Embracing Amateur Status

A Young Rider ventures to Europe and finds new appreciation for her amateur status.
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Credit: Paul Paquette Jessica Paquette riding Quint, the 8-year-old Canadian Warmblood she co-owns.

Credit: Paul Paquette Jessica Paquette riding Quint, the 8-year-old Canadian Warmblood she co-owns.

Like many young horse lovers, I wanted to be a coach and trainer. Who doesn’t dream of riding all day and getting paid for it? While some outgrow that dream, I didn’t. In fact, I think I harbored the thought that being an adult amateur was a sign of weakness: You weren’t committed enough to horses and let other things get in the way. When my last year of high school rolled around, I decided not to apply to university and instead began looking for working-student positions. 

I finally settled on a barn in Germany because I wanted to go to Europe. I went there with bare minimum details from short emails over several weeks. I relied on the idea that the job was with a big-name trainer and would be good for my resume no matter how it turned out. After a mad scramble and hours spent on the phone, I managed to arrange my work visa.

I arrived in late October, and I left the position after one month. It wasn’t because I couldn’t take the work. It wasn’t the living area, and it wasn’t the fact that we were working with only two days off each month, despite 12- to 13-hour days. I left because I wasn’t learning what I wanted to learn. The people were wonderful, the food was amazing and the horses were beyond words. But I needed to move on. When another door opened with perfect timing, I knew it was time to leave. 

I was offered a paying groom’s job in Denmark with a well-known trainer and other English-speaking people. I arrived at my new job after an exhausting day of travel. The living quarters were even better than my original ones. I was getting paid, I got time off every second weekend and I had a pony to ride. It was still very hard work, but the horses were just as lovely and the people were wonderful. I learned to take the bus into town. I learned how to tack up horses really fast and how to get yelled at. I also learned that making mistakes will not kill you, even if it scares you. My riding also improved in a way. I never got lessons, which is something I missed terribly, although I had a few words thrown at me over the five months. But I learned to think, and I had to apply it, knowing there would be no lesson to help me fix my problems. That certainly taught me independent riding. 

I may not have ridden as much as I had hoped and probably didn’t use my six months to the fullest. But I learned several life lessons beyond the horse world. I learned about handling loneliness, about navigating Europe and about living alone at the age of 18 in a country with a different language. It made me love my dressage horse even more and realize there were lots of opportunities in front of me. But, most importantly, those six months taught me that no matter how famous you are in the horse world, you still have to work like crazy. My bosses worked tirelessly. I realized that no matter how hard you work, it is still difficult to make a living in this industry, even for big-name trainers. 

It turns out that being an adult amateur is not the end of the world. In fact, it quite possibly could be a better option. After spending all day working with horses, having your own horse to ride at the end of it all makes him just another one on the list. When you are saddling horse after horse, the barn can begin to feel like a factory. It isn’t such a special time anymore. I didn’t dislike doing it, but it certainly took away the fun of grooming. It also made each horse’s quirks not so funny when I was pinched for time. 

So while it would be nice to become the best I can be by immersing myself fully in horses, I now realize that leaving riding as something I do in my spare time is good, too. It also makes me appreciate professionals even more. But it doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I still dream of being a professional one day, but the journey is more important to me now. The grass isn’t always greener. There is no real ending, just lots of roads and surprises along the way. 

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