When someone asks me why I am not a professional rider, my first reaction is to feel honored. I consider it an honor that anyone would feel I am capable of being a professional rider. The question is one that most amateur riders competing at my level are asked, and I hope that my answer helps onlookers to understand my role in the sport I love. But, I also hope it inspires my fellow riders to embrace having it all within the horse world.
I have been riding all my life and currently compete — as an amateur — in the grand prix ranks. I also founded Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc. in 1992. We insure horses and horse farms throughout the United States, Canada, and in Europe, and underwrite through five A-rated admitted insurance carriers.
Continuing to ride while I started my business required one thing: balance! Well, it required many things, but balance was paramount. Balancing my work at Connaway & Associates with my time in the competition ring is, for me, a privilege. I consider myself lucky to work within an industry that I love and alongside people who are as passionate about horses as I am.
So, now you know what I do for a living, but I haven’t really answered the question: why, if I’m jumping grand prix classes, am I not riding professionally? To properly answer that question, I have to really know myself and how I perceive myself fitting into the sport.
Photo by ESI.
I consider myself the consummate student. I crave training sessions from individuals I admire and covet the opportunity to learn from them. I love learning, but I am not a teacher. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was mostly self-taught when it comes to horses. I learned by doing with limited access to ground assistance or lessons. To mold myself as a rider, I took notes from training sessions and then worked at home to improve. I find riding very natural and training horses on my own very normal. That was my process, but it may not be for everyone. I am always in awe of top instructors who can see the nuances from the ground and make changes to the horse and rider that create impressive results.
Aside from understanding who I am and what I want out of my time in this industry, I think drawing a line between work and passion is an important distinction to make. For me, loving both my job and riding as an amateur is a luxury some find difficult to achieve.
First, my passion. I love to ride my horses. Almost all the horses I have ever shown were horses I started and trained, and they hold a very special place in my life. Here’s the catch. I don't necessarily love riding horses I don't know. I love the relationship I enjoy with my horses; I breed them, raise them, train them, and bring them up to jump at the top of the sport. We know each other so well and that is a huge part of what I enjoy and what makes horses my passion, not my job.
Photo by Sandra Gregory.
A professional does not always have this luxury. I am so fortunate that I can choose to keep my horses and afford them such consistency in their lives. They have never gone on a trailer when I didn't put them on and take them off. I was the first person to swing a leg over them, I am the only one who rides them at home, and I am the only one who has shown them. I never want that to feel like work.
Now, I want to be clear that work doesn’t always and shouldn’t have to feel like work. I love my job, and that brings me to the second half of this equation. By founding Connaway & Associates, I sought to connect my love of horses, horse sport, horse people, and business. Being at shows and actively competing allows me to answer customers’ questions face-to-face and develop my brand within the industry that is serves. Our customers know I am in their sport dealing with the same highs and lows. They see that I can understand the issues they go through because I have also been through many of them myself. I have insurance claims on my horses. I know the processes. I understand the emotions — both high and low.
You need luck and perseverance to figure out who you are and what you want.
So, I found a way to work within the industry I love in a way that didn’t require me to train, teach, or own a commercial barn. I love business, an office environment, the challenges of technology, and relationships with underwriters and customers. It’s a healthy addiction for me, and I get that from my mother, Annette. She is a super businesswoman and sparked my drive in the same arena.
When I am with my horses, I love the diversity in my daily and monthly routine. I love the quiet moments with them, and I love the big moments with them. From the professional side, I equally love checking in with the office, taking calls from customers, and having office work fill my mind. But, it’s not all horses all the time. I crave diversity in other sectors of life as well. I have run the Boston Marathon twice, enjoy hiking and gym workouts, and love fly fishing with my husband and working around our private farm in Arkansas together.
That drive for diversity is probably the biggest reason I have remained an amateur after all these years. If you are reading this and aren’t sure how to answer the professional vs. amateur question, I am proof that you can have it all. You need luck and perseverance to figure out who you are and what you want. Once you have figured that out, chase it fiercely. Opportunities abound in this wonderful industry, and if you find yourself in a situation where they don’t, go out and make your own!
Feature photo by Sandra Gregory.