Young riders will almost always eventually find themselves looking down the barrel of a loaded question: “Should I go to college, or should I continue to pursue riding?”. When contemplating the pros and cons of each choice, you may find yourself lost in the mix and resort to asking others for advice. This is possibly one of the smartest decisions you could ever make, because a lot of people have been down that road. They know the risks/rewards involved, the challenges they’ve faced, and they know where their choices have gotten them. If it wasn’t for taking advice from others the human race would never have evolved, and instead of writing this article, I would probably be in a loin cloth running barefoot through the wilderness, throwing large sticks at unsuspecting antelope so that I could eat today. (Although that does kind of sound like fun)
Before we start to get into dissecting the pressure points of this major decision, you need to understand your position in relevance to the situation. One thing that you need to understand is that some people are absolutely wealthy, and they do not need to go to college to live a good life. As a matter of fact, some people are so wealthy that their children probably do not need to work for the rest of their lives. However, if you are like majority of the population, one day you will need to pay for a mortgage, car, insurance, telephones, internet, cable, water, electricity, food, and a barrage of various other expenses. The difference is that one day you will need to pay these by yourself. The first step to making the right decision is to understand your position relative to the situation.
Now that we’ve established your position, we can move on to the proper mechanics involved with properly answering such a question.
1. Advice is only as good as the person giving it.
If you’re going to take advice, you need to take advice from someone that is also relative to your situation. Like I stated above, some people are extremely wealthy, and their kids will never know what it is like to pay their own bills. If you are the type that is going to need to pay your own way eventually, you should probably not take the advice of a rider who has had a lifelong financial backing from daddy’s Amex and has made a career of riding using a piece of plastic with 15 digits (yeah, Amex has 15 digits). Its unfair that some people get their dreams handed to them on a silver platter, but what’s the fun in that? Besides, how many great success stories began with: “Well, my parents gave me everything…”. Get advice from someone who has been in the same situation as you have. It doesn’t necessarily need to be about horses, it can be about anything that they have been passionate about. How did they react when presented with going to college or living their dream? What happened as a result of their choice? If they could go back and change it, would they?
2. Create a plan.
Before making such a life-changing decision, make a plan of what you are going to do in either position. If you decide to choose a horse career over college, what are you planning on doing? Are you able to make enough money to survive doing that job? How long will that job last? Are you able to live with the money you would be making? Would you be happy living with those wages? Are there opportunities to grow? Would you mind being 50 and still doing that job?
3. Don’t lie to yourself.
You can lie about a dentist appointment to get out of a meeting, or you can lie about what your true hair color is, but don’t lie to yourself when your life is on the line. The answer to the question stated above will determine a major part of the quality of your life, so don’t fudge the facts. Be honest with yourself and do the REAL research. Research credible data about what people make in your planned horse career, what your expenses would be living comfortably on your own, and if you really could live with how that would go. (By credible, I do not mean Yahoo Forums, AskJeeves, or any other user-integrated outlet). Use credible sources that are official. (These websites usually end in .gov or .edu). Don’t fudge the facts, it will help you out in the long run.
4. Break down the numbers.
Yeah, Microsoft Excel is boring…but it might just save your life! Seriously! Create an excel spreadsheet using the facts you’ve found from #3 above, and input them in a spreadsheet. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and if you did the research, it should only take about 10 minutes at the most. Below I will give an example of a situation for your reference.
Situation 1 – You make $35,000 a year at a horse job. (Monthly Breakdown)
Monthly wages = $2,916 ($35,000 / 12)
Monthly rent = -$1,000 (Apartment)
Monthly car payment = -$300 (2010 Ford Ranger)
Monthly car insurance = -$130
Monthly electric = -$120
Monthly cable/internet = -$120
Monthly phone = -$100
Monthly gas = -$135 (auto)
Monthly water = -$70
Monthly groceries = -$300
Monthly eating out = -$80
Total Expenses = $2,355
Money you have left/month = $561.00
If you were to make $35,000 a year ($2,916/Month or $729/week) you would have $561.00 left after bills at the end of the month. These expenses assume that you go out to eat three times a month, you live in a small apartment, and you drive a 2010 ford ranger. This does not include clothes, going out on the town, vacations, oil changes, or any irregular expenses. At the end of the month, you would have $561 to play with or save. If you saved all of it for a whole year, you would have $6,732.
To get a clearer picture, break this down by week. So if you make $729 a week (after taxes), you would spend $588.75 for living expenses and you would be left with $140.25 a week.
Would you not mind living in a small apartment, driving a 15,000 truck, and making $140.25 a week for the rest of your life with this horse job?
Keep in mind that the average college graduate makes $45,000 the first year of employment after college. This includes business grads, as well as people with degrees in underwater basket weaving.
5. Dreams are great, but don’t dream too much.
Having a passion about something is an amazing feeling, and has lead people to great successes. However, those same dreams have also led people to their demise. You need to make your plans and your goals realistic. For example, if you are 18 years old and your realistic plan is that you are going to become a professional rider making millions, then you are dreaming…perhaps too much. Chances are that if you do go into the horse field, you will probably not be doing exactly what you love about the sport everyday. You may be involved in the equestrian sport, but you will be an employee, hired to do a task that needs to be done every day for a paycheck that will probably be less than 50% of what your college graduate friends are making.
I don’t mean to come off as the “buzz killington” of the dreams and high hopes of young equestrian teenagers, but there comes a time when you need to be absolutely brutally honest when it comes to how the world really works. To think that you will train horses and eventually whisk into a professional riding career with no direct plan explicitly leading from one step to the next is downright unrealistic. At that point you should probably just tell your parents that you are not going to college because you are going to win the lottery and become a millionaire instead. Becoming a high paid professional in the equestrian world is just like winning the lottery, it does happen, but the odds are stacked against you…and I mean, really stacked against you. I know that sometimes the truth hurts, but you’ll be thankful one day.
6. Lose what you love.
Don’t think for a second that by giving up riding for college (which is temporary) that you are completely giving up on the sport. There are so many riders that have went to college and are still riding today that you would probably not even believe it. Just because you go to college does not mean that all is lost! If you truly love for the sport, you could never permanently quit. You’ll always be back in the saddle again (no Aerosmith reference, just coincidence). The difference is that when you are a college graduate, you have the option. You can always quit your day job and get back into the horse world, or heck, you can even get a job in your field of expertise in the horse world! In the event that everything goes under, you always have a degree to fall back on, and you can always survive comfortably. You’re not losing what you love by going to college, you’re making riding a priority to the point that you will sacrifice riding for 4 years to ensure that you will always have the money to ride for the rest of your life. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.
7. College for Equestrianism!
Cha-ching! Lightbulbs are illuminating everywhere! Here’s a thought, go to a college that has a riding program! You can ride competitively (possibly for free or at a lower cost) while going to college. If your college doesn’t have an equestrian program and you want to spend your life around horses, there are plenty of degrees that can keep you in the equine world that almost every university offers! Becoming a veterinarian is a simple example. You have to get creative!
8. The Cold Hard Truth
The realistic and cold hard truth behind the world is that money does run the world. I hate to be the grinch who stole your child’s Christmas by telling them that Santa wasn’t real, but if you want to ride horses, you need to have enough money. If you want to own horses, you need to have enough money. If you want to have a barn, you need to have enough money. If you want to do drive a car, you need to have enough money. If you want to have a ham and cheese sandwich, you need to have enough money. If you want a bottle of water, you need to have enough money. Nothing comes free besides air, and gas stations even charge you for that. You don’t need to be a millionaire with extravagant houses and yachts, you just need to have enough money to do what you love to do. The idea of money is a blessing and a curse. You can either become a victim of money, or you can use the idea of money to your advantage. People don’t go to college because they want wisdom or eternal happiness, most people go to college so that they can make more money when they earn a degree, and guess what? College even costs money. The world is an giant spiderweb of money. Embrace it, don’t fight it.
9. Making the decision.
So here we are, back to that dreaded question: “Should I go to college, or should I stick with riding?”. The answer is: “Well, that’s up to you”. You’re 18 (or around 18) and you’re an adult now, responsible for your own decisions and actions. The results of your actions in your life will be on your hands. I’m not you, and I don’t have to live with the decisions you make for the rest of my life, but you do. Remember that if you don’t have a plan, you’ll fall into someone else’s. And you know what they have planned for you? Not much. You need to look out for your own best interests, because you are the only one who can do that. The bottom line is that you need to do what you feel is right for you. If you want to be a professional rider and you don’t need college, don’t let me or anyone else hold you back. I didn’t write this article to persuade you one way or the other, but to give you an understanding of the factors of the decision that could affect your life prior to you making your choice.
Whatever option you choose, make sure that your heart and head is behind it. College is about 4 years on average, it is not a lifelong decision. Be the leader of your own world, don’t make excuses, get creative, and use the tools you’ve been given in your life to create your own destiny. This is growing up.