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September 30, 2011

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

The stable at Sleepy Hollow. Photo by Jennifer Berol Bliss.

About a month ago, I officially joined Sleepy Hollow Stables as a rider and trainer. The layout there is a bit unusual, as the barn is set within the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. The club is a place of such beauty and history, from the grand clubhouse that was originally a private Rockefeller residence to the two-story stable that was built in the early 1920s and at one point served as a base for Bert de Nemethy.

I’m joining Geoff Case and Ashley Woodhouse, who are not only talented riders and trainers but also share a common vision for great things at SHS. I love the fact that we are three young professionals working together to revive and develop this amazing place as we also strive to reach our personal goals in the show ring.

The riding program is very much its own entity at Sleepy, and yet there is also a feeling of it being a part of something bigger as a vital piece of the club. It’s a classic example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. This is perhaps the prominent quality that drew me there.

It was a very hard decision for me to step back from my own business, Harris Hill Farm, which I had worked so hard to build up over the last five years or so. There was an immeasurable amount of blood, sweat, and tears that went into that venture, and my intention was very much to stick with it for the long haul.

I had some low times and some really high times, and many moments and achievements that I am very proud of. I had a great deal of freedom and flexibility, and at the end of the day, through the good times and the bad, it was all mine. The flip side of that was that it was very much a feast-or-famine dynamic and could feel very isolating at times. It was hard to have everything on my shoulders all the time and still do it all to the best of my ability.

The opportunity to join Sleepy afforded me the luxury to fine-tune my plan and realign my priorities. Though I walked away from a lot, I feel that I gained more. I now have so much more consistency and support. The day-to-day worry of staying on top of every single thing and worrying how every bill is going to get paid is drastically reduced. I have such a great team around me and so many more resources from which to draw. Not only Geoff and Ashley, but the assistance available includes the barn manager, secretaries, etc. I can now focus more of my efforts on the riding and teaching, which is really where my heart is. Trainers must always have a working knowledge of all the pieces of the puzzle and be aware of everything that is going on in their stables, but I now have the luxury of being able to divide and conquer a bit more.

Nothing is perfect, though, and as much as I feel like I’m making progress, I know that I will have to continue paying my dues and making concessions for a while.

One example of this is looming ahead of me. Sleepy is growing very quickly, with many riders beginning to move up the ladder to a higher level and many new students joining the program. In the best interest of building the business for the future, Ashley and I will stay home from Florida this winter and show on the icicle circuit in New York and Connecticut while Geoff takes a small group to the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.

Geoff has been at the barn much longer than I have, and he has more horses to show right now in the bigger classes, so it seems like the fair and logical choice.

It all sounded fine and dandy when we were casually talking about it in August, but now that I’ve pulled out my down vest on more than one occasion in September I am starting to panic!

I’ve gone to Florida to show every winter since I was 10. I am trying to wrap my head around it and stay positive, but I am getting a bit consumed by things like how I’m going to drive my little car in a foot of snow and how many pairs of long johns I can fit under my breeches.

I’m trying to remind myself that I went into this professional change knowing that I would most likely be taking one step back, but hedging my bet on the fact that I would end up two steps ahead. Part of growing up is learning to think for the long term, and I’m hopeful that I am going to help to build something great at Sleepy that will continue on for the future.

That said, no one has a crystal ball. (And if someone did, for sure some horse stepped on it. We all know how with horses, you just never know!) Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t come to fruition. But all you can do is dig in, give it your all, and hope for the best.

Jennifer Berol Bliss had a very successful junior career, which included achievements such as earning USEF Pony Finals championships, national championships in the pony and junior hunter divisions, and top 15 placings in all the major equitation finals. She ran her own business, Harris Hill Farm, from 2007 until 2011. In September 2011, she joined Sleepy Hollow Stables in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., as a rider and trainer.