Finding My True North

Jan 25, 2018 - 3:22 PM

The onset of a new year is almost always looked at as a new start, a fresh beginning. For me, that has never felt more true than it has this year, because this year, I’m embarking on one of my biggest new chapters and new adventures yet—the launch of my own business, True North Stables.

For the last four years, I had the privilege of working as an assistant trainer to Greg Franklin at Canterbury Farm in Chicago, Illinois. My position there was one that I loved with people I respect, and it is a role that I will forever be so thankful to have held for as long as I did. While I was at Canterbury, I got to learn more about being a professional in the industry, about myself, and about my riding; it was a huge next stepping stone for me in my career. I was comfortable and happy at Canterbury, but as it’s been said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” or as John Maxwell said, “If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.”

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Caitlyn Shiels (right) ringside with Michelle Durpetti. Photo by Fine Art Horses

I always want to keep growing and reaching goals, so I ended 2017 by taking a major step outside of my comfort zone. I gave my resignation to Greg and cemented my plans to step out on my own as a rider and trainer under my True North Stables name.

True North Stables is what I’ve called myself and my horses and what has been embellished on my tack trunks and coolers for years, but the name continues to hold great significance, particularly now, as I head off on my own.

If you look up the meaning of your “true north,” a quick Google search will show that it is the internal compass that guides you successfully through life and helps point you in the direction you should be going. For me, I’ve always felt that my true north was leading me down the path that I’m going now. I’ve always dreamed and worked toward being a professional with my own business, and now, coming off of a great 2017, the timing just seemed right to chase my dreams.

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Caitlyn Shiels gives last minute advice to Olivia Pollina at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Fine Art Horses

I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be a walk in the park. The hunter/jumper industry can be fast-paced and daunting, and to be at the highest levels of the sport is non-stop work. As an assistant trainer, I had the luxury of leaving the barn for the day by late afternoon, and the billing and business operations fell outside of my responsibilities. Now, whether it’s billing, ensuring that we have the right supplies, coordinating vet appointments or transportation—it’s all up to me. It’s a little bit intimidating, but more than anything it’s exciting.

It’s exciting to take on these new responsibilities and to see where I can go, and it’s exciting to know that I’m doing it with a great support group behind me. I have an amazing family that has been nothing but supportive since the first day I started riding. That is a huge thing for someone who wants to make that next move in life, no matter what it is. The next chapter in your life is always scary, but if you have a great support group around you, it just makes it that much easier and that much more exciting.

I have many of those great people around me now as I’m beginning to write the first pages of this new chapter from Wellington, Florida, where I’m spending the month of January horse showing before heading to Ocala for the remainder of the winter circuit. I’m here with only five horses, including horses owned by Michelle Durpetti and my own Cavalier II, which is fewer horses than I’ve ever had in Florida, and that’s proving to be the perfect transition to being on my own. In fact, it could not have started better! My incredible unicorn, Cavalier, has been jumping great since getting here, showing so much improvement over the past year, and he kicked off Week 1 of the Winter Equestrian Festival by winning a highly competitive 1.35-meter class! I take that win during our first week as True North as an extremely positive indication of things to come!

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Caitlyn Shiels and Cavalier II. Photo by Jump Media

While I’m in Ocala, I’ll also be working a bit with Mary Lisa Leffler and Patti Foster, with whom I’ve developed a great relationship and friendship, throughout the last year in particular. That’s something that I’ve really come to realize, something so important for young professionals like myself to keep in mind: There should never be a point in your career when you can’t look to your colleagues.

I’ve had the privilege of learning from great professionals throughout my whole career, and now they have always been there for advice or a second opinion. And I’m not embarrassed or too proud to ask. I’m going on my own, but I don’t want to have any sort of cocky attitude where I think, “I’m going on my own, and I don’t need anyone’s help!”

You’re always learning, no matter what you’re doing. I think a lot of people forget about that. Every day, there’s something you learn about each horse or about a client. That’s life. I’m really excited about continuing to work with other people and learn more and to grow my business.

One day I would love to have a barn full of clients and young competitors who share the same hunger to not only compete, but to learn more about horses and proper horsemanship that I had and have. I would love to work with goal-oriented riders—whether that goal is the high junior/amateurs or the three-foot. I want to build a business surrounded by people who want to learn, want to compete, want to have fun, and really want to make those goals and dreams come true—because that’s what I’m doing! Stepping out on my own is the fruition of a goal and a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds as I continue to discover my “true north!”


Born and raised in Sheffield, Massachusetts, Caitlyn Shiels began riding at the age of 8. In 2013, Shiels joined the team at Canterbury Farm in Hampshire, Illinois, as a trainer and rider, training hunter/jumper riders to compete on the local, regional and national level. Read all of her COTH blogs.

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