Professional v. Amateur

Since my educational consulting practice is “The Equestrian College Advisor,” it shouldn’t be surprising for me to tell you that I speak with many, many students each year who aspire to become professional horsemen (and women) after college.  It’s a common dream shared by thousands of horse-oriented students around the world and there are certainly many who make that leap.

Unfortunately, many of these students aspire to become professional riders simply because they see it as a means to becoming a better rider, not because they have a true passion for that career path.

Now, longtime readers will have observed that one of the consistent themes in this blog has always been to outline options for students who love horses and want to participate in the horse industry in some capacity after college but don’t want to be a professional horse trainer.  This blog entry is for you, of course, but it’s more specifically aimed at those of you who are currently toying with the idea of becoming a trainer and/or professional horseman (or woman) and this is why:

I’m by no means saying that being a trainer is a bad thing – and I think anyone who has ridden for any length of time can certainly attest to the fact that having the right trainer in your corner can make all the difference in your enjoyment of the sport and your personal growth and development.  But what I want you to know is that going pro isn’t your only option for becoming a better rider.  Likewise, it isn’t the only way you can gain access to great horses in the future.

So students, hear this:  Having an amateur designation with your competitive governing body (USEF, USDF, AQHA, etc.) does not label you an inferior rider – just as being a professional doesn’t make you a candidate for the Olympic team.

Got it?

The U.S. Equestrian Federation rulebook defines an amateur rider as follows: “Regardless of one’s equestrian skills and/or accomplishments, a person is an amateur for all competitions conducted under Federation rules who after his/her 18th birthday, as defined in GR101, has not engaged in any of the following activities which would make him/her a professional…”  (The activities listed are numerous, but they basically involve receiving remuneration for training horses, instruction of lessons, teaching clinics, accepts prize money in certain classes, and/or being sponsored by companies to promote their products.  If you’d like to read the rule in full, go online here.)

What I most want to point out in the above definition is the section in bold italics (which are mine):  “Regardless of one’s equestrian skills and/or accomplishments.”  Amateur status only defines you in terms of how you make your living, not how well you can actually ride a horse, students!  There are hundreds of amateurs out there right now who ride and compete at the same level as many of the professionals – and can even beat them – so don’t make the mistake of equating good riding with riding for a living.  Good riding is always good riding, no matter that person’s professional (or amateur!) designation.

So if you’re a soon-to-graduate high school student and are considering running a barn and becoming a professional in the future, now is a great time to ask yourself, “Why?”  If you can say that you have talked with many (many!) other professionals in order to gain a realistic picture of their everyday lives and responsibilities, if you know in your very heart that you won’t  be happy doing anything other than riding, training, and instructing for a living, and if you aspire to the highest possible level of your sport, then by all means pursue your dream.  But on the other hand, if you simply want to be the best rider and competitor possible and you only want to have fun with your sport, I urge you to look into non-horsey (or non-trainer) careers that will give you the financial and personal freedom to continue to advance as a rider.

(And don’t worry – if you’re going to be a very talented amateur, we even have a term for that:  Chronicle of the Horse blogger and professional dressage trainer Lauren Sprieser coined the term “pramateur” to refer to an amateur rider who can fully hold his or her own against the professionals.)

There will always be amateur riders out there who look like fish out of water when they swing into the saddle and – by that same token – there will always be professionals who look as though they might consider taking up another sport as well.  Designation has nothing to do with it.

(Want to discuss your college and career options in depth?  Contact me.)

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