Launching a business on your own is never easy, no matter which field you happen to be in. But when it comes to striking out on a professional riding career on the merits, you’re likely to encounter a unique set of challenges.

The enormous cost of participating in the sport, not to mention the task of finding (and keeping) clients, maintaining a barn and staff, and—if you’re very lucky—bringing in a few good sale or competition horses for yourself can be daunting, and for good reason. One person who knows all about the young professional’s challenges is Canadian rider, Gareth Graves, who launched his own business in Edmonton, Alberta a few years ago. Now successfully campaigning a string of horses up to the five-star level, Graves is just getting started—but also fully aware of what it’s taken to get to this point.

“Certainly, my business is more geared toward producing junior and amateur riders. With this in mind, I still try to stay focused on my own competitive aspirations. Learning to balance these two aspects is changeling but vital to not only achieving my own competitive goals but also in building a good business at the same time,” Graves says.

Gareth Graves. Ph. Steve Charles Totem Photographics.

“[I’m] very mindful of the relationship between a strong customer base and my own personal participation in top sport. These elements of my career are intrinsically linked, and I am very aware that one without the other would not be possible.”

From long hours to holding on to your love of the game, here are eight truths Graves has learned about building a business in the industry.

1. Ridiculous hours are your new normal.

“There are plenty of days when you’ll finish putting the horses away at 9:00 p.m., knowing that you will be on your first one at 5:30 a.m. It’s all in a day’s work for a professional preparing not only their own competition horses but also those of their customers.”

2. There will be lots of ups and downs. 

“Certainly my own career has been filled with many periods of both success and failure. On tough days, I envision my path on a graph and take note of the big picture. Although there may be moments of climb and fall, I try to stay committed to my long-term trajectory.”

3. Not everyone you’ll meet has your best interests at heart. 

“I believe finding people in the ‘business’ you can truly trust and rely on is a big part of long-term success in the industry. This is easier said than done, and something I think most professionals have discovered the hard way. I try to always remind myself to be someone I would want to do business with.”

4. Integrity is everything.

“Trust makes fertile ground for opportunity.”

5. A well of enthusiasm is helpful.

“I would tell people looking to get into the industry to be enthusiastic. Be the person that if something needs doing—and I’m not even talking specifically about riding—be the person that gets those things done.”

6. Cost-Benefit analysis is real.  

“Being a professional in our industry is not a big paying job, especially when you work out your hourly wage. You definitely have to be a person driven by a passion for the horse. The workload would never make sense any other way.”

7. There’s ‘hard work’ and then there’s hard work

“It goes without saying, you’re going to be working hard. People will say, ‘Oh yeah, hard work,’ but definitely, if you haven’t accounted for that in your brain, you probably should take a big look at this one more time.”

8. It pays to be thankful. 

“Be eternally grateful to the people that have helped you along the way, and to the fact that you are getting to pursue your passion as a career. It is very important to me to stay thankful.”

-Photo credits: Lucio Landa; Steve Charles Totem Photographics, courtesy of Gareth Graves.