From the Ground Up: Stepping into a Professional Equestrian Career

Navigating my interests while starting out as a professional is challenging, but with a strong passion for what I do and a great support system, I feel up to the task.

People looked at me as though I had grown a second head when I told them I moved back to Central Pennsylvania in January to start working with horses. Leaving the (relatively) warm climate of North Carolina where I was working for Doug and Jessica Payne to embrace the snowy tundra in the depths of Pennsylvania’s winter certainly put my grit, and my cozy wool sweaters, to the test.

It’s been one month since I jumped into the equine industry as a professional. There are days when I feel like I am living my dream and experiencing everything I have wished (and worked) for, and there are days where it feels as though I’m running headfirst into a brick wall – again and again.

From finding clients, navigating the creation of my LLC, finding the “right” insurance, growing comfortable with self promotion on social media (blah), mucking stalls, and maintaining some hint of a non-horsey life, starting my own equine business has been an adventure. While I certainly don’t have all of the answers, I’m starting my column “From the Ground Up” to serve as a space for readers to ask questions, share personal experiences, and learn together.

No joke, I had a total of eight layers on in this picture.

Before we jump into the highs, lows, and stories from horsey (and non-horsey) adventures, I figured I could take a minute to introduce myself. I absolutely love meeting new people, so please feel free to reach out to me on my Instagram, or comment below!

My name is Gillian Warner. I’m a young professional based in State College, Pennsylvania, where I work as an Assistant Barn Manager while operating my new business, Warner Equine, providing lessons, training, and clinics.

I started riding when I was four years old, growing from a young horse obsessed girl, to a professional horse obsessed girl. Growing up in Pony Club (through which I have my HB/B certifications), my background is diverse and well-rounded. While I evented through most of my middle and high school years, I also dabbled in dressage, and now primarily focus on show jumping. While I love to compete, my main passion lies in connecting people with horses. Studying Community Development at Penn State (where I graduated May 2021), I constantly researched human-equine connections – how do horses help us develop as individuals, and help us become “good” community members?

While I’ve frequently been recognized as the horse girl among my school peers, I was also known to be the biggest nerd – serving as the student government president at my high school. Also passionate about local government, I considered pursuing a career in community planning and organizing. However, as graduation approached, I realized I wanted to give a career with horses a real shot.

Shortly after graduating from college, I packed my bags and moved to North Carolina. First, I worked as the Equestrian Director for Camp Wayfarer for the summer before starting a position with Doug and Jessica Payne in the fall. Loving the experiences of teaching at camp and competing with the Paynes, I decided to dive a step further and start my own business.

Although I decided to pursue a career outside of community development, I still love to be engaged in local government, and believe it’s important to find a balance between my horsey and non-horsey passions.

As a firm believer that horses have the capacity to develop responsible, empathetic, community-oriented individuals, I use every opportunity to explore the benefits that horses bring to us. My research and the belief that horses have the ability to develop these values lies at the foundation of my business. My goal is to build partnerships between horse and rider that will be mutually beneficial to both involved. I thrive off of assisting horses and riders find their “light bulb” moments in learning to communicate.

Despite feeling like I’m occasionally on a rollercoaster, I wouldn’t change my current plans for the world. And I feel fortunate to have had previous jobs and experiences to help prepare me for this new role. However, there is still so much I want (and need) to learn. If you’re on a similar journey, interested in efforts to kickstart a business in the dead of winter, or generally are looking to hear some funny stories, deep conversations with myself while cleaning stalls, and appreciation for the opportunity to spend so much time with horses, I hope you’ll join me! Welcome to From the Ground Up!