Last week’s blog post began the conversation about professional presentation in the equine industry, specifically for the hunter/jumper. The clothes you wear tell a story about who you are, what is important to you, and the type of leader you are. However, clothes are not the only variable in this equation. There are other aspects of your personal presentation that tell people a story about who you are. Also, it’s not just important for trainers, manager, and other equine professionals. As a junior or an amateur, you represent not only yourself, but your farm, your program, and your training. As an athlete and horse person, you set an example for the younger generations. It is a positive, conscientious contribution to the sport, and by extension the horses that we all love, to represent it well.
The way you speak is crucial. There are a lot of elements to it. Constant swearing may be common among adults, but it’s not something to which most parents prefer to expose their children. You’ll find too that you are often a much better communicator when using correct diction, instead of the easy punch of a swear word. It’s much easier to respect a person who doesn’t need that. Also using proper grammar, enunciating, and being complete and descriptive in your speech is a great way to enhance your teaching skills.
The other side of the coin is in knowing when not to speak. Horses are very personal, and this can be an emotional sport. Also, each horse’s program and each rider’s goals are individual. It’s not always a subject on which you should opine. Unfortunately its all too common in our sport for people to talk and critique others. But there is nothing to be gained in doing so in a mean-spirited way. Set an example for others by saying something nice, or saying nothing at all.
I think we all know how to carry ourselves, but sometimes we don’t recognize the importance of time and place. What is appropriate when you are out with your friends, or when you are home with family, or when on vacation, is not what is appropriate at a horse show or a client event. This is not the time to be drinking heavily, for example. Leave that for other times, and other people. This is also why sometimes it can be really important to have a social life that is outside of the barn ‘family.’
Additionally, give some thought to the image that you project on social media. Your Instagram feed or Facebook page is the typical preference point these days, like it or not, for people to get a sense of who you are. At the very least, check your privacy settings. Better yet, try to make your social media represent and uphold the professional image you are cultivating.
This is a pretty simple one, and it (mostly) applies to women. However, it does bear mentioning just because the barn is a dirty place. It’s easy to get your clothes covered in dirt, your face shiny with sweat, your hair plastered to your head. Sometimes, it feels like it’s just out of control. This is why it’s usually better to have minimal makeup- keep it simple. Also, a good solution is to have a baseball cap handy for when you take off your helmet. Maybe have a clean shirt with you in case you get hit with a horse slobber-bomb.
This is a big one if you want to ride on a professional level at any point, or be judged favorably in the hunter ring as a junior or amateur, or want to generally look like someone who has their act together: learn to do your hair for your helmet. Watch a YouTube video and practice in the mirror at home. Make sure you have good hair nets, a brush, and bobby pins. Well-done hair is just really striking and beautiful, and it tells people that this sport is something you take seriously.
We should all really care about this. Unfortunately, it’s easy to find examples at the horse show of people slacking on it. We are all here for the horses, and everything that comes with them. So this means having patience with the horses, and relying on good hunter/jumper technique and thoughtful preparation. Part of personal presentation, and your personal brand, is taking excellent care of our horses. A respectable professional makes sure the horses are well-groomed, well-fed, and well-prepared.
Also part of horsemanship is the care and maintenance of the space they inhabit. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be neat and orderly. This is an uphill battle at the barn, so it’s something that must be instilled in the culture. We have to constantly help, remind, set a tone of order. Someone who does that demonstrates that she is the master of her domain.
Finally, we need to mention sportsmanship. We’ve all had the experience, directly or indirectly, of losing a class that we thought we deserved to win. Maybe we didn’t get a ribbon, and thought we should. Or maybe you are just sure that the judge didn’t see you at all in that under saddle class. We’ve probably all had that moment when we want to declare the judge an idiot, the other competitor cheaters, or the management inept.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. We all signed up to do this thing which is judged subjectively (unless you are doing the jumpers). The judge can do what they want, choose who they want- it’s up to their sole discretion. So it doesn’t make you look any better to complain. If you are working and trying and practicing, your own progress is the best reward. Ribbons are just a bonus- win them or not, they don’t really mean anything.
Whether or not you agree with this outline of professional presentation, it’s an important concept to a lot of us. And a lot of us had to learn this through failure, through mistakes, through looking back at past choices with the benefit of experience. Those of us who have can honestly say not that we are perfect, but that we have learned. Often if we try, we can say we have improved. If we are fortunate, we get to see the next generation watch and take after that better version of us, and that makes it all worth it.