Q. My daughter is a highly motivated young rider who wants to make it big, but we don’t have the means to buy her $30,000 horses and provide great trainers. What can I, as a parent, do to help her reach her goals?
A. Many talented young riders with limited financial resources have made it to the top of the sport, thanks to their great work ethic, positive attitude and sheer determination. A variety of resources are available to assist truly motivated riders like this in achieving their goals. Helping your daughter identify these resources and providing her with moral support and guidance will be far more valuable than blank checks. Here are some ways you can do that:
Start by familiarizing yourself with the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Foundation. This is a wonderful organization that offers grants and scholarships to riders with a wide variety of needs. Also explore your local USHJA zone’s website, to see what opportunities it offers in your area. Some zones, for example, sponsor free clinics with top trainers.
Having an expensive horse is not essential for “making it big.” (I, myself, didn’t own my own horse until I was an adult. I cleaned stalls—for 25 cents a stall—to pay for lessons.) Many trainers need good riders to school and show their sales horses and clients’ horses. They even help to pay entry fees for deserving students who put in reliably good performances.
Working with a great trainer, however, is key—for many reasons. One of the benefits is the networking that top trainers do with other professionals and horse owners. Trainers often lend mounts to each other’s students for special occasions, such as equitation finals. And they spread the word about their students’ abilities, helping to open doors to future riding opportunities.
Although better-known trainers often charge more, many of them are not only willing, but eager to reach down to riders in need and give a helping hand. At the same time, though, these riders have to reach up to identify themselves and show how much they deserve that help. Different trainers click with different types of personalities, but we all value hard work, trainable brains and positive, willing attitudes. We enjoy helping students who show up early, clean and neatly dressed, with big, fat smiles on their faces.
Trainers create more riding opportunities for students who are always ready and willing to ride, either at home or at shows. For example, when we have clients with scheduling conflicts or multiple mounts in a division, we’re more likely to offer the jog or ride on one of those horses to a rider who is dressed to show and waiting at the in-gate. Volunteering to ride all types of horses and ponies, including green ones and less talented ones, not only fills the trainer’s needs, it’s also a terrific learning experience.
Identifying a good trainer and making a connection with him or her is just a matter of doing your homework. Read magazines and online articles about the sport. Watch videos of shows and clinics. Go to horse shows and watch the trainers with their students in the schooling areas. Look to see who is serving on the USHJA committees in your zone. And audit clinics sponsored by the USHJA or your USHJA zone.
Once you’ve identified several reputable professionals in your area, reach out to them. Write them letters or emails describing your daughter’s talents, aspirations and willingness to work. (Better yet, have your daughter write the letters to them directly.) Ask if your daughter can “shadow” the trainer for a day to learn more about the sport. Or see if she can clean stalls, groom, be a working student or simply set jumps for free in exchange for lessons. No matter how menial the job she accepts, working in a top-level barn will be the best way to learn what it takes to be successful in the sport—and to begin developing her own network.
Most importantly, encourage your daughter to express sincere gratitude for any help she receives. If she can make herself invaluable to a trainer and make that trainer feel appreciated, great new opportunities are sure to follow.
About Charlie Moorcroft
Wellington, Florida-based trainer Charlie Moorcroft has dedicated his career to shaping the futures of children and adult riders, starting by matching them with suitable mounts. He began his own pony-breeding program on his family’s farm in Hanover, Connecticut, in the 1990s. He went on to become one of the first instructors in the nation to receive certification through the USHJA Trainer Certification Program. Nicknamed the pony ring’s “Pied Piper,” Charlie has guided many pony-child partnerships to regional and national titles. However, he never lets show-ring success overshadow the importance of good horsemanship. One of the lessons he teaches his students is: “It’s not the pony’s job to understand you. It’s your job to understand the pony.” Also a great proponent of growing and improving the sport as a whole, Charlie serves on many boards and committees, including the USHJA Foundation Board of Directors, the USEF National Hunter Committee, and the USHJA Pony Hunter Task Force.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Practical Horseman.