Those of us who are passionate about the sport of dressage often don’t think about where our money goes or plan ahead for a lifetime of needs. In my own career as a dressage professional, I wish I had had a better business sense when it came to running my own dressage barn and my riding career.
Over the years, I’ve learned to think about my passion realistically and work with a business plan–which I advise everyone to do. Now, I keep track of actual costs–each month’s feed, bedding, grooming and maintenance, including tractor repairs, building expenses, barn help, apprentice students, etc.
Once I began putting the numbers down, I saw that my operation wasn’t paying for itself. I was doing other things to support it, such as giving clinics and selling horses. I finally realized that I wasn’t charging enough for my actual costs of boarding horses, for example. If a stall had been empty, I would have saved money!
I also encourage everyone to look far ahead to plan your riding life. If I had to do it over again and were a young professional or aspiring Olympic rider, I would look five to eight years ahead and not just think about what’s happening now in the current show season. I would start more young horses. Everyone is looking for the horse with the flying change but if you invest the money in a young horse, the quality of that horse might be far greater. If you rely on only one special horse–your current Grand Prix horse–you won’t have one coming up when he’s gone. You might be successful in the short term, but not in the long term. Get two young horses or better, three. Along the road they might turn out to be nice horses but not Grand Prix horses. You don’t know that when they are three. You have to weed them out and be selective and use your business sense.
I recommend going to a professional stable and learning how to train your own Grand Prix horse. Spend six months in a professional barn in America or, if you have the chance, go to Europe. You’ll get a chance to ride many horses and see how a top trainer works hard every day. You’ll learn how horses progress with systematic training every day, and get a picture of the whole training system. Riding only one horse is not enough to understand the whole picture. All this gives you a better perspective on how to plan your own life and horse training.
In the beginning, you might only get to walk these horses or muck the stalls. But if you stay long enough and are loyal you’ll get a chance to work your way up or even stay. Once you’ve trained a Grand Prix horse yourself, you’ll have enough confidence to train another one.
All this seems like a long road, but the time goes by faster than you think.
Carole Grant is a lifelong horsewoman who represented the U.S. at the 1982 World Equestrian Games and earned two gold medals at the 1983 Pan-Am Games in Venezuela. She is recipient of the Whitney Stone Memorial Trophy, which is presented by the United States Equestrian Team for a distinguished international career and for being an ambassador for the sport. Together with her daughters Mary Ann and Tonya, she operates Equistride International, a training and sales facility in Fenton, Mich.