This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Eventing USA magazine.
Equestrian sports are undoubtedly one of the more expensive professions or hobbies that one can choose to participate in, but contrary to the popular belief of those in the “non-horse” world, that certainly doesn't mean everyone who rides is dripping in money. There are many ways to make it work. All of these depend on what you are willing to sacrifice and how badly you want it – the success . . . the thrill . . . the level.
Sacrifice, in every sense of the word, is a common denominator among most eventers. Fortunately, when it comes down to it, everyone who puts in the work does it for one thing – the love of the horses and the sport – though this might be difficult to recall as you fumble with frozen fingers for indoor arena lights after a long day in the office.
Kelty O’Donoghue is a two-star level eventer currently adjusting to the move from the horse mecca of Middleburg, Va. to San Antonio, Texas. Hailing from Carbondale, Ill. where she grew up with horses in her blood.
Together, the O’Donoghue sisters, Kelty and Meghan, have found an alternative financial route to supplement their wallets by producing and selling quality off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs).
“We were the first ones [at our family’s farm] to buy and re-sell [OTTBs] once we were at a point in our riding that we could put valuable time into them,” explained Kelty. “I think I got my first one to sell when I was 13 or so.”
Their approach has evolved over the years and has been supplemented by their parents’ knowledge, as well as the likes of Jan Bynny of Surefire Farm in Purcellville, Va., where both sisters spent time as working students.
In comparison to the relatively instantaneous gratification of working a day in return for a lesson, OTTBs require a slightly different timeline. “I would say because we would get them then let them down and then restart them we weren’t flipping them, we are putting time into them,” clarified Kelty.
Initially unable to afford to campaign them at the start of their eventing careers, they gave them a solid educational base and might sell them under the implication that they were green, but ready to go to schooling shows.
Kelty continued to sell OTTBs while in Middleburg, Va. where she worked for U.S. Team Member, Lynn Symansky. Freelance riding and training opportunities supplemented her income as well as “any lessons I could teach, braiding gigs, freelance grooming and Rodan + Fields [a networking marketing skin-care company] brought in a bit of income,” said Kelty. “Aside from actually buying and reselling [OTTBs] sourcing them was useful too. Then you have a finders fee, rather than putting time into them.”
While her days in Middleburg came to an end when she recently moved to San Antonio, Kelty is using the skills she learned in the heart of the eventing world to continue to source and sell OTTBs in a new market.
Cooking to Ride
Anne Hambleton, an eventer turned steeplechase jockey turned eventer hailing from Vermont, is the queen of creativity in financing her horse habit. “Think about how your skills might fit in with the needs of the professionals you want to train with . . . if you are in business school, help write a farm business plan, or, if you are good with spreadsheets or quick books, a budget management and billing system,” said Hambleton.
Hambleton chose cooking as a way to support her eventing habit early on. Although she has had a career in environmental policy and consulting for almost three decades, she started out as a working student for Denny Emerson in the early ‘80s.
When she heard the dreaded, “you want to do it, you pay for it” from her parents, she bartered her cooking skills for lessons. “Denny was very happy to have it – this was in the ‘80s... he went from dawn ‘til dusk and didn't really have time to think of food.”
As a “gap semester” before starting at Middlebury College, Hambleton’s English grandmother funded six months at a Cordon Bleu cooking course as a means to have her spend time in England.
She started a catering company in college and, in the summer, bartered cooking for lessons with Denny. She later was the “farm chef” at Huntington Farm, cooking for 10 to 15 people daily in exchange for board for her horse and herself.
The Road to Kentucky Starts With Coffee
Rachel Jurgens, a CCI4* eventer from Oregon currently residing in Southern Pines, N.C., has discovered yet another way to make ends meet. She opened up a small drive through coffee shop catering to the coffee-lovers of North Carolina.
“I was trying to get a horse to Kentucky and it took every penny I had. In ’08 I was like okay I am alone and I need to make more money than I am,” said Jurgens. “On the West Coast these little drive through coffee shops are really popular, so I opened Pony Espresso and it just took off.”
Before Pony Espresso she started the horse body glitter business “Twinkle” in 1999 when she lived in Oregon, which gave her the initial leg up that she needed to move east. She sold Twinkle before moving when business showed no signs of slowing down its growth.
Today she has seven employees and has the Pony Espresso to thank for getting her and her horse “Ziggy” to the Kentucky Horse Park in 2013 and 2014.
“When I first started they all rode which was fun cause we all worked together to take care of vet appointments and such,” said Jurgens. “Over the years I realized that all of us needed the same weekends off for shows, so now I just have a few that ride and others that just love coffee.
It is a “tiny little building and you just drive up and get your coffee and drive away,” explained Jurgens. She contemplated expanding it after Kentucky, but is content with the current balance in her life between eventing and running Pony Espresso and plans to keep it just how it is.
“I’m an amateur and that's it! I love the sport so much. You don't have to make a living with horses to make it all the way,” said Jurgens. “I think sometimes young people say ‘oh I have to ride to be able to get to Kentucky.’” Her work with Pony Espresso has allowed her riding to continue to be rewarding and fun, rather than a daily grind to cross the finish line.
There are a multitude of creative opportunities in the world to keep horses in your life, but it’s up to you to decide just how much to physically, emotionally and financially devote to yourself to supplementing it. Eventers are some of the most determined and dedicated athletes in the world, and there’s no doubt that where there is a will, there is a way.
Looking for a creative way to finance your riding? Here are a few ideas of ways to earn some money on the side to keep your eventing habit afloat.
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All the major contenders passed the eventing final horse inspection at the Tokyo Olympics and will carry on to contest the show jumping phase in a few hours’ time.
The ground jury (Nick Burton, GBR, Christina Klingspor, SWE, and the U.S.A.’s Jane Hamlin) and vets only failed to accept one horse - Fantastic Frieda, ridden by Poland’s Joanna Pawlak, who had completed the cross-country in 41st place with a refusal and 25.2 time-faults.
The FEI has announced that the Swiss horse Jet Set, ridden by Robin Godel has had to be euthanized after pulling up extremely lame on the Sea Forest Cross Country Course during Equestrian Eventing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on August 1, 2021.
In 2002, at the age of 15, I was at my Aunt and Uncle’s farm in Maine while Tremaine Cooper was there building some cross-country jumps. I helped him build a trakehner, not realizing that this day would set the course for my future. A few weeks later he called asking if I could help him at Millbrook Horse Trials. From there I helped Tremaine during most of my school vacations and throughout the summers. After graduating high school I kept at it never looking back. I lived the gypsy lifestyle for about six years going from coast to coast and event to event. In 2013 my wife Kathryn and I settled down in Lexington, Kentucky. These days I spend roughly 60-75 percent of my time on the road preparing events or building private schooling areas. I’ve had the privilege of being involved with some really great events around the states and have cultivated many friendships all over the country. In 2019 I was asked to be a part of Team Evans Olympic cross-country building crew. As I write this I am on my third trip to Tokyo. Here’s a day in Tokyo . . .
The British team cemented their gold medal position at the Tokyo Olympics with three magnificent cross-country performances, all clear inside the time. Added to that, their first rider, Oliver Townend, holds pole position individually after the dressage leader, Germany’s Michael Jung, picked up 11 penalties for triggering a frangible device.