Steps to Becoming a Professional Horseback Rider
So you love horses, and dream of Olympic competition and training horses at the highest levels? That’s great! But it is a difficult, highly competitive, and often expensive sport to compete in. It requires years of experience, hours and hours of devoted training, often on many different horses, and a true and accurate understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a rider. Still interested? Here’s some basics for starting out!
- Love Horses. This is a non-negotiable step. You can’t spend 5 to 7 days a week with an animal you’re ambivalent about. You have to care about the health, safety, and happiness of the horses you work with, even if you don’t own them yourself.
- Get down the basics of horseback riding and equestrianism. These include, but are not limited to:
- How to ride
- Measuring a horse’s height
- Horse vision capabilities
- How to stop
- Learning how to put on a bridle, halter, and English and Western saddles correctly.
- Learning to approach a horse (including letting the horse smell the back of your hand)
- Leading a horse
- Grooming a horse
- Basic body parts of a horse and horse health
- How to avoid being kicked
- Proper clothes and shoes for riding (including a helmet for beginners)
- Proper stance on a horse
- Learn to ride. Horses are very intuitive. Where you hold your weight, the direction you face, where in the stirrup you hold your foot, even your breathing can affect your horse. Training in riding will probably need guidance to begin with, and the younger you start the better off you will be. You need to get to the point where riding is an intuitive, habitual skill before you can even think about moving on to equestrian-type tricks.
- Pick a discipline to study in. (Show jumping, barrel racing, polo, or dressage are examples) Try finding a ranch or farm near you that is home to professional horses. This is a great connection to professional riders, perhaps some will give you pointers, tips, or let you apprentice with them.
- Study. This isn’t just training on-the-horse, although you need hours and hours of that. You also need to learn the aspects of judging, the technical details, the competitors, the full language of moves you’d be expected to perform. Watch videos of professionals in competition. Join Pony Club or 4-H in your neighborhood.
- Apprentice. If you haven’t done this yet, now’s the time to find your professional mentor.
- Try finding a job riding, training or teaching for pay. The amount of time on horseback needed to become a professional athlete is almost untenable without a job that puts you on or around horses.
- Participate in local shows. Keep good sportsmanship in mind as you start to learn the ropes of competing. Sometimes there are unfair outcomes, sometimes there will be disappointing calls. Take it in stride and be a pleasant companion. Stay determined.
- Participate in rated shows.
- Place in shows.
The path keeps going from there! Keep placing in shows, grow to bigger and better competitions, travel to compete more often, and keep finding people you respect and admire to emulate and work with! It is not a career available to many, because it requires passion and dedication, but it is there if you work at it!