A few days ago, I had to make the heartbreaking decision to stop riding after 18 years in the sport. I know that this world is very expensive and just gets more and more so. I also found out early on that it is a cruel sport, one that only the top 1% can afford. Today, talent only gets you so far, as it is a sport, no, business, driven by money. No longer is it worth anything if you only have the talent to ride. At least where I live, prerequisites are owning a mini-string of imported horses, showing throughout the summer and going to Florida for the winter, affording show and training expenses, combined with the basic care and boarding that come with owning a horse(s).
I find myself wondering how people make it in this sport we so dearly love. Do you limit yourself? This could take the form of not showing at all, showing locally, riding for pleasure, taking only occasional lessons, or quitting altogether?
For me, it was the latter. After years of riding poor, dead-beat school horses, riding or leasing ponies or horses that no one else wanted to ride because they were too crazy, too out-of-shape, too green, etc. and going through more barns and instructors than Elizabeth Taylor was married, I somehow managed to consistently ride at the 3’9"-4’ level. (I should disclaim that a long the way, I was able to ride with some good trainers and/or learn from schoolmasters or expensive sale horses.)
As I was ready to take the next step in my riding journey of jumping 4’-4’6", I found myself repeatedly shut down. I understand that lesson horses can’t jump that high as it is not lucrative from a business stand-point. Recently, I rode sale horses, but mounts would be sold in the blink of an eye, and I could never get into a rhythm. Again, I understood it is a business and that sale horses would come and go. It was time to start looking to lease a horse again.
As I started the process of finding my Prince (or Princess) Charming, I would quickly find out that I was doomed from the start. Finding a 4’+ jumper to lease without spending the GNI of a small nation is akin to finding a unicorn. Sure, there were horses that could jump the height, but they were unsafe, green, and not show-ready. On a mini-vacation in Florida to watch the American Invitational, I received a return phone call regarding a 4’ horse to lease. It was like God had answered me. I thought I had found the perfect opportunity. When we got back home, I saw the horse. He was stunning. He was IT. The trainer told me that he was purchased for $100,000, and now the owner, who happened to be the CEO of the multi-billion dollar company, Jockey, just “wanted him off their books,” because he was not doing anything and they refused to pay for their just-graduated college daughter to ride anymore. Because of my non-existent budget, they were willing to free-lease him on the condition that I take the horse to shows so he could get mileage and that they could raise the horse’s current asking price of $30,000. I tried the horse two days in a row. He was a technical ride, something I wasn’t used to during my “frog-kissing” days of riding all different sorts of horses. Everything seemed to be set…until the trainer gave us her show rates. At approximately $4,000 for an in-state, five-day “AA” show (that was 1.5 hours from the barn), it would’ve cost my family roughly $24,000 as the owners wanted the horse shown at least once a month. (And that’s not including the $2,000 boarding fee, which would’ve been an additional $12,000, bringing the total to near $37,000…more than the asking price of the horse.) After talking with the trainer and saying that this was not financially feasible and that we stood nothing to gain, she renegotiated and said that I could just free-lease the horse. But her stipulation was that I couldn’t jump at the 4’ level until I took two lessons a week for two months so she could “fix the holes in my riding.” I know that every rider can always improve, but jumping cross-rails and 2’, something which I had done when I first started jumping, for that amount of money, was still too much, especially since when the six-month lease was over, my riding career would have been over as well.
I tried other horses at another barn I was riding at, but they were jerking me around, putting me on inferior, unsafe horses. As soon as I said that my budget could go up, they immediately started showing me “better” horses that came with a lease price of $20,000. I should have known better as the man in a known scammer and wheeler-and-dealer with his barn is akin to a shack; but I was desperate. After a bad fall and riding horses that could barely clear 3’6" without rapping the poles, I had had enough. I couldn’t stand to see the other girls at the barn with their two or three imported warmbloods, jumping five-foot courses, and talking about showing all over the country during the summer. It was then that I realized that I would never be in the same league, even if I had the same amount of talent. Talent exceeded the bank account.
Yes, I know that I could always try dressage or three-day eventing, but eventually, I would run in to the same problem, the same heartbreak. My heart would always belong to the hunter/jumper world. And as devastating as it still is, and will be for some time, I know I did the right thing for me.
Thank you for reading.
Any thoughts, insights, or comments are welcome.