Lifetime Member of the Adequate Amateur Club

“I shouldn’t have to stand at the rail of a show warm up, drinking a mimosa and watching my trainer move jumps.” Horse Nation reader Danielle Vance explores the line between Professional and Amateur, and knows on which side she falls.

Photo by Holly Casner

A true Sagittarius, horses seem to have been part of my fabric from birth – from playing on a giant unicorn stuffed animal as a toddler to receiving that coveted and much-begged-for horse on my twelfth birthday to now, making my way up the heights and having a modicum of success at local horse shows.

But regardless of those “Thoroughbred”-book-series-inspired dreams of running my own training farm, one thing is for certain – I am NOT cut out to be a professional horsewoman. I can, however, be an exceptionally knowledgeable equestrian – which lately seems to be a problem.

There are thousands of you like me: crazy horse girls who would rather spend hours at the barn in any weather condition than at our desks or homes safe and warm. I absorb everything I can about horse care and training; on Mondays, you can find me pestering the farrier for information.

I can tell you what shows at least ten upper level riders are at in the world on any given week or the names, barns, horses and clients of most trainers in our area. In January of this year, I set a goal to ride at least once for each day in the month, hopping on school horses or friend’s horses to strengthen my leg and relax my hands.

I LOVE doing show entries and barn organization paperwork. At shows, I help set fences, clean and groom my own horse and keep my trainer from going crazy by acting as a second set of hands on the ground. And, with a full-time job that pays well, I help out for FREE. So, recently, when I was told by a well-respected friend and local trainer that there was “talk” that I was overstepping the boundary between amateur and professional, I laughed. Me? A professional?

Everyone at these shows has seen me fall off, sometimes multiple times a show. They’ve all seen me flop around on my horse, adding and taking rails (so, so many rails). I’ve ridden one horse at a show in EIGHT YEARS that was not my own – and it was a lease on my trainer’s horse since mine was off.

In the USEF handbook, the definition of Professional includes the words “Accepts remuneration” in eight of the twelve bullet points. When someone isn’t paid for their assistance, in money or in exchange, they are not considered to be a professional.

As a client of my trainer, I pay for lessons and board. When my horse had time off, my trainer’s horse became a lesson horse I could use; there certainly was no benefit for her, between me using her upper level jumper that she owns versus her 27-year-old cross-rail lesson horse that she also owns, that would be cause to pay ME.

My favorite analogy is this – an administrative assistant in a company is not the CEO. While they may have excellent knowledge of how the company works, they are not the ones making business decisions. They support the leadership of the company but are not the top of the ladder.

So, why would we punish people who are obviously not cut out for the “leadership” role, but have been with “the company” for years?

Our barn is not a “white glove” barn. We’re family. My trainer keeps this affordable so that more of us can enjoy it. If a second professional was needed at a show just to turn in paperwork or set a fence while the trainer is warming up, our costs would skyrocket – the trainer would either need to hire a second assistant trainer for home or lose out on the lesson income for that week, and inconvenience her other non-showing clients.

If I clean a few stalls or raise a jump a few holes, what on EARTH does that have to do with my ability to ride and train a horse? If burning calories is considered remuneration, then revoke my status.

The fact of the matter is this: the designation between professional and amateur needs further clarification and revision (and less busybodies). The financials between me and my trainer are really no one’s business and I shouldn’t have to provide receipts that she’s the one getting paid. Although I don’t teach lessons (especially for income), I feel that there should be some leeway for reportable income – if you help with a glorified pony ride twice in a year, it shouldn’t make you a professional.

Professional status should be based on your main source of income. An old-school trainer with a major online presence (we’ll call him “Danny Memerson”) always talks about the “barn rats”: those people who stay past their lessons and watch other riders, who help set and walk fences at home to learn proper distances, who take care of their own horses so they can detect subtle health changes.

I shouldn’t have to stand at the rail of a show warm up, drinking a mimosa and watching my trainer move jumps. Sportsmanship is picking up manure in the ring of a local schooling show. It’s showing a kid how to read a posted course. It’s analyzing a round with a friend because she makes the same errors you do. That’s what makes good equestrians, not just good riders.

And it’s a shame that there are grown adult trainers out there that think they need to make me feel both overqualified for being helpful yet under-qualified because of my riding skill.

Danielle Vance shows on the local and “A” circuit in the Pacific Northwest and finally achieved her goal this summer of 1.10m at a rated show with her red mare, Fiona. She is now a proud owner of an “Adult Ammy Club” sweatshirt that she almost wants to wear even on ninety degree days, to loudly proclaim, “I PROMISE, I’M NOT THAT GOOD!” to anyone who thinks she should be considered a professional.