Professional Horseback Riding:
Do You Have What it Takes?

The professional horseback riding career is an elite one. When you think of riding horses professionally, it brings to mind world class Olympic competitors and high level professional horse trainers.

The truth is, it is super competitive at the top.

Competition is fierce and you have to be at the top of your game every day, all the time. Going professional with horses generally means you have lots of money for superiorly bred, high quality horses, or know someone who does. Professional riders have clients with horses that they ride in competition.

Showing is expensive, and getting to this high of a level is very challenging. With determination, hard work, talent, and most importantly a great attitude, it can be done.

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How to Become a Professional Horseback Rider

  1. Love Horses
  2.  Get your basics
  3.  Pick your favorite discipline to specialize in (ie. Showjumping, Barrel Racing)
  4. Learn all you can about this discipline and study the top competitors
  5.  Ride, learn, take lessons, and ride some more (Pony Club & 4-H are great organizations to join)
  6. Show. Work your way from schooling and local shows into rated shows
  7. Place and Win in Shows
  8.  Keep moving up and get noticed. This could mean training and riding and showing horses that others may not want to. This is especially true if you are on a tight budget. 
  9. Find a reputable professional to study under
  10.  Attend an Equine College 
professional horseback riding

Ride, Train, and Teach for Pay

Professional horseback riding involves riding, training, and teaching. When you ride professionally, others pay you to train, ride and compete their horses in high level and/or international competitions. These owners want the best riders for their horses so it can increase their odds of winning and showcasing their horses.

From professional jockeys to top level show jumpers, that means you have to be a really good rider in the discipline you choose. To go professional you will need loads of determination and a strong backbone.

Most pro’s have ridden the show circuit and done everything possible with horses and then some.

  • It’s not all riding. You must know all about the management, care and training of horses.

Show Locally, Fun then Rated Shows

If you are interested in professional horseback riding you should start showing locally as soon as possible. Ride your horse, and ride other peoples’ horses, too for experience. Doing this will get you used to the in’s and out’s of competition a lot of exposure to the showing environment and rules.

This will help to give you an eye for what the judges are looking for in your chosen discipline. If you have no showing experience start with fun shows, then as you become a better rider work into the rated shows. It is important to have an excellent trainer at your side.

Good Sportsmanship is Essential

Showing locally will also help you learn to deal with disappointment, unfairness, and other issues that are bound to occur when judging is subjective to a person’s opinion. This is is often the case in equestrian competition unless the classes you compete in are non-subjective timed only events such as show jumping or barrel racing.

This means you won’t like the results of a competition sometimes even though you did your very best. It happens, even if you felt like your horse was better than the competition. This is why a strong backbone and ability to bounce back from disappointment is important. A determined attitude to keep going no matter the obstacles will get you a long way.

Lots of Horse Experience and How to Get It!

You will also need lots and lots of horse and riding experience. Attending summer horseback riding camps, riding lessons, shows, and working at local stables and the like will gain you valuable miles in the saddle. Your goal is to gain quality miles. For professional horseback riding a proper foundation and education in riding and horse care is absolutely essential. Groups such as Pony Club and 4-H are excellent for teaching you the skills you need.

A College Degree

Many professional riders have a four year equestrian degree. In fact, attending an equestrian school is a great way to gain an education based around horses. You may also gain a formal recognized degree that may help you open up doors for professional horseback riding. Both two year associates programs and four year bachelor’s programs are available.

Apprenticeship: AKA The Working Student Program

A formal degree is not the only way into professional horseback riding.

Apprenticeship or working student positions where you go and study under a highly qualified professional rider or trainer for months or even years can be one of the greatest learning opportunities you may ever receive. If you are lucky enough to land an apprenticeship with an excellent trainer (who is also an excellent teacher!) you will have to work extremely hard. You will work for little or no pay. You will gain the privilege of valuable knowledge through lessons and shadowing from a working professional in the field.

A positive mindset, a willing to be taught attitude and excellent work ethic are necessities!

You can cultivate these qualities now in all that you do in school, work, horse and home life. When looking for working student opportunities make sure you check out the trainer beforehand. Try to shadow a current working student to see what is required, what learning opportunities are available, and the style of the trainer.

The Top Show for Young Riders in North America

For those already showing in rated shows a good goal if you are serious about competition and professional horseback riding is to aim for the North American Young Riders Championships (NAYRC).

Disciplines include show jumping, dressage, eventing, reining, and endurance. Showing at the NAYRC level is the highest level for junior (14-18) and young riders (16-21). NAYRC is a member of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), so holds competitions under those official rules. Competing under FEI rules at the NAYRC level is the closest you can get to being a professional rider at a young age. It can also possibly open doors for you being noticed at a young age and high level of competition.

A Few Disciplines to Consider

Some of the disciplines you can go professional in are:

  • show jumping
  • racing
  • reining
  • dressage
  • eventing
  • polo
  • barrel racing

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