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How far can you really get without your own horse? Advice for a Junior please.

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  • How far can you really get without your own horse? Advice for a Junior please.

    I'm looking for some advice on this - I'm a 15 year old junior and I've been riding hunter/jumpers and part-time eventing for almost ten years now. I've half-leased various horses of mediocre quality (but don't get me wrong, I love them all!) and shown to some success in 2'6" Hunters/Eq on the "A" circuit as well as up to Novice in Eventing.

    I do not have the financial means to buy, keep, and work with a show horse that would allow me to accomplish my dreams of competing in the 3'6" eq. I am a strong, pretty talented (I have been told by judges that I should be competing at higher levels - one even admonished me for being "still" in the 2'6"!!) and very dedicated rider and I am absolutely willing to work for what I accomplish - I do not expect everything to be handed to me and I know it won't be! I babysit and earn money to pay for all of my shows (I usually pay $1000-$1200 per A show) and my parents help, but it's been made very clear to me that we cannot afford a full lease. I have been told by trainers that I "will not get anywhere" without my own horse, and naturally this is very depressing :P It also seems like a lot of top trainers will not take on working students so that they can make it 'work' financially.

    What I am frustrated and confused about is that it seems like there is a "barrier" in competition where it becomes impossible to participate without a horse of one's own (or a 25k/year full lease!) I have emailed and talked to various trainers, and I have found no situation where a half lease or even lesson program is offered in which I can be competitive and continue to grow past this level. Is there absolutely no way a financially challenged rider can be competitive in higher levels? Is there really a point where you cannot get any better without your own horse? Is there any hope for me to find a lease that could take me at least into the 3' eq & hunters?

    Please be honest with me. If you have any ideas, also please let me know about them. Thank you!

  • #2
    where do you live?


    • #3
      I wish I had a good answer for you. There are so many folks in your position. I have to say that I think you're really limited without your own horse. Purchasing and maintaining a top show horse is expensive. If your family can't manage it, you can't expect a fairy godmother to make it happen for you.

      You know, showing isn't everything. There was a time when kids showed to ride. Not rode to show.

      My advice to you would be to do the best you can with what you have. Appreciate the sacrifices that your family makes to allow you to ride at all. This is real life. You can't have everything your heart desires, but if you can ride, do it! Find a good training program. Learn; Enjoy working with green horses; Work your tail off for opportunities. Know this: you CAN own your own horse one day. Get good grades. Get a good job. If it's a priority for you, you can make it happen when you're an adult and in charge of your own priorities.

      I love hard working, dedicated students. Even the ones without big budgets. Does that mean I provide them with expensive horses to show? No, it doesn't. I have allowed them to show one of my nice sales horses- on their tab. And I pick up the shipping and daycare. I will give them the same quality instruction, the benefit of my experience, my guidance.

      Good luck!


      • #4
        If you can find a trainer with the right type of business not owning your own horse may not be a hindrance.

        If said trainer has a significant quantity of "sale" horses coming through the barn, or breeds, or tends to buy some cheap and tries to put some show/training miles on them and sell them for more money, this could create a situation that would allow for you to have a steady stream of horses to ride & show. They might not all be the easiest rides, and might not all be solid 3'6" equitation mounts, but I would say 3' could easily be a possibility in this scenario.

        All that being said, you will have to be a competent, brave, and consistent rider to be able to cope with a life of entirely catch riding. But for a junior who has the money to show, and just wants a horse to get to show, that situation might work out, if you are able to find it.


        • Original Poster

          Thank you for the replies!

          @Let's_Motor - how would I go about finding a trainer with a large 'sale barn' who would take a student to ride those horses?


          • #6
            Kathy Kusner did. But that was a long time ago.

            chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


            • #7
              "Is there absolutely no way a financially challenged rider can be competitive in higher levels?"

              Simply, No.

              Reality: You weren't riding jumpers or eventing when you were 5 or so, so you need to deal with your honesty first. You'll find trainers looking for potential students to want honesty and reality in what they bring to the barn.

              Reality: Your parents do more than "help". Board, coaching, leasing, lessons, clothing, hauling, tack etc. are the major expenses in showing.

              Reality: Showing is expensive, there are a lot of very talented riders out there better than you are who'll never make it. Ocean racing is expensive, so is owning an airplane...some passions must remain a hobby due to expense or talent. Look at sports where no money is needed: Basketball, soccer...talent wins. Riding at A levels is expensive, doesn't pay it's way for the rider and it's a major cash sucking endeavor. It's great fun and it used to be a lot cheaper....days at Upperville showing cost less than $300 way back when, with stall included in the price, $7 classes at rated local shows too! You've been priced out of the market.

              Reality: Get a good degree, make your own good money and show
              A levels as an ammy adult.
              "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc"


              • #8
                Purchasing and maintaining a top show horse is expensive. If your family can't manage it, you can't expect a fairy godmother to make it happen for you.
                But it doesn’t mean that if you don’t work hard, you won’t be competitive at a higher level. Maybe just not immediately.

                I didn’t get ownership whatsoever of a horse until this year. I am in my mid twenties and have been showing in the hunters and jumpers at 3’6” for a while now. Like you, my parents couldn’t afford a horse for me growing up - I had a lease on a VERY fancy pony for two years (and it wasn’t $25K of pony, it was a small fraction of that and a very green pony to boot). I had to make a conscious decision to ride for those who were supportive of what I COULD do - i.e., no trainers who told me I “had to own a horse” if I wanted to “get anywhere.” That’s pretty much crap, because there are horses everywhere that need riders, and a number of amateurs who don’t have time to hack their show horses as much as necessary as well. If I’d listened to their ilk, I would’ve had to quit riding a long time ago.

                You may, however, have to change your immediate goals. If your goal is to do 3’6” equitation, understand that that may not happen as a junior. Giving you a horse that’s high enough quality to be competitive in the 3’6” eq doesn’t really add a lot of value to the horse, when ridden by an unproven rider who has only shown 2’6”. If you want rides, it helps if you can add value one way or another. You can do intercollegiate equitation in college, also.

                Alternatively, you can buy green and cheap, and train it up. I don’t know if you can accomplish this before you age out.

                For me, I was offered the rides on some young, green horses and was able to bring them along. I paid the show bills, the owner paid their board bill, and I’ve had wonderful horses to compete. If you check your local horse websites, you may even find someone who is looking for someone to ride and show their horses. Not everyone can afford, or wants, to hire a top pro or a “name” rider, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great rides out there. Ask trainers at sale barns if they want a working student - a lot of horses come through there. Then be prepared to WORK your butt off.

                I’d encourage you to work your butt off, ride as many different horses as you can, and try to come up with some broader goals. The horse show circuit doesn’t end at 18.
                They're small hearts.


                • #9
                  I am not sure where you live, but perhaps if you move to a barn that competes at lower level shows (not the big A ones) you may find riding and showing more affordable and find owning/leasing more of a possibility. The difference in cost from a big show barn vs a lower level barn can be huge, and more opportunities may present themselves if you are one of the better riders at the barn.

                  You never really know when an opportunity will present itself.
                  Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                  • #10
                    George Morris only ever owned one horse, an appy that I believe is still alive. If that is any indication you can go pretty far!

                    But seriously, yes it is possible, will it be easy, NO. However, it will make the road to get there that much more worth it! I am sure there are barns like mine, we do not do the ""A" shows but we have horses that are VERY competitive in the "C" shows and some very tough local circuits. I would LOVE to find a Jr. rider that is dedicated and somewhat talented to ride some horses for me. And in the past I ahve had just that, some good kids that would work for me, and get to "catch ride" horses for me, usually with the show expenses paid for. I don't really have a jr. rider like that right now. I would think some of it depends on your location as to what might be available, but I would say you are going to have to look at the smaller barns, the barns where they aren't doing the "A" shows, work hard for them and get experience and eventually you are going to luck up and if you are truly talented a trainer that is better known WILL notice you. Also you are 15, go and get a real job, not just baby sitting. You will have to give up a lot in terms of extra-curricular activities, other sports, social life and dedicate it to work to earn money and to your riding. I had a VERY talented young lady who started with me when she was about 14. She was a working student for me for several years. She ALSO held down a part time job at a vet clinic, feeding animal, cleaning cages etc AND she went to school. Her family was a very rural farming family with very little disposable income, so pretty much she had to earn whatever she would spend on her horses. She stayed with me until she went to vet tech school, but still came and lived with me in the summers and worked and rode. She got to ride ALL KINDS of horses we get in for clients. And now is comfortable getting on most anything. She also has completed vet tech school and gotten a great job! And she is 21 years old now. So yes, it can be done if you find the right "mentor", but you have to prove that you are truly willing to work for it.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Jumpthemoon16 View Post
                      Thank you for the replies!

                      @Let's_Motor - how would I go about finding a trainer with a large 'sale barn' who would take a student to ride those horses?

                      Typically, you have to prove yourself to a trainer before they will give you the privilege of riding their horses. A thing to keep in mind is that regardless of the level of horse that you are able to track down, it is still a privilege to be given the opportunity to ride them...there are more riders in your position out there than those who can afford it, so you have to work extremely hard to make yourself stand out.

                      Maybe part of your problem is that you are approaching these trainers/facilities asking for horses to ride and they have very little idea who you are...there wouldn't be much of an industry if every horseless rider who wanted to show could just email a trainer and be provided with a horse without having to pay for training, vet bills, etc.

                      Why not try approaching these people with the intent to learn and expand your knowledge? There is always something more to be learned. Sure, you will most likely be grooming horses, mucking stalls, cleaning tack, and doing all of the nitty gritty barn chores but think about what you will gain from it...you will be able to observe the training techniques and watch their riders. IMO, that knowledge and experience is invaluable to anyone who wants to be a successful rider. There is no guarantee that you will get to ride, but if you work hard and are responsible you may get the chance to ride something.


                      • #12
                        I grew up in a big family and wanted to take riding lessons and have a horse, but it wasn't something my parents were going to pay for. It wouldn't have been fair for them to buy me a horse and not do the same for all my other siblings. They were very supportive however in helping me look for ways to earn money and in driving me to lessons once I had enough money to do so.

                        After I had ridden for about 2 years, I asked a local barn manager for a job. It helped that I had taken lessons there, so she knew I was serious. This was an eventing barn mostly, with a few people also doing A shows, but most were riders who rode for the fun of it and did some occasional showing. Eventually I got to the point where I was riding 5+ horses per day, some were horses I exercised for boarders and two were young horses I was bringing along for the farm - including one who was an off the track thorobred.

                        If you would have asked me way back in the beginning if I'd be riding all day every day, I would have said that was BS - no way would it happen. But I wanted to ride bad enough that I was willing to work hard to make it happen.

                        You can too, just don't expect it to happen overnight and be prepared to do some grunge work on your way up. Now that I'm way past college and have an awesome job, I can go out and drop some serious cash on a horse if I feel like it...


                        • #13
                          I bring on a "helper kid" every summer. And I'd do it over the fall/winter/spring as well if I could find someone who was dedicated and interested enough to actually do it. And I know I'm not the only amateur out there with a lot of horses and not enough time to ride everyone because of the bleeping full time job (just kidding....I love my job, but it does have a habit of getting in the way of the horses every now and again!). The exchange is that the kid gets their "own" horse and then help me keep everyone else exercised. I've had a heck of a time finding anyone who's dedicated enough to ride year round. And I've heard that complaint from a lot of other "independent amateurs" (those of us with our own facilities) around here as well.

                          The kid who was here 2 years ago was handed my [now high AO] horse and I paid for her to take him to shows. In return she acted as my nanny for my daughter (who was 2 months old at the start of that show season) at the shows. She started my guy in the 2'9" jumpers and finished out the year at 3'6" before she headed off to school. I also allowed her to take my other AO jumper in medal and eq classes a couple of times during the year (at her cost).

                          Last year I basically gave my nanny a horse that she showed in the 1.10m jumpers all year. She paid to show it, but the mare was free to her aside from show costs (I paid for all shoeing/vet/hauling/etc. fees and she just paid the entries). I also would have let her show my other horses if she'd been interested in doing some eq/medal classes.

                          So I guess my advice would be to take time at horseshows to talk to amateurs that have more than one horse. Or ask whether anyone knows anyone with more horses than they can handle. People are bound to know someone (like me) who always seems to have a green horse or two hanging around that could use some more riding. Especially among those of us with small children or in the process of having children. My kid 2 years ago got a lot of riding in (and even got to jump my AO mare around some 4'6" fences) because I was at the tail end of my pregnancy.

                          The trade-off, though, is that you have to be willing to work hard and ride consistently. I don't have any time to help a kid with their riding if they want to come out on weekends only. So if you're up for working hard for someone don't overlook amateurs on the circuit.

                          Good luck!
                          Flying F Sport Horses
                          Horses in the NW


                          • #14
                            It is possible, but you have to work your butt off to do it. I would know because that is how I got to where I am.

                            Like you, my family can only afford a half lease. My trainer brought in a 4 year old unstarted resuce and I jumped at the chance to start leasing him. Four years later we are now winning in the children's hunters and mini medals at the A shows. I do everything I possibly can to help my trainer out; I muck stalls, make the food, sweep, clean tack- anything. In exchange she realizes that I am very dedicated and lets me ride a lot of other horses.

                            Next month a talented 3'6" eq horse my trainer owns is coming back from a full lease. Because of all the hard work I have put in my trainer is going to let me pay half lease on her, but it will really be a full lease. I only have two junior years left, so I probably won't make it to the finals, but I can sure try!

                            So in short, it is very possible, you just have to find a trainer who is willing to help. PM me with where you located, if your near me you can lease my current guy


                            • #15
                              I think your goals are reasonable, but it totally depends on finding the right situation. I have a relatively small program, but have had lots of working students. Some of them have been wonderful, and some of them have forgotten that "working" is part of the job description. I had one great kid whose budget had never allowed her to own or lease a horse or pay for more than one lesson per week, and the last summer before she left for college, she had reached her goal of showing one of my clients' horses in the 3' divisions. You just have to find the right situation, and be prepared to work hard, and not just in the saddle. Some kids forget that even for a young pro, there are a lot of things that happen in a barn other than riding. My current working student who shows in the Medal/Maclay classes still does stalls 6 days a week in the summer, and 3 days a week during the school year. I also have a horse that I free lease to an ammie (who does the 1m jumpers, but horse could easily do the 3' hunters instead). I had the same horse on a paid lease last year, but current leaser helps me do turnouts, feed dinner, and goes out of her way to do extra things around the barn without being asked...which to me is worth more than a lease fee. Horse isn't a hunter winner at big AA shows, but is certainly fancy enough to play at the B shows and the smaller As. Of course, I'm not on the east or west coast, where things would be a little different.

                              My first full-time working student job, I spent the entire first day picking rocks from the arena and never even got on a horse. Within a year, I was showing the barn's GP horses in the big eq and the junior jumpers. If I'd gone to that barn just thinking I'd be their rider, I never would have gotten that far.

                              I could write pages and pages on this, but I'll spare you all, and just say that yes, the situation you're looking for does exist, but you may have to think outside the box a little to find it. If you do go the working student route, don't overlook the smaller show barns, or as PNW suggested, the ammies with their own operations - they often have great things to offer.
                              Ristra Ranch Equestrian Jewelry


                              • #16
                                It's possible! I can't afford to own a horse since I'm a poor college kid, (I paid for my first year of school plus a car payment and riding) and my parents won't help out with anything to do with horses and riding. I had to work two jobs this past summer to be able to keep riding, on top of my current expenses. When I was 16, I rode at a big show barn with lots of nice sale horses. After I proved myself to the trainer and expressed to her how I wanted to ride more but couldn't afford it, she let me start hacking sale horses. At that point, I could barely afford a lesson a week, much less a lease or half-lease.

                                Earlier this year, after I moved to a new barn, I half-leased my friend's somewhat neurotic WB, who did help me move up jumping levels but his "spazziness" caused some problems when trying to show. While supporting my barn buddies at one of the shows I couldn't attend, about two months into half leasing "Mr. Spaz", my trainer told me that a lady in the barn needed someone to half lease her horse. I talked to the owner, set up a lesson with my trainer to try the horse, and it was a match made in heaven! The half-lease was the same price as my friend's horse, (half board, shoes, shots, etc), but the horse was absolutely wonderful! With this new horse, I can do all three rings, (hunter, jumper, eq), at A shows; she's a great age, (10yrs), super scopey, honest, and a cute mover. I've improved so much just leasing her for 4 months, and I'm finally moving up to the show height I've wanted to. I also get along with the owner very well, so that doesn't hurt either!

                                I like the advice of looking for a sale barn to prove yourself at, (in hopes of getting catch rides), but leases at most nice sale barns can run pretty high if you can't get those free rides. Try talking to your trainer or put up an ad looking for a half lease. I'm sure there are plenty of owners out there with not enough time to ride their horses. Heck, that's how I get most of my extra rides at my barn, (owners don't have time to ride, so they give me a call to hack their horse). Good luck! The leases are out there!


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Trakehner View Post
                                  "Is there absolutely no way a financially challenged rider can be competitive in higher levels?"

                                  Simply, No.

                                  I think the answer is MAYbe, depends. I was just looking at indoor lists, a couple riders (shawn cassidy springs to mind) are literally riding a horse in every division eligible at all indoor shows. Shawn, for example, has never owned a horse, or leased one. (I think, could be wrong). Tori Colvin also (did she ever own a pony? I can't remember)

                                  So while rarely, it happens. But you have to be GREAT at riding, not 'pretty good'. So if you are GREAT, get out there! keep emailing BNTs, go to shows and talk to them. That judge that thought you were "stuck" at 2'6"- talk to them- maybe they have a friend who is a BNT.

                                  It can be done
                                  When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks the closet for George Morris. -mpsbarnmanager


                                  • #18
                                    Also you are 15, go and get a real job, not just baby sitting
                                    Just an FYI, babysitting can be much more lucrative than typical 15 year old jobs. I know a lot of kids who get $12-$15 an hour to baby sit, can do their homework etc. etc. The pay is better than food service and well, it is under the table.

                                    I think it is very hard to get into something as competitive as the 3'6 hunters at A shows without your own horse or a good lease. Honestly- if you can actually afford to do those shows on a regular basis, you can probably afford a horse.

                                    Is your goal to experience showing at that level or to make a name for yourself? Making a name takes years and your money (and time) might be better spent on some stints as a working student or bringing along a greenie and reselling (or picking up those skills somewhere).

                                    I'd start looking for free lease opportunities (you pay the bills) and maybe target the overhorsed or undertimed adult if you are a good rider. My horse is actually a great example- I hold her back. She could easily be a nice 3' prospect. If you called me, offered to pay half my board and were really good, I'd let you show my horse and ride her 3 days a week in exchange for paying half my board. You do need to beat around to find the nice half lease prospects.

                                    But when I was horseless- I tried out at least 2 horses that were "please ride my horse I have no time it would be free" that would have been nice with some work. I also sat on 3 or 4 that were not going to be show quality. I paid half board on a horse that could have easily done the 3' medals. There is a gal at my barn that rides a nice 3' hunter type for a kid that got out of riding...

                                    So they are out there- you just need to look and keep looking!


                                    • #19
                                      Before anyone compares themselves to a Shawn or Victoria, they need to realize that not only do they riding amazingly well, but riding for the trainer is their life. Kids that ride "pretty well", that go to school, that have a social life- forget it. Trainers arent going to sponsor your riding.

                                      Yes, you can find opportunities on sales horses or on horses that are underused by their owners. But these are not "sure" things. And they're not at the level that our OP would like. She would like to compete in the 3'6" Eq's. Those horses are major 6 figure horses. OP, it's unlikely that you are going to find a sponsor to assure you a 6 figure horse to learn on, to qualify for Medal Finals on and to ride in Medal Finals.

                                      If I had a dollar for every kid or parent of a kid who contacted me looking for showing opportunities because the kid is "so talented" or "so dedicated" and they can't foot the bill.......... The conversation always starts there, "Trainer, what can you do for me?" Not, "here's what I can do for you."


                                      • #20
                                        A lot of good comments here.... BUT the simple answer is that while it MAY be possible.... it ain't likely.

                                        The questions ought to be around how much this teenager is willing to sacrafice - her social life, her school life, other possibilities that may arise - to chase this dream. The information ought to be about how hard it is and how elusive the opportunities are.

                                        And... we ought to all recognize the fact that even after she does every thing she is advised to do.... it still may not happen.

                                        Perhaps other avenues might make more sense ---- for example, what about the possibility of boarding school at a school with a serious horse program and the availability of scholarship money. What about a local barn that has a serious IEA (middle school/high school program like IHSA) program where coaches might notice her.

                                        IMHO encouraging the dream without advising of the risk and sacrafice does everyone a disservice.