Monday night, I attended a celebration of life for my friend Carol Hofmann Thompson. I was overwhelmed by the number of Carol's friends from all over the country who attended.
The service was held at the U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, N.J. This was such an appropriate setting because Carol loved the USET and had trained here on numerous occasions when she rode and represented the United States Equestrian Team.
My best friend, grand prix rider Callan Solem, was asked to speak about Carol. Callan started her professional riding career as a working student for Carol and she stayed with Carol for a decade. Carol really shaped her into the amazing horsewoman that she is today and helped Callan all the way up the ranks and into the grand prix.
She taught Callan so much about flatwork and fitness for horses, about running a farm and horse business, and about love and appreciation for horses. Callan said, “When asked to list some things Carol taught me about horses I realized it would be easier to list what she didn’t teach me… Carol taught me everything about horses.”
This is exactly how I feel about my parents, Mitch and Kathy Steege. My dad in particular has been my mentor for 38 years. He, with the help of others such as Fran and Joe Dotoli, Peter Wylde, Bill Cooney and Sandra Lobel, has shaped and molded me into the horsewoman that I have become.
The USET headquarters in Gladstone is such a beautiful and historic place; it really makes you stop and think about at your path with horses and the evolution of the horse industry.
Callan ended her speech by saying, “We should all leave here and think about paying it forward,” and she is right.
One problem I see in our industry today is that a lot of young professionals go through the ranks of being a junior rider and then decide right away that they are professionals. Off they go to start their own horse business. They are so missing out on the amazing learning experience that Callan and I both received by working under established horse professionals like Carol and Mitch.
During my junior career I rode primarily with my dad. I did do some catch riding and I had some help at the equitation finals the last few years from Bill Cooney and Peter Wylde but for the most part it was just me and Mitch.
My sister and I worked in the barn and we were the grooms for ourselves and for my parents’ customers when we went to shows. We spent a lot of time learning how to love and care for horses. We did horse shows but we also did hunter pace events and foxhunted, rode our horses on the beach, helped my mom teach beginner riding lessons at the local summer camp, and did gymkhana on the school ponies for our birthday parties with games like sit a buck, egg on a spoon, and musical stalls.
We were the stall muckers for 35 stalls on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we liked it—especially because those two days a year mom cooked breakfast for when we were finished, something we didn't usually have time for the rest of the year.
I was lucky enough to be born into a mentor program since both of my parents are professionals, but Callan was not. She went out and searched for someone she respected that was willing to give her all of this knowledge and mold her. I still consider myself a “young professional,” but I guess at 38 years old that title is diminishing!
It’s time for myself and my peers to start to think about paying it forward and passing our knowledge on. One way we can honor a great lady like Carol Hofmann Thompson is by taking the things she taught us and trying to pass them on.
We both grew up hearing the most wonderful stories from our mentors. Stories about George Morris and Victor Hugo Vidal and Dave Kelley to name a few. What I remember most about my horse show dinners out with Carol is the stories.
Through these stories and just the daily experience with horsemen like Carol and Mitch, Callan and I learned so much. We have not only our own experiences, but also those of our mentors to help and guide us.
So now I urge the next generation of young professionals to seek out someone they respect and take some time to be a working student or a groom or an assistant whatever you can get your hands on. And to my fellow horseman and horsewomen I urge you to pay it forward and share your knowledge with them.