If you haven’t already, I suggest you start by reading The Post-Junior Years Part 1!
Having already discussed how I stayed involved with horses during my college years, I now want to tackle the early adult years, i.e. post college years. You know what I’m talking about, those years where you realize you actually have to find a job that relates to your major and you are panicking big time because you didn’t really think things through when you decided to study Egyptology/Bagpiping/Canadian Studies. You strongly consider bartending and possibly even exotic dancing when you realize that both of those ‘careers’ make more money then the entry level salary at a job that you actually majored in. I am looking at you biology major. Anyway, I could go on and on, but the point is that you eventually realize you have to go back to school to do something that actually interests you and makes a salary above the poverty line, which is important because horses cost money.
So how do you stay involved with horses during your post-junior years? Imagine that you are poor, like $50,000 in college tuition debt poor, and you have no real job to speak of (don’t knock pet setting though, it can be pretty great), and you realize you have to do MORE school if ever want to adult on a real level in a field you are actually interested in (in my case, healthcare). I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you how I did it.
I moved to Dallas, and went full on equestrian pro, or as pro as one can go while predominately teaching small children how to post the trot. My parents live in the suburbs outside of Dallas (about 40 minutes if there is zero traffic), so I did what any self respecting recent college graduate would do and I moved back in with them. Hello old room full of Breyer horses and horse show ribbons. I am back!
Back to the horse part of the story- one of my best friends from college had landed a pretty sweet gig managing a barn and lesson program in the heart of Dallas. She knew about my prior experience teaching in college and hired me right away. I quickly grew a full schedule of lessons. Remember now, thanks to my past experiences, I was able to use what I had learned to be pretty successful right away. Parents loved that I was organized, and that I rarely cancelled or rescheduled lessons. Apparently, that had been a trend with instructors at the same facility in the past. My chaotic busy college years had taught me a few things about running a busy schedule, so I was able to juggle about 30-40 lessons a week along with part-time classes at the local community college. I made desperately needed money doing something that I probably would have done for free, because it allowed me to stay involved with horses. Part of the duties of being an lesson academy instructor included schooling the lesson horses. Although they might not have been fancy, it allowed for much craved saddle time, and I was actually getting paid to do it. I was lucky enough to befriended some of the other trainers at the barn, and got the opportunity to ride some really cool horses (including some top quality Saddlebreds and the cutest Hackney pony in the world).
After a few years, I was able to start riding again a bit more seriously. As I met more people in the h/j scene, more opportunities presented themselves in the form of leasing various horses and getting back into taking lessons (instead of giving them!) My big girl job was finally taking off, and I was much more financially stable. I was able to petition USEF to reinstate my amateur status, and vowed to never teach another “up-down” lesson as long as I live. Not that I didn’t love it at the time, but it is definitely easy to get burned out after awhile.
Was this the ideal way to do things? Maybe not, but it worked for me. I loved every day that I got to spend sharing my love of horses with students and their families. I may not have been advancing my own riding skills at the time, but it was ok to put my own advancement on pause for a bit, because I was still involved with horses and the horse industry. Did I love going to class, then arriving at the barn just early enough to sneak in a 20 minute nap in my car before teaching 5-6 hours of lessons and then driving an hour home in the dark trying not to fall asleep? Not necessarily, but it did keep me sane. I certainly got to see a bit of what it takes to run a successful riding program, as well as what NOT to do. I think that my experiences during this time in life have led me to be a more conscientious customer myself, and possibly a more demanding one. I try really hard to be a good client, but I also expect a high standard of customer care and communication from my trainers, because I know it’s possible!
What about you guys? Did you stay involved with horses during the financially straining post-college years or take a break? What got you back into horses?