By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)
A semi-professional athlete is one who is paid to play and is not an amateur, but for whom sport is not a full-time occupation, generally because the level of pay is too low to make a reasonable living based solely upon that source, making the athlete not a full professional athlete. Likewise the term semi-professional can be applied to an artist such as a photographer or musician who derives some income from their artistic endeavors but who must nevertheless take a day job in order to survive.
Why do I bring up this topic? The National Collegiate Athletic Association is once again under scrutiny regarding how much it and colleges might be making and how little student athletes receive in the way of money to live on while in college. So there is talk about whether or not the student athletes are semi-professionals.
Well this got me to thinking about the world of horse showing, specifically in the western world but this applies to other disciplines as well. How many of you know weekend warriors who are awesome representatives of good showmanship and good horsemanship? These folks work a full 40 hour week, pack up late on Friday night and drive all night to the show. They show all day Saturday and Sunday and then head home to start the next week of work as an accountant, technician, pet groomer, grocery store clerk, etc.. Many of these folks are adult amateurs and let me tell you they sure can ride and they do one heck of a great job training.
Are these weekend warriors better than some professional trainers? In some cases yes and in other cases no. Do these weekend warriors have something to offer? YES THEY DO. The issue comes down to money and if you make anything, you are most often considered a professional. (Note: rules vary but overall any compensation gets you out of having amateur status).
What could a semi-pro do? Would he/she take away from the professionals?
In many cases, a semi-pro could provide quality riding lessons to local youth and amateurs who need someone to give them help. It is not always easy to fit into a professional’s schedule and in most cases, you need to go where the professional works.
Here is an example to think about. The 15 year old who has a horse at home and needs some lessons for safer and better riding may not have the luxury of hooking up to a trailer (because he/she cannot drive legally yet) and take the horse to the professional. But 1/4 mile away might live a person who could give a great lesson and help this youth out. I have seen this situation and found that the person who lives 1/4 mile away does not help out because he/she does not carry insurance because he/she cannot afford the insurance without getting paid for lessons. Or the person does not give a free lesson because they are still worried somebody might think they are getting paid. So this talented teacher does not get to share and the person needing help…does not get the necessary help and the desire to get better or stay in horses goes away because the positive role model is not easily accessible.
Would the semi-pro in the example I just shared take away from the professionals. No–because the professionals are not in a position to help a youth like I just described because the youth cannot get to the pro’s barn. (Yes– I hear you saying where there is a will there is a way…not always folks…not always is the way economically feasible).
I can give other examples but let us for argument sake agree that some amateurs (who could choose to be semi-pro’s) have lots to offer in the way of riding and training and they could help people who do not have easy access to professionals.
Would a semi-professional horsemanship level ever work?
I believe this could work. I have read a few arguments as to why it would not work (see this reference for one source of arguments) and yet…my mind says it is time to think outside the box. People need to quit worrying about all the ways this would create more work. Let us make it simple/easy to develop a semi-professional level in the horse world. Basically we need to figure out how to distinguish a semi-pro from a professional and a semi-pro from an amateur.
Amateur verses Semi-pro verses Professional
1) Semi-pro cannot make more than $10,000 per year in training or riding lessons. The level can be below the poverty line so that we know they could not live on what they make. The burden of proof is on the semi-pro to show that he/she is not making more than $10K per year. Get an accountant/CPA to review your records and sign a letter certifying this information. Most accountants/CPA’s are not going to risk a lie and lose their license for someone wanting to be considered a semi-pro. Burden of proof is on the semi-pro and cost is on him/her.
2) Amateur can ride all levels . Much like it works now.
3) Semi-pro cannot ride in amateur but they can ride in the pro level.
4) Semi-pro classes are created (opening another level of classes that can be entered and the possibility of more show revenue)
The big question is how to differentiate the amateur from the semi-pro. People are already worried about how to make sure an amateur is not making money. Can someone lie and cheat and collect money and still ride as an amateur? YES and likely this happens today. So how would it be different….well just maybe some of these folks with good horsemanship and showmanship information who would like to be semi-pro’s would be willing to step up and share what they now, be compensated for their time, and show as a semi-pro. I know some amateurs who would make excellent semi-pro’s and finally be able to realize a dream of helping a few people and not worrying about their amateur status.
I know some of you are shaking your head at me and wondering if I fell off a horse recently and really hit my head hard. Some may be asking -why are you bringing this up?
Each day I hear more people talk about not having access to a local lesson provider. Horse show organizations complain that less people are showing. Breeders are saying less people are buying horses. The world of horses seems to be shrinking. Maybe it is time we look at the entire system and find ways of making horses and horse showing more accessible. Semi-pro’s can be excellent ambassadors of the sport and create more opportunities for the casual enthusiast to have access to a riding lesson and a horse. Then through the magic of horses we will see the casual enthusiast get hooked and buy a horse, go to the shows, and we will see the horse world grow.
What are your thoughts?
Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).