Courchaine riding Dressage

EQS Alumni of the Month: Lucy Courchaine ’11 MBA ‘13

Owner at Sapphire Sporthorses (North Salem, New York)

Courchaine riding Rizzo

My favorite experiences during my time at William Woods University were the opportunities to go to off-campus horse shows with school horses. Students were encouraged to develop bonds with the horses we rode on campus and that translated to success away at horse shows. I also have fond memories of horse shows with my classmates; we helped each other and celebrated each other at every event. Having a team aspect to a sport that is normally very individual-oriented is a great part of showing with William Woods. I became particularly attached to a horse named Rizzo, who I learned from and competed with throughout my undergraduate and graduate years at WWU. When I graduated and went on to take my first job, the university let me take him with me. He still lives with me now, enjoying a very luxurious post-grad life!

Being able to do both my undergraduate and graduate school at William Woods was wonderful. While completing my MBA, I worked as a graduate assistant for the Equestrian Department and experienced the barns from the faculty perspective. While in this position, I learned management skills, teaching skills, and benefited from a few more years in the campus community. I also developed relationships with clients and students in Fulton and mid-Missouri; many contacts who I maintain relationships with to this day. It was a great learning opportunity to prepare me for a career as an equine professional.

I have often thought about what lesson at William Woods has proven to be most helpful to me. The advice that has always stayed with me is to never burn any bridges in the horse world. It’s a fairly small world and you never know who you are going to run into, work for, or need help from. Additional advice to pass on would be to try and learn from anyone you encounter. Everyone has a different way of doing things in this industry, and if you stay open to learning, you will gather a wealth of knowledge to apply in your own barn someday. The Equestrian Department really emphasized that – you can always learn something from everyone. 

Following the horses across the nation

I tell people I am from Michigan, which is where I went to high school, but I had a childhood in Europe. I came to William Woods because I wanted an equine-oriented education where I could also have opportunities to compete at rated shows against professionals. I stayed on for graduate school which I never thought I would do, but am so glad to have my MBA now that I’m running my own small business. At my first big job with Betsy Steiner, I went back and forth from New Jersey to Florida with a high-performance dressage training barn, which was a very valuable and eye-opening experience. From there I went to work for a top sporthorse veterinary practice in New York, managing their barn and rehabilitation program. Last year, I took the leap to start my own dressage training business in North Salem, NY. It has been a long, crazy path following horses to what I feel is exactly where I am supposed to be.

I met Betsy Steiner while assisting with some dressage clinics she was teaching in mid-Missouri. When I was looking for a job after finishing my MBA, she offered to me the chance to come and work for her and with her horses. I did a few years with her of six months in New Jersey and six months in Florida. I learned a lot about showing and training at the FEI levels, including how to manage clients at that level and how to really be a top professional. It was an apprenticeship style relationship and she really taught me so much about the upper echelon of dressage. We still have a good relationship to this day. 

Courchaine working for Miller and Associates

After working for Betsy Steiner I went to work for Miller and Associates, a sporthorse veterinary practice with locations in both New York and Florida. This job experience was extremely helpful in developing my equine medical knowledge and skills. In this position I learned more about injury and illness, but also injury prevention and rehabilitation of sporthorses. Our horses are top athletes and should be treated as such. I learned how to maintain performance horses while minimizing risk of injuries, but also how to treat and rehab them from injuries when they happen. 

After working for Miller & Associates for a few years, I had some clients express interest in supporting my dreams of becoming a professional out on my own. It became a clear opportunity to take the leap to start my own business. I have been blessed to have so many people cheer on my success and help me succeed – it has allowed me to be confident in my work. I have maintained positive relationships with my previous employers and am lucky to have their support for my horses now as well.

Courchaine riding

Spending the day riding

On a typical day at Sapphire Sporthorses, I am in the barn by 7:30 am. I help my groom with morning chores and check on all the horses in my barn. I have anywhere between 8 and 12 horses on my schedule for the day. Most of the horses are ridden by me, but some are ridden by my clients who come for a lesson. I think it’s important as a young professional to spend a lot of time in the saddle because you are still developing your skills. I have a really fantastic groom who keeps my horses and my barn at an incredible standard. I usually ride and/or teach from about 8am to 3pm each day. In my riding string I have everything from young horses just getting started, to dressage show horses, advanced horses who teach me, and even horses of other disciplines recovering from injury. My business motto is “Dressage for every athlete” so I am applying dressage concepts and training to every horse that I ride and lesson that I teach.

In the afternoons, my groom and I together go through the afternoon chores of feeding, picking stalls, cleaning tack, doing laundry, cleaning up barn and tucking in the horses for the evening. I like to be a part of all the chores myself at least once a day. I know there will be a point when my barn will be too big to do so much hands-on work, but right now I really enjoy it. Sometimes I travel and teach at other barns, but I really love closing up the barn after a full day of working and riding. You can learn so much about your horses by interacting with them in different aspects of their daily lives. You get a connection that you can’t otherwise achieve if you are not handling them outside of the saddle.

My favorite part of my job is the relationship I have with each horse. I am fortunate to have a barn full of really nice horses at the moment, including my own personal horses and client horses. My favorite thing will always be the horses, which will always be the easy part, but you also need to know how to work with people too. The clients make all the dreams possible, so honing your people skills is really important. The most rewarding thing is to watch horses in your program improve and become better athletes because of how you train and care for them.

Courchaine riding

Learn from all disciplines 
My biggest advice for the next generation of young professionals is to learn everything you possibly can. Go to every clinic you can. Take every job you can. Learn to apply things to your own training from different disciplines; saddle seat riders taught me how to sit back and look up, western riders taught me how to gently throw a heavy saddle up onto your horse, hunter/jumper riders taught me that it’s sometimes okay to leave the ground. There’s so much to be learned across disciplines and sometimes as a student you can get caught up in your own way of doing things. Professionals and amateurs alike can teach you something new about how to work with horses. Be willing to help others out and take part-time barn work whenever you can. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from little side jobs that you’ll apply to your own business or horses one day.

I am so grateful for the relationships I built with the teachers, fellow students and of course the horses I knew during my time at William Woods University.