By Britney Grover
Photos by Shelby Phillips
There are two things Bethany Lee has always been passionate about: horses and style. “When I was 5 years old, my mom would find me sitting in the middle of my closet, with five or six layers of outfits on my body at any given time,” she said. “My mom was awesome and always let me go to the grocery store in a tutu, or my Cinderella dress and plastic heels. I’ve always loved styling and fashion.”
Her parents always encouraged her to find what she loved to do so much that it wouldn’t feel like work, and now she’s doing exactly that by combining her two loves into My Equestrian Style, a popular equestrian lifestyle blog and Instagram account with over 25,000 followers. She also travels to horse shows around the country as the home trainer for two top junior riders. That puts her in the perfect position to lend her voice to the US Equestrian, the national governing body of equestrian sport, doing the occasional Instagram takeover at big shows. That involvement keeps her tuned in to the equestrian world.
Bethany, who recently celebrated her 27th birthday, continues to expand My Equestrian Style, including helping others see more of the horse world by featuring different equestrian-related professionals on The Equestrian Podcast. Though she’s found her own niche in the equestrian world, her journey has involved taking risks and exploring detours — much more than putting on a glass slipper.
The Road to Fashion
The youngest of four, Bethany began riding simply because her oldest sister was riding, but once she started, she couldn’t stop. She rode all through high school, showing at smaller “A” shows in her home state of Wisconsin and around the Midwest. Unlike her students, now that she’s a professional, highlights of her own junior experience were moral victories instead of national championships.
“At one show, I was riding a chestnut off-the-track Thoroughbred mare we owned. I was pretty young, and as you can imagine, she was extremely challenging,” Bethany said. “We’d been working so hard at home to try to get her quiet. I thought we were all ready to go, but when I went in for our equitation round, we were getting four strides in the six-stride lines in my little long stirrup division. I came out of the ring so disappointed; I couldn’t slow her down.”
One of the first to go in a class of 50, Bethany was at the barn when they announced the results over the loudspeaker — and that she was champion. “I don’t know if all the other kids messed up or what,” she laughed, “but I was so proud of her. That was one of my first show experiences, and I remember catching the bug and thinking, Yep, I love the competition, I love the riding, I love the atmosphere and the environment of working toward a goal. It might not always go as planned, but putting in the work can pay off.”
Bethany attended college at a small Christian school in Ohio with no barn nearby, so except for holiday trips back home, she took a break from riding. In fact, neither horses nor fashion were a part of her planned path. “My dad is an OB-GYN and my mom’s an OB nurse, so I always thought the medical field was going to be my route. For the first half of college, I was a pre-pharmacy major. Then, my dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; his original prognosis was six months,” Bethany shared. “It really shook all of us.”
Though her father survived the cancer, the arduous process of his recovery disenchanted Bethany from the medical field and prompted a course change. “I ended up switching my major; I just wanted to do something that made me happy,” she said. “Since I’d always loved fashion, I thought that would be a good route for me.” Her degree in strategic communications led to a job with a jewelry company in Los Angeles shortly after graduating in May 2015. Three weeks after graduation, Bethany married her prince charming, Ethan Lee, and the couple moved to California.
The Equestrian Side
It only took Bethany eight months to realize that, despite loving the company and her boss, the office job just wasn’t the right fit. Though moving across the country for a job that didn’t work out wasn’t on the itinerary, it put her exactly where she needed to be, near the right people to help her on her journey — and turned her mind back to horses.
“I think my parents were kind of hoping I was done with riding for good when I went to college,” Bethany teased, “but I started googling different barns in the area, seeing if they needed extra help around the barn whether it was cleaning stalls or doing some exercise riding. I started throwing myself out there.”
Soon Bethany was riding again as an exercise rider for Nick Karazissis at Far West Farms in Calabasas, California. Nick took her under his wing and made her a part of his teaching program. “I didn’t think I’d really like teaching, since I wanted to be a rider, but helping kids go from never touching a horse to jumping their first crossrail course gave me a lot of joy,” she said. “When we relocated to Florida about two years ago so Ethan could get into real estate, I started looking for similar jobs.”
Bethany became the private home trainer for junior riders Isha and Raina Swani, working with their show trainers David Belford and Christopher Payne of New Hope Farm in Cincinnati, Ohio. “I’ve learned so much working with Dave and Chris; their program is unlike any program I’d been a part of,” Bethany said. “It’s just so organized and thought-out. Understanding their process has been such a huge help in my personal training program, and being able to extend that for the girls back at home in Jacksonville I feel has been a huge help for them.”
“I absolutely love working with Bethany!” agreed 16-year-old Isha. “She really understands how to help us when we’re having trouble either with technique or just a basic issue that’s been bothering us in the show ring. She works very well with our main show trainers and helps us work on certain exercises that they want us to practice. Outside the ring, she’s so much fun to be around. I’m really grateful that she works with us!”
Finding Her Style
With a job she loved in Florida, Bethany found herself still missing California and the creative outlet she’d had there. “When Ethan and I were in L.A., we did wedding photography to make a little extra cash. I also took pictures for fashion bloggers and people like that, and I’d always thought, I could do this; I could put outfits together. I was in riding clothes every day anyway, so one day I started searching for ‘equestrian blogger’ and maybe two people showed up; there was hardly anything.”
Bethany decided to take the risk. “I put together five or six outfits of my riding clothes I already owned, and had Ethan take some pictures of me. I called it My Equestrian Style from the beginning, and was honestly shocked with the response I got.”
She began reaching out to equestrian brands and working with the knowledge she’d brought from L.A. “I knew it was really normal for brands to collaborate with influencers, but at that time it wasn’t normal for equestrian brands to work with individuals in that way. It was a fun experience to be there in the beginning, to help educate the space and to see how many bloggers there are now. It really just took off and has allowed me to connect with a ton of people in the industry.”
Bethany has enjoyed sharing brands she saw on the West Coast that weren’t as popular on the East Coast, and watching trends shift. “Overall, equestrian fashion has started to become a bit more personal — it used to be that there were only two or three types of shirts you could wear with breeches, there were only certain colors and you couldn’t deviate at all. It’s fun seeing brands really venture out and do more modern and edgy things, while keeping classic components.”
My Equestrian Style showcases functional fashion, like the “stable to street” look with pieces that can be worn at the barn and look just as stylish out on the town, adding additional value especially to higher-priced items. Bethany understands not just the investment clothing represents, but the lives of riders. “There are so many other aspects to our day other than riding clothes, so I’m working on incorporating more lifestyle components to the blog,” she said. “I want My Equestrian Style to be all-encompassing, throughout every aspect of your life, not just at the barn.”
Enjoying the Journey
My Equestrian Style, much like Bethany’s own life, has continued to evolve — and Ethan continues to be her “live-in photographer,” taking most of her pictures. In addition to the blog and Instagram account, Bethany hosts The Equestrian Podcast, sharing the journeys of not only top riders and trainers but other professionals in the equestrian world such as grooms, vets and course designers. “I think there was a big misconception that in order to be a professional in the industry, you either had to be a top rider or a top trainer. In reality, there are so many avenues, just based on your skillset and what you love to do,” she said.
Other projects include the third annual My Equestrian Style Holiday Lookbook, an online magazine featuring equestrian brands with special promotions, and My Equestrian Stylist, a newly launched website feature that allows Bethany to be a virtual stylist for anyone looking to put outfits together, whether it’s a look for the barn, a confidence-booster for shows or equestrian-inspired everyday wear.
Bethany is also expanding her influence as a US Equestrian Ambassador, collaborating on various projects including the US Equestrian Shop (ShopUSEF.org) and US Equestrian Learning Center. She travels with the Swanis to most of their shows, which provides an additional connection to the horse world on a national scale. She doesn’t own a horse currently, but she’s open to the idea of perhaps finding a young horse to bring along next summer. “It’s definitely been in the back of my mind, to bring a baby along and get back in the ring again,” she said. “But for now, my focus has been on training, being a puzzle piece to this team for the girls to get them as far as they want to go.”
As she works on “ever after,” Bethany is already enjoying “happily” and succeeding at what her parents encouraged her to do. “I’m totally not working,” she said. “Whether I’m in the office all day doing stuff for the blog, teaching lessons, doing a photo shoot, or traveling to a horse show … it’s all good times.”
For more information, visit Bethany at myequestrianstyle.com or on Instagram @myequestrianstyle
Photos by Shelby Phillips, www.shelbyphillipsphotography.com