I’ve known today’s interviewee for a long time. What seems like a lifetime ago, we were trying to be brave enough to jump our horses over “the big coop” at the farm. It was terrifying y’all, I promise! She had an OTTB named Cookie and I had my wonderful Elvis.
A lot has changed since then for both of us, and now Crystal manages a bustling farm and goes to some of the biggest dressage shows in the country – but I’ll let her tell you about that!
Who are you and what do you do? 🙂
I am Crystal Lee, manager of Pepperwood Farm. Pepperwood Farm is one of the biggest boarding facilities in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. My job is two fold: 1) I manage the administrative duties associated with the boarding business (along with the owner Meredith Douthit and a co-manager Lindsey Sohre). 2) I am in charge of the Hanoverian breeding program. Along with trainer Rebeccca Vick, we breed, birth out, raise, break (all in-house) and compete in Dressage.
Previously I worked as an assistant for a GP Dressage rider, Jim Koford, and on the GP Jumper Circuit for Dr. Fernando Cardenas.
What did you do before you worked in the horse industry full time?
I worked in business for Lucent Technologies.
At what point did you realize, “there’s no way I’m going back to the corporate world” or do you still think you may go back?
Never. When I wake up every morning, I am always ready to hit the door. I never need an alarm. It is never a dull moment.
As someone who has seen “both sides of the fence”, what do you miss about your desk job?
Vacation and sick days. There are no days off in horses.
What would you miss about working with horses?
Every day, I make a positive difference. It is difficult in the corporate world to get that amount of positive reinforcement on a daily basis to keep you motivated in your work.
Best music playlist for hacking baby horses – go!
I always like riding to upbeat dance songs like Superbass, Ego. Fun songs. Horses can feel your emotions so easily. Listening to songs that make you depressed or remind you of your ex-boyfriend, isn’t setting the right tone for your ride. I try to avoid “Set Fire to the Rain”.
What do you think are the best personality traits for a happy barn manager?
A thick skin. It is a service industry job; and like any other, you can’t make everyone happy all the time.
You must surround yourself with like-minded people you trust. I am lucky. I have a good support team in the office that enables me to make the barn successful.
Would you like your job any more or less if you were working with another discipline, say hunter/jumper or saddleseat or western pleasure?
I was on the Jumper circuit for 2 years. So, I have had experience on another circuit than dressage. I was also fortunate enough to work for a veterinarian. I gained a world of knowledge during my time there. However, my love is with dressage.
What drives your intensity for dressage and competing?
My experience working for Jim Koford exposed me to high performance dressage in this country and Europe. Along with the rest of American Dressage, I want to see our team be competitive with the Europeans.
With Rebecca Vick as our in-house trainer and rider, we are building a breeding program to develop horses to that level. So what drives me is I want our program to produce a competitive dressage athlete.
Who do you look up to in dressage?
My mentor is Jim Koford. We share an attachment to our horses – we personify them into family members. Jim is the first one I call when I have a good test, when I have a bad test, and everything in between. He points me in the right direction of where I need to be. The framework of his program is ingrained in me. I can hear his voice coaching me when I ride. This sport has its ups and downs, and I think it is important to find a mentor who inspires and believes in you.
My second answer is Ingrid Klimke. She is perfection. Amazing rider, family oriented, and truly one of nicest people you will ever meet.
What advice do you have for someone who may want to shift from the corporate world to a job in the horse world?
Most jobs you can work a set number of hours and leave it (mostly) behind. This sort of job isn’t just a job; it is a lifestyle. So to commit fully and be successful, you have to understand all the personal sacrifices you have to make: money, relationships, family, personal time.