While Caitlin Snyder enjoyed riding as a child and young adult, like many amateurs, she took a break in college.
After graduating from Franklin & Marshall College (Pa.) and earning her masters degree in coastal management at Duke University (N.C.), she decided to take a chance and moved to Singapore to do a fellowship.
Little did Snyder know that living in a foreign country for more than two years would spark her passion for dressage and foster an interest in volunteering that continues to this day.
Now she’s working towards her U.S. Dressage Federation bronze medal on Paradise Lost, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred gelding (Nevada—Cair Paraval).
While she lived in Singapore, Snyder started volunteering at the Riding For The Disabled Association Of Singapore. Between helping students and exercising the lesson horses, she learned about dressage from one of the instructors.
Snyder enjoyed the food, expat community and learning about equestrian culture in another part of the world.
“Singapore is a really small city state, and land is really hard to come by there. There’s not really a lot of turnout for horses,” she said. “I loved living there. I felt like it was a great jumping off point for travel throughout the rest of southeast Asia. I tried to do a lot of traveling when I lived there.”
Snyder liked the idea of working with animals and learning more about how they could be used to benefit children and adults with disabilities.
“It was a fantastic experience. I worked with adults with various diagnoses and seeing them improve—not just strength but verbal skills and small motor skills and be able to have control over such a large animal, especially if they spent time in a wheelchair or had to rely on other people for assistance,” she said. “It was a really nice way to see them have a new experience of freedom that they may not have.”
Snyder moved back to the United States in 2007 and settled in Delaware for a job. She continued volunteer work at the therapeutic riding center at Carousel Park while pursuing a PhD in marine policy. She left the PhD program in 2010 though to take a job in Washington D.C.
“I’m ABD, all but dissertation. I’ve completed all of my coursework but I haven’t actually finished by dissertation,” she said.
Snyder had trouble finding an adult lesson barn in the D.C. area, so she leased an older horse for a few years as she looked towards focusing more on dressage.
In 2014 she came across Paradise Lost, or “Paris.” Jessica Keating, who bred him and had evented him to training level, was looking to sell, and while Snyder wasn’t looking to buy a horse, she fell for him.
“I had been thinking of doing something a little bit more than go out on trail rides. I wanted to be challenged a little bit more. I figured with my job I had a little bit more time to put into my own horse, so I said yes,” she said.
Snyder, 38, keeps Paris at eventer Shannon O’Roark’s barn in Centreville, Va. She doesn’t have a truck and trailer, so she relies on rides to shows and lessons.
Snyder describes Paris as very mellow.
“He seems like he’s really happy to have a job. He’s always happy to come out and go to work,” she said. “He puts up with me! He’s better educated than I am. He knows how to do things, and I may not always be asking correctly, but he tries really hard to figure out what I’m asking. He’s never tried to buck me off or reared up. He’s pretty good natured.”
Snyder also takes the time to volunteer with her local dressage group member organization VADA/NOVA.
“I try to volunteer at a couple of shows a year. I was a ring steward at their last recognized show,” she said. “Last year I was mostly running, bringing the score sheets back and forth, but being a ring steward is nice too. I can actually watch the tests and interact a little bit with the riders when they’re going in and coming out of the ring.”
Snyder works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and for the last six years has worked as a listing biologist, meaning she works to determine whether species should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
She’s been working at first level this year with a five-year plan to earn her bronze medal.
“I get nervous at shows, so trying to manage that and not get tense because it definitely impacts our rides. But I think it’s going pretty well,” she said.