Amateur Showcase: Susan Jones Isn't Afraid To Dream Big Or Fail

Aug 20, 2020 - 7:53 AM

Name: Susan Jones
Age: 56
Day Job: President and CEO of Seed Strategy, an innovation and strategy firm

The Leap Of Faith: Even as a little girl, Susan Jones knew exactly what she wanted out of her life: She wanted to be president of a creative agency, and she wanted to ride horses to the best of her ability. In 2002, she embarked to check off that first item, as she quit her job to start her own innovation and strategy firm. Though recently divorced and with a young daughter, Jones worked hard to sow and grow her Seed Strategy, Inc., from her barn office at her farm in Walton, Kentucky.

“I look back, and I’m like, ‘How did we do that?’ ” she said. “[In] 2002, I got divorced, kept the horse farm and started my own company. I really had to succeed because I took a jumbo loan out on the farm and created the company. And then in ’05 I got remarried to John McSherry, and then we had a son a few years after that, ’07.

Competing at Global
Last year, Susan Jones realized her goal of competing at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival with her horse Four Ever. Susan J. Stickle Photo

“I was just determined that I was going to work hard and get there,” Jones continued. “I didn’t have a choice. It was like, ‘Well I left this other place; I think there’s a better way to do business. And now I’m just going to make it happen.’ Lots of good people came, and I hired them and worked with them collaboratively and had great clients come. It has been a dream come true.”

Now with over 35 people on staff, Seed Strategy has developed out of that barn office into a respected innovations firm. They work with companies to grow or create new products by looking at various factors like the analytics of the company and the needs of the consumer, and then they come up with a strategy to achieve that goal.

It was bought by Burke, Inc. six years ago, but Jones still runs it as CEO and president.

Make Your Passion Your Profession: “I just always wanted to do it. I like to be around a creative environment. I love collaboration. I love making something out of nothing,” said Jones. “You deal with so much ambiguity, and the stakes are really high because the companies need growth. They need ideas, and they don’t want to fail; they need to be successful.

“Everyone always asks, ‘Why haven’t you stopped working when you sold the company?’ ” she continued. “But I love what I do. I’m really, really passionate. I’m very lucky to have work that I really enjoy. Then I also have been able to find a way to keep my passion and drive to be better and better at dressage going at the same time.”

More Alike Than You’d Think: Her desire to create something out of nothing in her professional life also drives Jones’ passion for horses.

“It’s the same kind of a thing where you’re working little by little to create something and to be collaborative and harmonious with the horse, just like we are with our creative fields,” she said. “The only difference with the horses is it’s also emotional. They’re so much on the right side of the brain, whereas my business can also have quite a bit of analytical aspect.”

Seed Strategy New Office
From her barn office, Susan Jones has grown Seed Strategy into a successful innovations firm. Photo Courtesy Of Susan Jones

The Horse Collector: Jones knew she couldn’t become a professional horsewoman with her propensity to collect horses—she’s only sold one, and that was to start Seed Strategy—but she wanted to work at the craft as much as she could. She got her first horse at 10 and rode in the hunter/jumper world. But after purchasing her first horse on her own in 1989 after college, she discovered dressage.

“What I realized was I liked all the aspects of dressage,” she said. “There’s the physical aspect, that connection to the horse, but then it’s also intellectually challenging the whole understanding of it. It’s one of the few sports that you can actually compete and have a job. The hunter/jumper [world], you needed a lot of money, and you needed to campaign all time. But with dressage, you could go to four or five shows over the summer on the long weekend and get an idea of your progress.”

For 10 years after starting Seed Strategy, Jones couldn’t afford to purchase another horse—especially with some retirees in her pasture. But she’s now on what she calls her third “generation” of horses, and she prefers to focus on learning and improving rather than just being competitive.

“My drive is for mastery. That’s why I like to learn. I think what’s kept me young both in my workplace and also my riding is I really like to learn,” said Jones. “To me, it’s the learning aspect that you absorb. My trainer, Jaimey Irwin, always says, ‘Every show, you learn something that you can apply to the next one.’ If you’re always going with that mindset, you never lose. You’ll always win. The bad days when something doesn’t go right and you handle it, that becomes much more valuable than the score or the ribbon. It’s the lifetime journey.”

Realizing A Dream: Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, Jones qualified for the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions in Wayne, Illinois, for the first time on her horse Four Ever in the Intermediaire I division.

“The Festival Of Champions has always been a dream first, then the goal to get here,” she said. “I was the little girl who would watch it stream live every year and go, especially when it was in Gladstone [New Jersey], and say, ‘Oh my gosh, one day I want to ride down that centerline.’ That was my dream and goal: To get good enough to be in that group.

“[Four Ever is] very special to me. I’ve had him for three years,” she continued. “He was born 4/4/2004, and he needed an F name because he’s a Westphalian. The breeder was very clever, and they named him Four Ever. His stable name is Forty. He’s 16. He’s just super. He’s perfect for me to gain confidence at showing at this level. I just really adore him. He’s like a puppy in the barn, and he’s very harmonious. I know I need to ride with more engagement from him and things, but at the same time I got him so that I could learn and get to the next level of understanding.”

And with Forty, she’ll debut her new freestyle at the Festival Of Champions, created by friend and composer Ken Leonard.  But overall, just being there already is a win, especially with her “forever learning” mentality.

“I really try hard to remember that and to be in the flow in the moment, which is really important with nerves and things like that,” Jones said. “If you get into a routine in the flow, then the horse picks up on that. And where the joy is. That’s my goal. I always want people to remember me as someone who looks like I really enjoy riding with my horse. Because you forget what people—unless you’re the world champion—you forget their score. But you do remember someone who has a smile on their face and is kind to their horse and friendly to the volunteers and the show people, the photographer. I go in to try to learn and to be part of the community.”

Never Be Afraid To Fail: If Jones—with her go-getter resume—has any words of inspiration to pass on, it would be to not be afraid of the possibility of failure.

“I dream really big, and most of the time I don’t think I’m going to actually get there,” she said. “And then one day, you know, I have a company that’s created and that’s successful—or say, ‘I’m going to ride at the Festival,’ and then one day I get to ride down that centerline. I just really just savor it all.

First time I saw Devon
“I don’t want to fail, but I’m not afraid to fail,” said Susan Jones, pictured here the first time she went to Dressage At Devon. Photo Courtesy Of Susan Jones

“I don’t want to fail, but I’m not afraid to fail,” she continued. “I think so many people are like, ‘Well, I can’t do that. I might not do it right.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, you’re going to work really hard to do it as best you can, and then it’ll be what it’ll be. You’ll look at it and you’ll go, and you’ll say, ‘Hey, here are some things that were good, and here are some things that need to be improved.’ Then I go, and I get to work on those things. So, each year I get better and better. That cycle of learning and throwing myself out there, I just find makes life exciting. If I didn’t set out on a journey to create my own company that I thought would be better, well I would have missed such cool things in life. Imagine if I never set this crazy goal to ride at the Festival, I’d never get to feel like what that feels like.”

Do you know an amateur with an inspiring story? Email Lindsay at lberreth@coth.com for a chance to be featured.

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