By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
Emily Owen is always ready to lend a hand to those in need. Whether it’s catch riding horses, traversing the streets in her job or doing a photoshoot for a friend, Emily was born to make her community a better place.
As a child, when scary things appeared on the news, Mister Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Emily, 25, now working in public safety, is one of these helpers.
“Ever since I was little I’ve respected first responders. My mom is a nurse practitioner, my dad is a retired Montgomery County firefighter and we have many family friends who are in law enforcement,” Emily said. “When I was growing up, everyone always came to my house when they needed help. I wanted to be able to do that for people too.”
From an early age, Emily had an interest in pursuing her own public safety career. “I thought it would be a cool job, but I didn’t know if I could do it,” Emily said. Rather than jumping right into it, Emily went the route of a traditional desk job after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s University in 2016.
Emily put her business degree to work in her human resources job; however, it just didn’t feel like the right fit for her. “Having grown up taking care of horses every day after school and riding constantly, I knew a job sitting behind a desk wouldn’t fulfill me,” Emily said. “I needed a more hands-on, manual-labor type job.”
The Call to Serve
While browsing the internet, Emily stumbled upon a job opening “I thought, I’ll just apply and see what happens,” she said. After submitting the online application, Emily was selected to continue with the application process.
It was this process that had initially deterred Emily from seeking a career as a first responder. “It’s not as simple as applying for another job where you get nervous and go for an interview and you’re either hired or you’re not,” Emily said. “It’s seven-plus months of an ongoing interview, nervousness and testing.” In order to be selected for an academy class, an applicant must go through a number of steps including a written test, agility test, oral panel interview, polygraph, psych evaluation and physical exam.
Emily was able to draw upon the mental skills she had developed while showing horses to get through the application process. “It’s all a mind game and about mental toughness,” Emily said. “I just wasn’t sure I was tough enough. I definitely doubted myself at first. In the end it all comes down to how badly you want it: If it’s important enough to you, then you’ll make it through.”
The selection process for the academy was much like horse shows: hurry up and wait.
Following a long application process, Emily got the call that the academy would be starting in two weeks and they had saved her a seat. Six months of classroom instruction, physical training and scenario-based exercises later, Emily was ready to hit the road for field training.
On The Road
After the Academy, she spent time riding with supervisors to experience in real life what she’d learned in the classroom. “I’ve now been on my own for about a year,” Emily said.
The best thing about Emily’s typical work day is there is no typical work day. “During your shift, there isn’t a set list of things you have to check off. You can decide how best to use your time.” Emily said. “Every day is different and that’s what I really like about my job.”
Not only does Emily enjoy the variety of her job, she loves having a fulfilling job with a purpose. “I enjoy being able to assist the public in a variety of circumstances and provide resources they may not know are available to them,” Emily said.
It’s after the tough days that Emily continues to find solace at the barn. “Horses are a great mental break from my job,” Emily said. “After I’ve been working all day, interacting with those in the community and coworkers, I just want quiet time. Being able to go for a ride is a huge stress reliever for me.”
A lifelong equestrian, Emily says her mom was the one who shared her love of horses with Emily. “There are photos of her holding me up on horses when I was just a baby,” Emily said. “The formal lessons started at age 5 at a lesson barn down the street from my house.”
Those lessons were just enough to hook Emily for life. Since then, she’s been a working student, groomed, worked at barns and competed.
While in high school, Emily’s parents bought her a Thoroughbred. “They bought me Leading Lady, but it was up to me to pay all the associated expenses like board, shoes and showing,” Emily said. Unable to sit still, much like today, Emily happily worked to be able to have a horse.
At Mount St. Mary’s, Emily was on the IHSA team throughout college, riding in the Open level. However, once graduation came, so did repaying student loans and Emily had to get creative to find a way to continue making horses part of her lifestyle. “My parents said, ‘You’re a big girl with a big girl job, horses are on you now.’ Unfortunately, my pocketbook didn’t allow me to buy my own horse,” Emily said.
Never one to be deterred, Emily has been doing a lot of catch riding since graduating. “I ride a diverse group of horses at the moment, including a Thoroughbred hunter owned by Isabel Kurek, a young OTTB fresh off the track, and I also foxhunt out at a barn in Maryland,” Emily said. “A woman I’ve ridden with for many years breaks babies and sometimes I get to take the young horses to their first shows. I’m extremely thankful and fortunate with my circumstances when it comes to riding.”
It was through this equine connection with Isabel that Emily stumbled upon another “career” opportunity — equestrian brand model for Essex Classic Riding Shirts. “I’ve known Isabel since I was in a stroller, and rode with her when I was in high school. As long as I can remember, she’s mentioned wanting to take my picture,” Emily said.
Fast forward to three years after Emily graduated from college and that photoshoot finally materialized. “I get to the barn and Isabel tells me, ‘Tomorrow do your hair and makeup and wear these shirts.’ Cathy Sacher from Essex had sent shirts for me to wear for the photoshoot the following day,” Emily said. “Next thing I know, I’m wearing the shirts, we’re doing the photoshoot and then I open up a magazine and see my photograph in an advertisement.
“It’s been such a surreal and neat experience modeling for Essex,” Emily said. It’s a complete 180 from her full-time career.
“I don’t necessarily hide it, but the modeling gig isn’t something I broadcast back at work,” Emily said, laughing.
While Emily would love to have more opportunities to model in the future should they present themselves, she’s a woman with a plan when it comes to her career as a first responder.
Becoming a horse owner again is another plan Emily turned into reality. “I’ve been wanting to get a new horse for a while. In June, I bought an OTTB, Rosie, to bring along and show in the Thoroughbred hunter classes. I’m really looking forward to have a horse I can take on trail rides every now and then,” Emily said. “I plan to keep Rosie forever!”
Photos by Isabel J. Kurek