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Ayden Uhlir
January 14, 2014
By Ayden Uhlir
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 :: Posted 03:33:16 PM UTC

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© Sue Weakley: Ayden Spencer Uhlir and SjapoerAyden Uhlir and Sjapoer

I think we should start our little sessions with probably the biggest non-riding lesson Jeremy has been telling me in the last two years.


What does it really mean to be a professional? How do we make the transition from kid on a cute horse to being taken seriously as a force in the industry? First, and the most obvious places to work on this are in physical appearance - not just your own, but your horse, the barn and the people around you.  This is your first impression to others, how you are initially perceived is a reflection of you to your potential clients, sponsors and owners.   

I have learned there is no "off time" for appearance. You do not arrive at the barn half made up and sloppy. I do not drive on the property unless my hair is done in a neat ponytail or bun.  It is contained by a baseball cap. I have on post earrings. I am already in my riding clothes or appropriate, clean, neat attire. My boots shine before I get on a horse. They don’t just get polished for shows! Your polo wraps and clothing do not clash. You should look like you could go out on a team test (but with colored pants) and ride as you are in practice on a minutes notice. Your barn, stall and tack should be the same. Your horse should always be show ready every day. Why? Because sponsors stop by without notice!   

© Sue Weakley: Ayden Spencer Uhlir and SjapoerAyden Uhlir and Sjapoer

For example, on Christmas break, a really big potential sponsor that I have been in negotiations with for months "just happened" to be down the street and stopped in with less than an hour or so notice. I was already at the barn and too far to run home first and change. I wasn’t riding that day but of course came dressed as if I was going to because, even if I am just stopping in to feed or check blankets, I have the same rules. Sjapoer is kept shaved and groomed so I can pull him out of the stall or out of a lesson and walk in front of anyone at any time. In fact, Lori said he looked “majestic"  and I was “stunning.” If I had been in short shorts and casual shoes and hair, I might not have gotten the sponsor... but I did.   

I admit, I occasionally miss something or do not notice something, but the more you keep it all as close to show perfect as possible, the easier it is to have everything ready in a short time if they come by with no notice.    

Think about it this way, would an older person look at a young kid with messy hair, an unshaved horse, dirty buckets and a sloppy tack room and think, “I want to give this person a half a million dollars for a horse because it would make good business sense?” No, they think, "They can’t take care of these little things. How can they be expected to take great care of my money, or my horse, or my products?"   

© Sue Weakley: Ayden Spencer Uhlir and SjapoerAyden Uhlir and Sjapoer

Professionalism also means always thanking volunteers and workers at every show and event. I don’t care if you are an Olympic gold medalist, we all started crawling before we could walk and ride and we should all take time to relate, remember and appreciate. I remember my first year at Gladstone, a volunteer at the warm-up arena gate came over to me as I rode in and was practically gushing and beaming with the biggest smile ever. She said, “Steffen Peters just thanked me for picking up Ravel's poop! Oh my god, he is so nice, I can’t believe he thanked me!” Think about that. She only did what she volunteered to do. It was a small act. But he took the time to notice and show appreciation. She will NEVER forget that and will tell hundreds of people in her lifetime about what she now sees as his whole personality from that one moment. If he didn’t say anything, she might not have thought badly about him, but he would have missed an opportunity to generate positive goodwill and support. If he had been snippy or negative, she would have told even more people about what an arrogant jerk he was. Marketing studies show that people tell more 20 times more people their negative experiences than positive!   

Trust me, the negative is what people are predisposed to think. You have to work to build that professional and positive image. This also means admitting errors. This is tough for a lot of us because we are competitors and also our sport lends itself to details and being perfect in the little things so we tend to want to control. It is hard to let things go and (sometimes even when we aren’t) to say sorry or we were in error just to let the matter die.  

There is an old Native American tale that says a little boy asked his grandmother why there were good and bad people in the world. The old woman said everyone had both a good and bad wolf living inside of them and they are always in battle against each other. The little boy thought for a while and said, “Which one wins?” She answered, “The one you feed.”

So let’s each now think of one thing we can do or change in our daily routine to be more professional.

© Sue Weakley: Ayden Uhlir and Devon Wycoff

Ayden Uhlir is an 18-year-old Young Rider who trains with Jeremy Steinberg. She won the AGCO/USEG Young Rider Dressage National Championship at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions presented by the Dutta Corp. on her own Sjapoer. Her goal is to participate in the Olympic Games. She blogs at .

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