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There is no Right Path to the Top Level – With Kim McGrath

There are many paths to becoming a professional rider, and while some are more traditional than others, there is no one right way! I had always loved spending time in the equine industry, but I spent some time as a working student working under someone who didn’t seem to really like their job that much, and it put a damper on my want to make it my full-time career. It seemed as if their job became a burden to them and I never wanted that to become how I felt about the sport. At the time, I was going to school to become an attorney, and I ended up moving my horse to another barn and began riding with a new trainer who was incredibly passionate about what they were doing, and that really changed the way I looked at it. It is amazing how passion can be contagious which is something I try to remember daily now with my students.

I didn’t really hang a sign on my barn at any time that said trainer for hire. For me, it was something that evolved, through people asking me for help with their horses, and eventually it turned into something more. My way into it was different than a lot of young professionals. Most young professionals know that’s what they want to do early on, they try to get a foot in the door and hang onto someone’s coattails for a while, and I didn’t do that. I think that was a little bit tricky for me in the beginning because my way of getting into it was not necessarily even intentional. It just evolved, and with that, I did have people telling me that this was not the right way to become a professional. The industry norm is that you have to apprentice with someone for a certain amount of years, and I didn’t go about it that way.

You want to listen to the people around you that have become successful, you don’t always want to lead the trail and do your own thing because that doesn’t always work either. I think everybody finds a path that works for their lifestyle. If you grow up in a sport like most of us have, with different trainers, you learn from each trainer what you like about them and their program, and what you don’t. So, as you grow in this sport that helps to give you an idea of the type of program you hope to run someday, and you just figure out the best way to do that. There a few key components the way I see that are key to riding at the top levels. Those are hard work, passion/love of the sport and your horses, and always being a student of the sport. You can never be content no longer learning in this sport, or you will not make it. Even the very top riders, Olympians, learn from someone, they never stop wanting to get better, and I think that is incredibly important to recognize.

When I first decided to go pro, and it was my very first competition as a professional rider, I had some serious competition in my class, really accomplished riders, and Olympians, and I thought what the heck am I doing? And I was really freaked out for a little bit, but then I decided that I can’t control if I really truly can ever compete with these people, and beat these people, but one thing that I do know is I can outwork them, and work harder than everybody else, and that is what I have always stuck to, and made sure I was doing everything to the best of my abilities always and that will get you somewhere for sure. I think that was my most difficult challenge, as my way into it was a little more unusual than other people.

I always tell people, set a goal, and then figure out what the steps are to get there, and that will still be a bit trial and error from there. But it takes a lot of support and a lot of help, and the biggest thing I can stress is that you are not going to get there alone, never stop getting help or working towards bettering yourself. Be open to understanding everyone’s path is not the same and if you care deeply about riding and have a love for it, do not close yourself off of the possibilities of what it might be. Do you best in life each step of the way, because you never know. I could be in a law office every day rather than on horses after all, but my heart took me a different direction.


Photo: Lauren Beechler

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