Blurred Lines in the Horse World: What it’s Like to Not be a Wealthy Equestrian

blurred lines in the horse world: what it's like to not be a wealthy equestrian

The barn where I grew up riding had a clear line between two people: the boarders and the riding school people. In other words, money versus no money. And in the riding world, this line is all too real.

This line meant watching girls have the fanciest and best trained horses while you rode the ones that barely wanted to move or the ones that really wanted you off. It meant that they got the best of the best training multiple times a week and you were lucky that you got to ride even once a week. It meant that they got to go to horse shows all over the country and jump enormous jumps while you were stuck at your barn show maybe jumping 2’3.

It also meant working long and hard hours to get an extra lesson or working summer camps in the hot sun for one more ride. It meant dreaming of owning even a green, don’t-care-what-it-looks-like, hopefully free horse someday that will probably have underlying issues while they got to ride the fanciest grand prix level horses.

But it also meant that I knew for sure I wasn’t going through a “phase.” If I was willing to work this hard for so much less pay off, then I really was passionate. And I earned everything I’ve gotten in this industry. And fellow horsemen noticed my hard work in the end.

There was one day in particular I will never forget in my horse life. The day that proved to me that hard work really doesn’t go unnoticed in this equestrian world.

I was working a Sunday as a tacker, my usual shift. I worked every Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm in order to get a free lesson a week. It was freezing cold and the day had already wrapped up. I was numb in just about every part of my body but I knew that when lessons were over, the head trainer (the one that trained the boarder kids, not the riding school kids) would give his wife and sometimes fellow instructors a riding lesson. So each week I would head over to the ring and wait for them to come in just so that I could watch. I sat quietly off to the side and absorbed everything he would say, and when the lesson was done I would walk away quietly and go home.

I never thought I was ever noticed. Or that he realized it was the same crazy horse girl coming out every week. But on that cold and numbing day, he stopped mid lesson and called me over.

I just about had a heart attack. He made me walk all the way into the ring with him and had me sit on one of the jumps. I thought I was in trouble for intruding on their lesson and he was about to yell at me…

Instead, he continued the lesson and every so often he would turn to me and ask “why do you think I just told her she needs more outside leg?” or “what approach to the jump would be a good one?” And I would give my best answer and hope I was right. I still had no idea why he was involving me so much.

When the lesson was done, I was about to walk away and never bother him again but he turned to me and said, “I know you’re the Sunday tacker and I asked about you. They told me you work all those hours just for one extra lesson and sometimes you come in during the week to help for free. I also noticed that after your work is done, you stay back and watch all of my lessons. Well next week I want you to join. Because anyone this hungry for the sport deserves some perks.”

I was stunned. He told me it would be for free, that he worked it out with the riding school and I could pick out any horse I wanted, and that he would teach me every Sunday he was available.

I went home thinking I was dreaming. That there was no way that this guy actually noticed me and my thirst for horses. But sure enough, the next week I went out there on my favorite horse (to which he laughed and said “I’m surprised she’s your favorite, but she would have been my pick too. Nice choice.” She was a bit umm…unpredictable at times). Not only did he give me a lesson, he gave me an intense one. He sat there and really taught me, unconcerned about the time he was investing in me.

I was so thankful that he was giving me this opportunity, and he showed me that when horse people are real horse people, they help each other out. Just because you don’t have money doesn’t mean you can’t replace it with hard work in this sport.

Suddenly, that line between the boarders and the riding school didn’t matter to me anymore. I knew I’d find my way in this industry one way or another.

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34 thoughts on “Blurred Lines in the Horse World: What it’s Like to Not be a Wealthy Equestrian

  1. Touching story and one I am very familiar with…loved horses, grew up in poor home. Drew horses all the time and used my art talent to trade for all sorts of horsey things, including saddles. Now I have my own business Susan’s Saddle Stands which helps me fund my passion. And many wonder why I sell them as low as $99.99…that is because I know there are people out there like you and me who do not have deep pockets.

  2. Omg! Major goosebumps, Aryelle!! That is an amaing story that you should forever cherish.

    I can honestly say that the “non money” boarders are ALWAYS my favorite. Because they know how to work, and they have a true passion for horses. Often times, the “money” boarders I have had, know very little about their own horses and how to care for them. Apparently, money can’t buy EVERYTHING…

  3. What a great guy, and lovely story, thank you for sharing. I have one of my own… my dad traded a service from his business for a $100 pony when I was 11 1/2 years old – my first ever horse. We boarded her somewhere very cheap, no lessons, about 15 minutes from my house. My mom, a stay-at-home mom but this was the 70s when parents didn’t dote on their kids, “found the time” maybe once a week to take me to ride my pony. I’m tall, and my parents didn’t know horses, so it wasn’t long before I outgrew the pony. When I came home from school on my 13th birthday, mom blithely announced “oh, we sold Sugar today, by the way”. Niiiiiice. And therein ended my parents’ foray into supporting my insane love for horses (they had money for me to have a modest habit, just not the desire). Well, despite being exceptionally blessed in many ways with my upbringing, I carried that anger stone around for decades, taking it out now and again to polish. I told this story to a new boyfriend 30 years after it happened – and he just looked at me and said, “so many kids would kill to have had that pony for 18 months. At least you had it that long.” My head spun round on my shoulders, and I realized he was absolutely right. Today, I’m a skilled enough rider that buying a 50k horse is the smart thing to do for my goals – but looking at my retirement, that’s just plain stupid. But I remember the pony, and how blessed I am to have a lovely 10k horse in my backyard that I’ll take as far as I can. No matter how good you have it, there’s always someone who has it better, and as you’ve pointed out – hard work and determination will make the most of whatever opportunities you DO have. Love the story!

    1. Wow!!! Your story is pretty great too, and I gotta give it to that boyfriend for being so blunt there lol. A risky thing to do with a horse girl! Haha!

      Thanks so much for reading!!

      1. Really enjoyed reading the story & what a wonderful instructor to take you under his wing! At age 13, I bought my own $100 pony with saved babysitting money after I walked door to door to find a free place to keep her & even then my parents were not happy about it. Needless to say there was no money for lessons & my school was of the hard knocks variety. Fast forward to age 60 & I’m loving life with my dream horse purchased 3 years ago & finally enjoying the lessons I was never able to do. I believe we’re either born with this passion or not; and, if so, it will be there for a lifetime!

        1. The expression “where there’s a will, there’s a way” should have a mascot, and it’s mascot should be a horse lover! Lol, so glad to hear your passion never died and you have your dream horse!!

  4. Most “horse lovers” will do anything for the horse. Love the horse no matter what he looKS like or his ability. And thinks of the horse and puts his health and well being before hers. They learn for life and how to do all the moves and learn quality over quantity, always putting their nobe steed first..

    The “equestrian ” on the other hand, just rides the horse till it’s broken, as if it doesn’t perform well, daddy will just import another 5 or 6 from Argentina or Germany. Meanwhile my horse lover kid would be thrilled with the love from any horse..

  5. Relstaff, aside from the occasional dude ranch riding I did as a kid, I never rode a horse til I was in my late 20’s. My mom married onto a situation where they can have horses and live stock now. My question is , is there anywhere I can find leg strs ps or stirrups for being 6′ 5″ tall? I use the sa Dale my parent’s have and zi feel like a jockey!

    1. Haha! I honestly feel your pain. I event and have superrr long legs l and when I was saddle shopping, nothing would fit! I was just about to save for a custom (which would have taken forever to save up for but it’s necesary) when I stumbled upon a saddle on ebay another fellow tall person put up. Moral of the story is either keep your hopes up on ebay for someone of your height to sell, or contact some saddle makers to see if they can make you some custom ones! Good luck!!

  6. Love this! I was also the poor kid but in a fairly modest barn. I was blessed to get some trainers who gave me a lot of help out of the goodness of their heart. I seriously miss riding. Its been five-ish years since I really rode and I miss it

  7. I can relate to your story. I also watched my friends get to show almost every weekend, as I was happy to get to do in house Schooling Shows. I was also passionate, and got noticed for my dedication. I have paid it forward, and have seen my previous students go on to College for Equine Science.

    1. It’s riders like you paying it forward that keep our industry going. We understand how much hard work means in this sport!

  8. I began as a teenager financing my horse habit by buying, developing and re-selling horses in N.Calif. (Parlaying the original $500 my parents loaned me for an OTTB into a business). At one point I ended up with two horses that could jump but we’re NOT hunters. Working on my own I had zero confidence when the jumps got over 3’6″. Desperate for knowledge and help, I finally got up the nerve to approach a very well known and successful jumper rider and trainer. He didn’t know me from Adam but invited me to bring my two horses to his stable for a day to see what he thought. He ended up helping me free of charge for over 2 years, every time I hauled my horses the hour and a half each way. He let me ride his horses as well (the best ones as well as the greenies). I got there a lot and learned so much! My confidence to take one of the original ones to the highest divisions on the West Coast of both the US and Canada I credit to the kindness and generosity of Gene Lewis – – one of those genuine horsemen of which the author of this article speaks!

    1. Wowww! What an opportunity! And what a great horseman to take you on like that! So glad you had that opportunity!

  9. I legit have goosebumps and tears in my eyes because I remember being there! How generous and wonderful of the head trainer to include you too, that was lovely.

  10. Your tale is exactly my life now as a student at a very nice boarder barn. The only twist? I’m 53 and looking forward to becoming a working student this fall! One day I hope to have my own horse too. But it will have to be through someone’s kindness and generosity.

  11. My parents told me that if I could figure out how to pay and upkeep a horse I could get one. Well orginally I thought mini hprse would be all I could ever get. But I baked brownies and sold them for 2 years on my dad’s tool sales route. I managed to save $1400! The board where I was was modest and I worked for the barn for a reduced rate. The horse I got was not going yo excel in the hunter decipline and I soon faced the music that I was going to be riding saddleseat. So after over hauling my tack and learnung a new style with bo lessons, we started showing! Her and I learned so much andand she has been such a blessing. Unfortunately I didn’t get a fancy trainer to help for free. But I have trued to help others when I can and pass on my kbowledge to budding students.

  12. It is a great story, it happens, it happened to me, but also often it doesn’t and some places will take advantage of your work as working student. Whatever you do, be sure to have a written agreement that protect you as working student and don’t accept to get involved in dangerous situations or dangerous horses. Injuries can be life threatening and ruin your future as a rider. So just be smart :), otherwise, yes go for it!

    1. I totally agree! Unfortunately, some people do take advantage of people’s passions. Definitely be cautious!

  13. I’m in the UK and have had ponies all my life, but they were always other peoples cast offs, or problem ponies but I worked doing all sorts to pay for quality lessons, from washing cars to cycling to school to save bus fare, I even use to bag up the rotted manure and wheelbarrow it round the local houses and built up a “muck round” with the local gardeners.
    It paid off and I won lots of championships and it was all worth it as i appreciated it the more.

    1. one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! My last horse was probably half hippo, and he was an accident to begin with, but he gave me some great years and manyyy great lessons. I wouldn’t trade him for a grand prix horse ever.

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