Make it Work

One thing I love about the sport of intercollegiate equestrian (and, admittedly, about equestrian sports in general) is that the single definitive thing that separates the successful riders and teams from the unsuccessful ones is very simple.

They make it work.

The draw system is often new to riders entering the ranks of intercollegiate riders after high school; climbing aboard a horse you’ve only seen go around briefly (and often under someone who rides it often) and read a terse description about (“good draw” is ambiguous and can easily mean different things to different people) is inherently challenging. But the best riders in the intercollegiate world get on those horses and make it work to score points for their team.

Sticky canter depart going right? They make it work.

Not easy to roll back in the reining pattern? They make that work too.

Liable to duck out if you don’t ride deep to the base of the fence? Make. It. Work.

The “make it work” philosophy is also one that equestrians also tend to make applicable to other parts of their lives – and I especially love talking with high school and college students about this ability. Last week, for example, I had a conversation with a young lady who’s nearly finished with her first year of college and hasn’t yet declared (or chosen) a major. (It’s allowed at her school – students don’t have to declare until second semester of their sophomore year so she has time.) This girl rides beautifully – she spent the bulk of her junior years chasing the Maclay and other big equitation titles – but the stress of that pursuit took a lot of the joy out of riding for her and it’s taken a year of just playing around with her own horse and riding for her college hunt seat team for her to love the sport again.

As our conversation turned to potential internship opportunities for her in the coming years (depending on the direction she takes academically), she said, “You know, it’s funny – when I hated everything about riding because I was so stressed, I couldn’t even consider that I might want to work in the industry as an adult. But now that I’m getting back to loving it, I think I might want to do something horse-related for my career.”

She went on to say that she doesn’t want to be a trainer – such a career path could easily put her stress level right back where it was during her equitation days and she wants to keep the joy and fun in her everyday rides. But with her extensive knowledge of the horse show world, horse show management could be an option – or working for a feed company to sell feed to barns with high performance horses. Or working in product development.

She has a lot of options available to her – she just needs to pick one and make it work.

And that’s the thing I encourage all of my students to think about as they go through the college search and selection process:  many of them have interests and talents that don’t necessarily fit neatly into a prescribed college major or career box. And that’s okay. (After all, how often do career experts tell us that students today will one day have jobs that don’t even exist right now?) The guiding principle I encourage kids to adhere to is to make sure they pursue what they’re interested in and will enjoy doing for the next several decades.

After that, it’s just a matter of making it work.

Want a job in the horse industry that requires strong writing and communication skills but doesn’t fall under the umbrella of journalism or public relations? Make it work.

Want to design a software that will help horse shows run better? Make it work.

Want to develop your own line of riding attire? Make. It. Work.

Granted, I’m probably incredibly biased when it comes to the mantra of “make it work” – after all, I’m qualified to advise people on two subjects only (college admissions and horses) so I “made it work” all the way into a career where I help students navigate the college search and application process without giving up their riding careers. But the thing is, it isn’t impossible to do. It’s difficult, sure. The path isn’t always linear and having to create the path before you can walk on it is time consuming.

But if anyone possesses the patience necessary to – you guessed it! – make it work, it’s horse people.

(Need help along the way? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)

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