strategically prepare for a professional riding/training career. She lives in Ithaca, NY where she runs a training/teaching operation and is pursuing a PhD in Soil & Crop Sciences at Cornell University. Follow on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook at @risingequestrianpro.

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