My trainer recently suggested that I move up. I’ve consistently been ribboning in my division, and am concerned that I’ll go from being a big fish in a little pond to being the small fish in a big pond. I don’t want to move up and then disappoint my trainer. How do you decide when it’s time to move up a division?
It’s very exciting that you and your trainer feel you are ready to move up. It can be intimidating to advance to a harder or bigger division than you are used to. I think that your trainer would feel proud of you for trying the more difficult class. I suggest avoiding putting the additional pressure on yourself about the possibility of disappointing your trainer.
We naturally put a certain amount of pressure on ourselves when we know we can do well, but when moving up to the next level, I think it’s more about experience.
You and your trainer have worked hard with your horse to make this transition, and no matter what happens, I’m sure your trainer will not be disappointed with the outcome.
If things don’t go well, it will just give you a better idea of what to work on at home.
Sometimes, it’s the mental part of moving up that plays more of a role than the actual show itself. When I’m getting ready to move a horse up, I set a course at home to the new height I’ll be competing at. I walk the course to familiarize myself with the track and when I get on my horse, I pretend it’s a real show day. I school my horse over two single jumps, like we would at a competition. Then, when we feel ready, I walk into my own personal show ring and ride around the course as though I’m at a show.
Doing something like practicing with show conditions at home will give you the confidence it takes to move up because you’ve already done a new course cold. You know that you and your horse have tackled the challenge you’ll face. Now, the show is less of a big deal and you can ride around with the mental strength and knowledge that you’re ready for this next level.
Trying new classes at bigger shows may seem uncomfortable at first; even if it doesn’t go as well as you had hoped, it will be an important step to becoming a big fish in any pond. Don’t forget, every big fish was once a little one, too.
How did you know you were ready to turn pro?
I’m not sure if there was necessarily a right time to turn pro for me. Initially, when I aged out of juniors, I stayed classified as an amateur through college. When I graduated and I had the time to fully devote to the sport was when I first turned professional. I would say that what made me feel the most ready was finally having the full day to work with horses and clients, and knowing I was there because I loved it. It never felt like work and I was able to start teaching what I had learned from working with my parents, sisters and other highly skilled trainers that I had the pleasure of working with at that time such as George Morris, Susie Schoellkopf, Missy Clarke and Timmy Kees.
Even though up until then I’d had success in the hunter, equitation and jumper rings as a junior and an amateur, nothing fully prepared me for what it was like to be a professional. In addition to the long hours and the pressure, there was the heightened level of competition with top pro riders and fancy horses. It takes a lot of practice, even as a pro, to keep up with the competition, let alone beat them in a class! Things seemed to be easier when I was younger: ride, rinse and repeat. But the added responsibility of teaching clients, preparing horses for them, helping to find new horses for people and match them properly were things I didn’t really think about as much. Thankfully, I had the guidance of my father to help me navigate the new waters.
There’s also a lot of mental strength necessary to maintain a professional status. The shows, classes and horses, etc., can go well, but they can just as easily go poorly. It’s important to keep a good head about any and all experiences and be able to carry on even if something goes wrong to throw off your day. This is easier said than done, and I admire all of the professionals who can have a bad class, for instance, and turn around and win the next one or coach a student to a victory when they themselves may not be having the best day. You have to be ready to put anything wrong behind you and confidently continue on.
Although my status is professional, I still consider myself a student of the sport. I’m open to learning new things and I’m constantly growing as a rider, a trainer and a horseman. Turning pro was a big decision for me, and knowing that horses are my passion and that I’m willing to put in the time and effort to better them and myself every day was the key to knowing that I was ready to make the leap to the professional ranks.