Saturday, May. 25, 2024

Oh, The Places I’ve Gone And The Lessons I’ve Learned



“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

One year ago, I shared that excerpt from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” on Facebook because I, full of exhilaration and a healthy dose of nerves, was about to set off to a new “great place” and to take on a new mountain: the launch of my own, Illinois-based riding and training business, True North Stables.

Now, looking back over the past year, oh, the places we’ve gone! There’s been travel to favorite shows in Florida, Michigan, Iowa and Kentucky, but also to emotional “places”—like the high mountain top that is seeing clients succeed and reach their goals and the low valley that is dealing with uncertainty of business success and finding the right clients, of health concerns, of wondering if you have what it takes.

Looking back over the past year and my first year in business, it’s gratifying to reflect on the places that True North Stables has gone and the lessons that I have learned along the way.

Caitlyn Shiels and Cassius by Alison Hartwell

Caitlyn Shiels and Cassius. Alison Hartwell Photo

“YOU Are The Guy Who’ll Decide Where To Go”

In the beginning pages of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” Dr. Seuss writes: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

That line, and how it relates to stepping out on my own this year, is simultaneously incredibly invigorating and exciting (I’m carving my own path, and I get to make all of my own decisions!) and, as I’ve realized this year, at times incredibly daunting.

The step from assistant trainer to sole trainer and business owner means going from leaving work behind when you leave the barn each day to constantly thinking about work and the horses, because now it’s all up to YOU.

When I’m at home, I’m thinking about my clients, about the horses, about the logistics and planning. What entries need to be submitted? What horse shows best accommodate the needs of my clients? How can we make winter horse showing in Florida work best for everyone?

I’m the one who is deciding where to go, literally and figuratively, and not only for my own best interest, but for the best interest of my clients and our horses.

Thinking about that can be overwhelming, but this year, I’ve learned how incredible it is that I do get to pick which road I’m on, and I do “have brains in my head and feet in my shoes” or the knowledge and ability to make and execute those decisions.

It’s been extremely rewarding to see decisions pan out well and to know that I am steering myself and my clients in the positive direction that I’ve chosen.

There Will Be Some Things That “Scare You Right Out Of Your Pants”


Dr. Seuss continues: “All Alone! Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot. And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on. But on you will go….”

Caitlyn Shiels and Cassius at USHJA Derby Finals by Louise Taylor for USHJA

Caitlyn Shiels and Cassius at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Ky.). Louise Taylor/USHJA Photo

I’m so incredibly grateful that through this True North journey, I have never once been truly alone. I have had the support of my parents; my boyfriend, Jeremy; colleagues in the industry; and amazing clients, without whom launching my business never would have been possible.

But I’ve learned that, inevitably it seems, in any sort of entrepreneurship or business ownership, there are going to be moments where you feel alone and moments where you start to think about the things that “scare you right out of your pants!”

This year, True North hit the ground running with an incredible winter season and significant wins at both the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) and HITS Ocala (Florida). Then we returned home to Illinois and a slower pace, and I began to face the fears: “What if the business doesn’t take off? What if more clients don’t come?”

I’ve learned that there are natural fears that can come with the launching of a new business. You take any business or client opportunity that comes because you’re afraid not to; then you have the clients, and you’re afraid to lose them.

However, in the past year, I’ve more importantly learned to shove those fears aside and face the incredible opportunities that I have with courage.

With courage, I don’t have to be afraid to turn down opportunities or feel the need to take any business that comes my way. With courage, I can build my ideal program, filled with riders of all ages determined to achieve their riding goals and to love their horses along the way. With courage, I’m not letting future unknowns “scare me right out of my pants,” and True North and I are both heading confidently into an exciting second year!

You Are Stronger Than The “Bang-Ups And Hang-Ups”

While I do enter my second year of running True North with great confidence and many fears pushed aside, that is not to say the first year has not been without other bumps in the road.

As Dr. Seuss writes: “I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

In the summer of 2017, while competing at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in Traverse City, Michigan, I noticed butterfly rashes developing on my face. I attributed it to the amount of time that I was spending in the sun, but by the third week at the show, I would wake up in the middle of the night, unable to move my hands. In August of that summer, I was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that presents for me as rashes, fatigue, joint pain and swelling.

For me, that was initially quite the “bang-up and hang-up.” Emotionally, it was hard to accept that I now have a disease I have to live with for the rest of my life. Physically, this year, it was at times extremely painful.

Caitlyn Shiels and Michelle Durpetti at WEF by Fine Art Horses

Caitlyn Shiels (left) and Michelle Durpetti at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Fine Art Horses Photo

There are some days where I feel like my legs don’t function, or my hands are throbbing. After the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship this year, my hands were so swollen that I couldn’t properly bend my fingers. But it’s something that I push through, because it’s not something that I’m ever going to let slow me down. I haven’t let obstacles keep me from achieving my goals before, and this is not going to stop me either!


One of my clients, Michelle Durpetti, used to like to share the story of how she went skydiving right before her first USHJA National Hunter Derby. At the in-gate, she would then look at me and say: “I jumped out of a f**king plane. I can jump 3’6″ fences!”

To me, I look at tackling lupus and any business “bang-ups and hang-ups” that come to me the same way. Launching my own business and taking that huge step out on my own was my jump-out-of-the-plane moment.

After years of hard work and effort as a working student and assistant trainer, I’m training on my own, and I took that leap of faith. Knowing that allows me to stand confidently at the in-gate or in the barn, even with swollen hands or tired legs, and say: “I jumped out on my own. I can tackle lupus; I can handle any obstacles that come my way.”

You Can Succeed (98 And 3/4 Percent Guaranteed)

Of all the places that True North has gone and all of the lessons that I’ve learned this year, the biggest one is how unbelievably fortunate I am to have this job that I love, to work with such incredible people and animals, and to see those people living out their dreams and accomplishing their goals through True North.

This year alone, I’ve watched a rider go from fearful of the jumper ring to achieving huge goals there on a new horse, while balancing being a mom and business owner too. I got to experience the joy and triumph of riding a client’s horse to results that surpassed our expectations at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship.

True North team by Fine Art Horses

The True North team (left to right): Emily Britton, Marisa Malevitis, Michelle Durpetti, Caitlyn Shiels and Katie Hawkins. Fine Art Horses Photo

I’ve been there alongside one rider as she juggles unbelievable business successes and demands with again qualifying her hunters for indoors. I’ve seen my students working their butts off at the barn and in the saddle to accomplish goals like moving up in the jumper ring—for one on the first horse that she has owned in years, and another in the junior jumpers on a horse that it has been so rewarding to see her truly come together, flourish and succeed with.

The list could go on and on, but in short, I am so thankful to all of the clients that came my way this year, allowing True North to have such a strong first year and entrusting me with helping them live out their dreams. I am so proud of what those clients accomplished while in my program, and I’m looking forward to continuing to support them in their goals.

As we conclude 2018, and as True North moves into its second year, I’m extremely excited for what the future holds, and I firmly believe that, with this first year under my belt and with so many incredible people helping to shape the True North family, Dr. Seuss’ parting words in the book will continue to hold true:

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”

Born and raised in Sheffield, Massachusetts, Caitlyn Shiels began riding at the age of 8. In 2018, Shiels launched her own True North Stables, based in Illinois and Florida and dedicated to providing individualized training and opportunities that allow horse and rider to excel in the sport.

Read all of her Chronicle blogs.




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