Anna Ross: Are young professionals ready to fly solo? *H&H VIP*

  • Carl Hester’s comment about young professionals (YP) doing an X Factor-style lecture demo was a great idea (comment, 22 September). There should be training for them to do this. Nerves can kick in but necessity has always been the mother of invention and those YPs who run businesses to support their riding rather than relying on support from other sources need to develop communication skills — shyness is a luxury for those who can afford it!

    It led me to think about the other skills needed to succeed in this highly competitive industry. Traditionally, YPs started as working pupils with the opportunity to learn on the job with invaluable “real-life” experience gained by training with support and supervision. The downside has been that these positions can be abused and promised opportunities don’t arise.

    It seems that more young people, supported by parents, are setting up their own yards and flying solo at an earlier stage of their careers. But without doing apprenticeships first, are they ready?

    Good riding goes without saying but there are many other essential skills needed. Stable management is at least 50% of the process of developing dressage horses. Being able to tell by nuances in the way of going if a horse is uncomfortable is an essential skill. Dressage horses tend to have less acute injuries from training than their counterparts and often a skilled rider can pick up warning signs early.

    Keeping horses “out of trouble” is one of the most important lessons that can be learned. It comes through watching and feeling the way of going of many horses. Sometimes it’s just a gut feeling borne of experience.

    The dreaded small print

    There are also the joys of tax, VAT registration, employment law, insurance and social media management, not as fun as training horses but, irritatingly, just as necessary. Commitment to sponsors is another topic. Everybody wants a sponsor, but it should not be seen as a route to free kit. Sponsorship is two-way and it’s up to the individual to provide fresh ways to promote their supporters. I’m fortunate to have long-term support from some top brands, but the success in the relationship starts with my understanding that nothing is free. Having ideas to promote awareness and using marketing tools through social media should carry the brand to more sales.

    Integrity is all and it is essential to have support from the brands that you truly use. An honest endorsement of the product is the best advert of all. I left school well before the leaving age and still only have my cycling proficiency badge to show for my time spent. I seem to have survived, but if I had my time again I would choose an apprenticeship and a business, rather than an equine degree, along with real-life experience in a sport horse environment as a route to survive and thrive as an international competitor.

    How about a “workshop” event aimed at providing help and advice for those running equestrian businesses, followed by Carl’s X Factor-style lecture demo. I’ll lend my indoor school with seating for 200 if someone wants to organise it. Maybe the first challenge should be which YP can get a sponsor for some “Dutch courage” for the participants!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 13 October 2016