The Ride of Your Life

This hunter/jumper vet­eran has cre­ated decades of suc­cess.

Practical Horseman - - CONTENTS - BY TRI­CIA CONAHAN

Hunter trainer and rider Louise Se­rio con­tem­plates her suc­cess­ful decades-long ca­reer with horses.

TC: What do you love about this sport?

LS: I like the con­tin­ual ed­u­ca­tion that you get—you can never just rest on your lau­rels. You al­ways have to watch and learn from other pro­fes­sion­als and ac­knowl­edge their skills and abil­i­ties. And each horse keeps you go­ing. Fig­ur­ing horses out, what they like, what they don’t like—that’s what it is all about.

To what do you at­tribute your decades of suc­cess?

I have been able to run a very hon­est busi­ness, and my clients have ap­pre­ci­ated that. My rid­ing skills are good. And I think that my horse­man­ship skills and my back­ground—what I learned grow­ing up—have helped me long term. I am al­ways amazed at how so many things in the Pony Club Man­ual are use­ful to­day.

When you turned pro­fes­sional, what sur­prised you?

I re­al­ized that ev­ery horse you get on, whether he’s easy or dif­fi­cult, you have to some­how learn to pro­duce good

rides. And that teaches you to ride each horse dif­fer­ently. An­a­lyze that ride as quickly as you can. When you are young, you don’t re­ally re­al­ize this when you see Scott (Ste­wart) or Peter (Pletcher) or Liza (Boyd) lay down ride af­ter ride on dif­fer­ent horses. It of­ten take pa­tience and feel and the abil­ity to eval­u­ate a horse quickly.

What was it like when you started your busi­ness?

I was a sin­gle mother try­ing to sup­port my fam­ily. I didn’t know any­thing else but rid­ing. It was a pretty stress­ful time, but I just put one foot in front of the other. When you get a lit­tle suc­cess, you just con­tinue down that path.

What would you tell younger pro­fes­sion­als?

I never went to col­lege, and when I first started I didn’t have busi­ness skills. I didn’t un­der­stand bud­gets or over­spend­ing. At one point, I had to sell my horse trailer and some jew­elry just to keep my busi­ness go­ing. So go to col­lege and learn about busi­ness and fi­nan­cial plan­ning.

What is the most im­por­tant qual­ity for a good rider?

A lot about rid­ing, in any dis­ci­pline, is be­ing able to feel how the horse is re­spond­ing to what you are ask­ing. Then mod­ify it or con­tinue it if it is work­ing. I also think horses like con­sis­tency. When they go in the ring, if it’s fa­mil­iar and the rider is con­sis­tent with her aids and what she is ask­ing for, they tend to re­lax and like their jobs.

You are very com­pet­i­tive. How do you han­dle los­ing?

I am way more emo­tional about los­ing than I am about win­ning. Win­ning is a tremen­dous re­ward. It is awe­some and it’s what we strive for. You al­ways learn some­thing from los­ing, but it is

hard be­cause you can spin any­thing out of con­trol. At least in my mind you can think, You are too old, too fat, you are too this, too that. But you just get on the next horse and pull your­self to­gether. And maybe do a bet­ter job.

How do you coach rid­ers who don’t have nat­u­ral “feel” for the horse?

Most of the time the rid­ers who are strug­gling are more wor­ried about them­selves and can’t trans­fer their fo­cus to the horses. You have to be able to have the eq­ui­tation and rid­ing style that al­lows you to fo­cus on the horse. When you are not wor­ry­ing any more about hav­ing your heels down and your eyes up, when you are con­sis­tently in a good rid­ing po­si­tion your­self, then you can be­gin to feel what the horse is do­ing.

I tell my stu­dents to watch the rid­ers at the top of the sport: McLain Ward, Beezie Mad­den and oth­ers. They learned the ba­sics, they use the ba­sics and they never have to think about it. They can fo­cus en­tirely on their horses. They are all ter­rific role mod­els.

How do you coach young rid­ers who strug­gle with the pres­sure to per­form?

I tell them what I say to my­self: Your life is not go­ing to change if you win or lose. Ev­ery­one has seen you make mis­takes and they have seen you do well. I also re­mind them that our sport is based on this liv­ing, breath­ing thing. Horses can spook or not jump well or maybe it is just not their day. They can’t rise to the oc­ca­sion ev­ery day.

Who do you ad­mire, out­side of rid­ing?

I ad­mire the women in pol­i­tics. They have such a hard role. Bar­bara Bush re­cently died, and she was an amaz­ing role model. Women like that have a his­tory of strength and hon­esty and fam­ily.

What is the most im­por­tant thing you’ve learned dur­ing your ca­reer?

To be hon­est with your­self and your clients and your fam­ily.

What do you con­sider a fail­ure?

One of the big­gest fail­ures is los­ing a client. That is like getting a di­vorce. It is very emo­tional, very dif­fi­cult and it can re­ally shat­ter your con­fi­dence. As a pro­fes­sional, some­times no mat­ter how hard we try, we are not com­pat­i­ble with a client’s per­son­al­ity. I don’t know one pro­fes­sional who doesn’t have anx­i­ety over pleas­ing his or her clients.

What are some chal­lenges that young pro­fes­sion­als in the busi­ness might face?

There are a lot of sit­u­a­tions in our busi­ness where there is temp­ta­tion. For ex­am­ple, dou­ble-dip­ping on com­mis­sions where the horse dealer gets a com­mis- sion from both the seller and buyer of the horse. You just have to stay strong, not go with temp­ta­tion and know that if you are hon­est and do the right thing, it all works out.

How does it feel be­ing an older pro­fes­sional com­pet­ing on the cir­cuit?

There is an ad­van­tage to be­ing older— you can talk your­self off the ledge. You can fig­ure things out. You know the busi­ness cy­cles, and you know you will be up and down. But when I am at the in-gate and I am with Liza (Boyd) and Scott (Ste­wart) and some of the younger gen­er­a­tion of rid­ers, I feel like I am their age.

You have been rid­ing for over 60 years. How are you hold­ing up phys­i­cally?

I have al­ways been healthy, but I now have a bad back from a lot of rid­ing and a lot of con­cus­sion. And I have been up and down in my weight for

years and years. My doc­tor says I have the me­tab­o­lism of a small pony with Cush­ing’s. It is just to­tal de­pra­va­tion for me to lose weight, and as I get older it just gets more dif­fi­cult to man­age all the time.

It is hard when you have to put your rid­ing breeches on and they don’t look good. But you can carry ex­tra weight if you stay fit and stay bal­anced. For sure I have that. If you can’t be thin, then it is about bal­ance and con­trol and stay­ing out of your horse’s way.

What do you re­gret?

I re­gret hav­ing to spend so much time away from my chil­dren to do my busi­ness. I was for­tu­nate that we all lived on the same farm. My chil­dren had

bed­rooms in my mother’s house and they spent time with her when I went on the road.

They are older now, but I still wish I could spend more time at home. In our world now, un­less you are show­ing, you are not mak­ing money. What it costs to keep a small busi­ness go­ing is crazy. You have to think about the la­bor, the work­ers’ comp, the in­sur­ance, etc. So each busi­ness has its own break­ing point of the num­ber of horses needed to keep the lights on in the barn. And the pro­fes­sion­als can barely keep their own young horses now be­cause the costs of cam­paign­ing them is out­ra­geous.

I say to my­self all the time,

, “Let s go to work.” Get up and get go­ing—pro­duce some­thing. Do some­thing ev­ery day.

Do you have any hob­bies?

My grand­daugh­ter Mary is my hobby. She is turn­ing 10. She is a won­der­ful stu­dent and loves school. She rides both English and Western. We all hang out on the same farm to­gether when I am home and I am grate­ful that she likes to be with me.

Is there a par­tic­u­lar say­ing that speaks to you?

I say to my­self all the time, “Let’s go to work.” Get up and get go­ing—pro­duce some­thing. Try and do some­thing ev­ery day. Whether it is weed­ing a gar­den or mak­ing a horse go bet­ter or giv­ing a stu­dent a good les­son. Go to work.

What has been one of the best mo­ments of your ca­reer?

There have been a lot of good highlights. If win­ning is a highlight, then win­ning the World Cham­pion Hunter Rider two times was pretty great. But what makes me hap­pi­est is when I have pro­duced a good horse for a good client, and we have had some good suc­cess to­gether.

Louise Se­rio com­petes El Primero at the 2018 Win­ter Eques­trian Festival in Welling­ton, Florida.

Louise and her grand­daugh­ter Mary Jo

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