Taking The Reins In Times Of Need

Nov 5, 2020 - 8:00 AM

There are many times in life when we are thrown into situations before we think we’re ready. I believe that’s ultimately when we learn how prepared and capable we actually are because we aren’t all brave enough to take the leap before we have to.

That’s precisely what happened on Sept. 25, 2020, when I took an unfortunate fall in the warm-up ring at a horse show and left in an ambulance with a broken hip, leaving the remaining duties to Cody Wooten, who is the assistant trainer at True North.

Cody is only 26, and though he’s had a lot of great learning experiences so far, he had never been solely responsible at a show. My accident happened early in the week, so he was left with all the on-site tasks. He had to get every client into the show ring, manage the schedules, prepare the horses, check out at the office, and so much more on his own.

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Caitlyn Shiels had a strong start at the Ledges Fall Classic (Ill.), prior to being injured later in the week. Photos Courtesy Of True North Stables

I can only imagine the kind of stress he was under that day. Working for somebody, you don’t think that those responsibilities are ever going to be fully handed to you. When I worked for a big operation like Ashland Farms, there were always 10 other people around to help. Though there are benefits to having a smaller operation, it also means that when one person is out, another has to pick up a much larger percentage of the slack.

I had many worries when I left in the ambulance that day. Of course, I worried about what lay ahead for me. Would I need surgery? How are my clients going to do without me there? What did this mean for my business and my career? I worried about how Cody would handle all of this, but I also knew that I left a strong and capable person back at the show who would steer the team to success.

My confidence in his abilities was precisely why I hired him. We have so many of the same teaching skills, the same views and the same riding style. That’s why we work so well together. Even though he was less experienced, I knew having Cody in charge would not be that different from me handling things.

He’s very knowledgeable; he has a very good head on his shoulders, and he’s responsible. I knew he would do everything in his power to produce the best results he could at that time. And he did. He went above and beyond, and everyone rose to the occasion.

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Assistant trainer Cody Wooten (center) stepped in, along with grooms Josue Alvarado and Irvin Sanchez to lead the team to success in Caitlyn’s absence.

Looking ahead, I know the business is in the best of hands while I’m out of the saddle. We’re lucky that we can accomplish so much from a distance in this industry. Even on the day I had surgery, I was still on the phone arranging travel plans for the horses. I can still be extremely involved in the business while I’m sidelined, but I also have the peace of mind knowing there is a very capable person on the ground to take care of the things I can’t.

As young professionals, we all get thrown into situations we don’t think we’re ready for, but we don’t realize how equipped we are until we have no other choice but to step in and get things done. Of course, I wish I wasn’t injured, but I do see it as a hidden blessing for the future. To be successful, we all have to step outside of our comfort zones, and more often than not, that step comes during a time of urgency, rather than when we decide we are ready to take the leap.

There are highs and lows when we face challenges head on, but we learn from them, and we do better the next time. Cody’s career is being somewhat fast-tracked by my injuries this year, and it’s been exciting and comforting to watch him take the reins and grow into this role.


Caitlyn Shiels is a hunter/jumper professional currently operating her own True North Stables, with bases in Illinois and Florida. Shiels is dedicated to providing individualized training that allows horses and riders of all levels to achieve their goals. 

 Read all of Caitlyn’s blogs.

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