Intertwining Two Passions

A college student discovers how to meld her two passions, riding and management, into a focused career path.

University of Kentucky student Kelly Rhinelander has learned college is not about following a predetermined path. © Tom Rhinelander

Everyone says that when you go to college you will change your mind a hundred times about what you want to do while at school and in your future career. In my case, I began freshman year at a small New England college with two seemingly separate passions: horses and hotels. For the former, I wanted to be part of my college’s equestrian program and compete against other student athletes. For the latter, I hoped to earn a degree in hospitality management with a focus on the hotel industry. Now entering my junior year, I’m off to a new school with a goal of pursuing a hospitality-management diploma geared around horse-related events. Much to my delight, I managed to meld my two passions.

I don’t like to leave things to chance. So during my first year in college, I had my short- and long-term future figured out. After getting my hospitality degree, I would find a job at a hotel and work my way up the ranks, beginning at an entry-level desk position with the goal of becoming a general manager. However, my first professional exposure in the industry was eye-opening. It took me many stressful weeks and 22 attempts to land an entry-level internship. While the experience turned out to be amazing and the people I worked with taught me so much, I felt something was missing. Learning in depth about the industry for a few months was captivating in many ways, but the excitement and passion slowly wore off. Had I made a mistake? Luckily, a couple of events—one right after another—inspired great changes in my life.

As a sophomore captain of my college’s equestrian team, one of my responsibilities included organizing volunteers to manage the horse shows that we hosted. To ensure a successful event, I built lots of (probably unnecessary) spreadsheets and devised many strategies. In the end, I found the excitement of planning to be even more satisfying than the actual competition. As a result, I realized two things: one, I was exhausted and two, I wanted to pursue a new career path in horse-related hospitality events.

Shortly after the show, I found myself applying for a week-long internship at the Kentucky Horse Park at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association’s National Championship in Lexington. I quickly filled out the forms and crossed my fingers. This was an incredible opportunity—a chance to really see what it takes to run a massive, world-renowned horse show. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when the good news of my acceptance arrived. Weeks later at the park, I met event coordinators, large-scale food vendors, volunteer coordinators, the press and the army of people it takes to create a successful event year after year. During the event I worked to coordinate photo opportunities for the social-media team and also provided sponsors of the event with photos featuring their products. As a competitor for most of my life, I was astonished to see the other side of a show of this size. I was hooked.

With new thoughts on academics and my career, I decided to transfer from my seaside college to the University of Kentucky. While leaving a school that I called home for two years brought lots of tears, I was ready for a change (and ready to wear lots of blue, UK’s color). Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, is famous for horse events. It is where I needed to be to achieve my goal.

Over time, I have discovered that college is not about following a preordained path. Instead, it is a place that encourages experimenting and supports trial and error to help you identify a true passion (or two). It is where you discover who you are and, more importantly, who you aspire to be. It is highly unlikely that you will be the same person with the same dreams from the moment you walk into orientation to the day you accept your diploma. My greatest advice would be to not fear change. This is something I must remind myself constantly because no matter how scary it sounds, without change I would not be where I am today—or where I will be tomorrow.

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of Practical Horseman. 

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