There are lots of lessons you can learn from your barnmates over the years: How to cope with pressure and disappointments. How to wrap correctly. What’s the best thing to order at the horse show snack stand…

But if you happen to be the only guy at your horse barn, which is all too often the case, you also take away your own, special set of experiences.

One young rider with plenty of thoughts on this topic is 19-year-old Big Eq champ TJ O’Mara. As the winner of both the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals and the Pessoa/US Hunter Seat Medal Final at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in 2016, O’Mara has already guaranteed himself a spot in the equitation history books—and he’s not done yet. Already this year, TJ and the nine-year-old KWPN mare Queen Jane have put down strong performances in the Under-25 and CSI2* classes at WEF, and last month, they placed second in the $15,000 U25 Grand Prix at the Old Salem Spring Horse Show.

With aspirations of a professional career of his own, TJ is well on his way, but he hasn’t forgotten these 10, all-important lessons he learned growing up as the rare ‘dude’ in a barn-full of female riders:

1. Be comfortable being different.

Growing up with four older sisters, being the so-called “minority” at Stonehenge Stables has definitely been a concept I am attuned to. However, having a male trainer (Max Amaya) for the past six years has been helpful in staying in check.

2. Keep your head down when possible. 

When you’re the only male in a barn full of women, there are going to be times when they try to get you involved in their personal lives, but I’ve found that the best thing to do is to stay out of it!

3. You may age, but you’ll never change. 

There will always be a few people in the barn that have seen me grow up over the years and still occasionally see me as that cute, chubby 12-year-old boy.

4. Come with your own spares. 

I always have to be organized with my equipment because if I lose anything, there won’t be anyone I can borrow from.

5. Girls “design”, boys move jumps.

The times I set courses at the barn, I try to include other people, but it always ends up that I move every single jump.

6. You’ll still have to pitch in with the guys.

When I was younger, the grooms expected more from me, and I never understood why they wouldn’t cut me any slack.  Thankfully, that has given me a hands-on approach with my grooms and horses to this day.

7. Save money on monogramming. 

If any of my riding equipment is next to other riders’, I can always tell which items are mine. My tall boots are taller, my helmet is a larger size, and my gloves don’t smell good.

8. Bridezillas are everywhere. 

With being the only guy, everyone claims that you are their future husband.

9. It’s hard to make your own name. 

Having a family of successful riders, people saw me as the “little brother,” so it took time to gain respect of my own among girls who have competed against or grown up with my sisters.

10. You’re set up for success. 

The situations I have experienced with the differing personalities of girls throughout the years has allowed me to gain perspective of all types of riders. From shy and nervous to outgoing and stubborn, the girls I’ve grown up in the barn with have given me an overview of the different mentalities I could potentially interact with in my future professional career.

-Photos by Tori Repole.