The Career Question, Taken More Personally Now

My friend Cindy Foley, the editor of the Horse Journal, has chosen a subject for her editorial in the April issue that I’ve often pondered and written about over the last 25 years or so. She entitled her editorial ?The Downside of a Horse Career,? and in it she points out that unless you’re especially talented or really shrewd, working with horses isn?t likely to be a financially lucrative career. As I said, I’ve frequently written about the pros and cons of a earning a living with horses, but I’ve not done it since heading down exactly that path five years ago. I’m not sure whether that time has hardened or softened my opinion, but it’s certainly reshaped it. Like Cindy, my parents also discouraged me from pursuing a career with horses. I had to sell my horse before going off to college, although I started riding horses in the area after only about two weeks in college and then rode and taught throughout my four years there. My parents encouraged me to do what Cindy suggests?develop a successful career and ride as a hobby or pastime. that’s what I did for 24 years, although I combined things by becoming an equestrian journalist. But five years ago we moved here to California to start our own horse business and our own writing business, and I can still say that I’m glad we did it. it’s been very hard work, physically and mentally, and I must admit that today has been one of those days when I think, ?I’d sure like to have a day off right now.? The upside, though, is that I’ve gotten to ride and train a varied group of our own and other people?s horses in this time, and it’s been a fascinating educational experience that I look forward to continuing for years. I’ve several times pondered that the three of our own horses whom I’m currently competing simply wouldn?t have come into our lives if we hadn?t been here, doing this, and it’s hard to imagine missing the relationship I have with them. The situation is the same with the horse Heather is currently competing. Admittedly, I haven’t competed them to a tremendously high level, and I’m certainly not aiming for any U.S. team, but the journey is what I’m most interested in, not the destination. These somewhat intangible rewards are why I don’t think I’d be as quick as Cindy, or our parents, to discourage young people from a career or life with horses as I once was. Certainly this will become an increasingly relevant topic for me as our son, Wesley, who’s now only 19 months old, grows up. I’ve thought often about what I hope he’ll grow up to be and do, usually reminding myself that it’s largely pointless speculation, because he’ll grow up to be and do whatever he wants, maybe even the opposite of what I hope. People have often asked us if we want him to grow up riding, and I say, yes, absolutely. I can think of few things more enjoyable than riding with my son across the countryside and riding in events together, even though I’ll be 65 when He’s 15. And we’d be delighted if he decided in 20 years that he wanted to live on our lovely farm and ride and train horses like we do now. But maybe he’ll want to be a doctor, like my father was, or a lawyer, or a computer genius, or something else. Maybe he’ll be a baseball star like Heather?s grandfather, whom He’s named after. We tell each other that we’ll support him in whatever he does, but we’ll always hope that horses will be a part of his life, someway or somehow. Even if they aren?t, we do fervently hope that we can convey to him a passion for something and a love of, and appreciation of, the outdoors, animals and wildlife. So far, he certainly prefers being outside to being inside, and he enjoys his dogs, and cats, and Nigerian dwarf goats, and he likes to pat the horses we allow near him. I don’t think I’ll discourage him from a life with horses, if that’s what he wants, although I’ll certainly encourage him to think about other options too.

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