Horse Girl: Bethany Lee
I had so much fun talking to Bethany. It was really love at first phone call.
Bethany has created My Equestrian Style and the Equestrian Podcast—both expand the equestrian community in new ways. I listen to her podcast religiously and have learned SO many interesting things.
In this interview, Bethany and I talk about her journey from pre-pharmacy, to fashion, to full-time trainer in LA, to now living in Florida, to starting My Equestrian Style and what her hardest obstacles have been along the way. PHEW. Let’s go!
When were you first introduced to horses?
My sister, Bridget, is six years older than me and she had grown up riding. We have the same mom, but her dad and her stepmom owned an equestrian center near my house. She rode there. So following in big sister's footsteps, I started riding and taking lessons when I was five.
Did you have a horse growing up?
We had Scarlet, a thoroughbred chestnut mare off the track, and I did the hunters with her.
My sister and I shared Scarlet, but Bridget was more into, this horse is my pet, I just want to pet it and graze it, which is awesome and totally acceptable. Whereas, I was like, I want to win everything! I’m way more competitive in nature.
I’m the same way. When you went to college what did you study and where did you go?
I went to Cedarville University, it’s a small private Christian college in Ohio. I studied communications. I originally went into pre-pharmacy. My school had something like an eight-year doctorate pharmacy program. My dad was an OBGYN and my mom was an OB nurse. They met delivery babies and I always kind of thought that was what I was going to do—at least be in the medical field.
About halfway through, my dad was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. They said he had six months to live. Through all of that, it kind of turned me off to the medical field. And my dad was honestly like, “Make sure you really do what you love. I think I got out of the medical field at the right time and maybe you should consider that. Just make sure it’s what you really love.” So I thought about it more and ended up switching to communications.
After my junior year, I spent the summer in LA as an intern for a jewelry company, Jennifer Meyer, and loved that. They offered me a full-time position so I moved out there after I graduated.
When you took that full-time job, what was your goal? Did you see riding coming back into your life? Or were you fully focused on fashion?
It was a very bizarre feeling because I knew that riding was going to be back in my life somehow. But I had peace about where I was at, and I knew I needed to finish school and find a career path. So at the time, yeah, I was thinking fully fashion or maybe wanting to be a stylist or do something like that within the fashion industry.
How long were you at the Jennifer Meyer?
When I came back [after my internship], I was there for another eight months or so. I liked the job, loved my boss, loved the jewelry and loved the concept of styling celebrities. That was a lot of fun. I wanted to start having a real job and owning it though, I felt really held back.
How did you make the jump from that job to training and riding full time?
I quit my job, and at the time, I didn’t have anything else lined up. My husband was just like “if you’re not happy, you don’t have to wait and line something else up. Why don’t you just quit and we’ll figure something else out?”
Go husband. When did you meet your husband?
I met Ethan in college! Summer after our freshman year. We actually met in Hawaii. We were taking a May-term class. We were in Hawaii for four weeks. We started dating shortly after that and then got married three weeks after graduation!
That’s amazing. So, at this point, you’ve quit your job and you’re trying to figure out next steps.
So yeah, I was trying to brainstorm things that would make me happy again. And of course one of the first things that came to mind was horses.
I was going around cold calling private barns in Malibu asking if they needed an exercise rider or someone to clean stalls. I kept calling and emailing.
Fast forward a couple weeks, I got a call from Nick Karazissis from Far West. He wanted me to ride and I was like, It’s been a really long time since I’ve ridden. When I got on I remember even thinking, I get on from the left side, right? [laughing]
So he had me start as an exercise rider. It took a couple of months to get back in the swing of things. I was riding maybe ten horses a day for Nick.
At the time we started to get more students and he chatted with me about splitting the lessons with Chris in the riding school. Then I started riding all morning, taking a break and coming back in the afternoon and teaching lessons. I think by the time I left, I had 25 students. It was a BLAST.
I never thought when I started riding again that I would fall in love with teaching. I learned so much from all the trainers and Nick was such a big influence in my life. Everything was going great. I was working my butt off and learning so much.
That sounds more than ideal. So why the move to Florida?
Ethan has a degree in finance and was looking to transition out of financial advising into real estate—investing and owning properties and flipping houses. At the time, we were both 24 and financially it did not make sense to start flipping houses in LA. I kind of kicked and screamed because I loved it in California, but I knew it was the best opportunity for Ethan to be in Florida. Also, I knew there would be lots of ponies there. So we made that transition.
How did you start up your career in Florida?
It’s so different in Jacksonville—there are only a couple of barns that take it seriously and go to shows and have quality horses and they didn’t really need extra staff. It wasn’t like California where you have these mega barns of 70 horses and a riding school. It was more boutique barns with one trainer and 20 horses.
Ethan was doing really well with his business and working from home, so that was great.
I just tried to not get anxious about it and to trust that something would pop up if I kept riding, doing a good job and kept a good attitude. I was working at a barn in St. Augustine when I got a call from a family I had kind of hit it off with. And that’s where I’m at now. I love it!
(Learn more about the girls Bethany teaches on her podcast. So fun!)
It sounds like you’re exactly where you want to be.
It’s crazy because my personality has always been to strive to be the best, it’s never enough, go bigger, go bigger, go bigger. And for the first time, I have felt this sense of contentment, this sense of you know what, I could being doing this for the next ten years and I would love it. That’s a crazy and foreign concept to me.
I think that's a crazy foreign concept to most millennials [laughing].
Did My Equestrian Style start while you were in Florida?
Yes, the blog didn’t start until Florida. It is two years old now! Ethan and I retired from wedding photography when we moved here. Wedding photography got pretty stressful. But doing fashion photography for bloggers in LA was really fun.
I always thought in the back of my head, I feel like I could do this too. They get all these free clothes and they get paid to wear these clothes. This could be a pretty good gig.
What were the first steps you took to create My Equestrian Style?
When I moved to Florida, I had been riding every day, and I’ve always tried to be creative with my riding outfits. I was putting outfits together anyway and I was riding everyday anyway, so I was like I might as well take some pictures while I have these outfits on. So Ethan and I did one big photo shoot one day. I had five outfits that I already owned and put different looks together.
I did a little photoshoot and started My Equestrian Style on Instagram—started posting and it took off from there.
What was the reasoning behind the podcast?
When I moved from California to Florida, I knew of people, but I didn’t know about different riders and trainers there. And just the style of riding is different, even the outfits are different from East to West coast. Even though the equestrian world is such a small bubble, there are like millions of mini-bubbles within the bubble.
The Equestrian Podcast is trying to pop some of those bubbles to allow people to learn about different disciplines and areas of the industry that aren’t normally talked about. At the time, there weren’t that many equestrian podcasts out there, hence why I was still able to get “Equestrian podcast” as my Instagram handle. I think we’re the number one option under equestrian podcasts and have over 22,000 listens total.
That’s amazing, Bethany! What has been your largest obstacle you’ve overcome with My Equestrian Style?
I would say when I had to transition from receiving free product as payment to receiving payment as well as product.
That’s definitely been a big obstacle because at first I was like, oh my gosh anyone I can get is great. Then I went through the transition of quality over quantity and only picking brands that I really align with. And now, I’m seeing it as a marketing service with the photography aspect and all of that. There was a moment where I was like this is challenging for sure.
But they would normally pay a photographer for a shoot or models or location, so what I’m providing with My Equestrian Style marketing packages is a shoot—professional photographer, editing all the images and sending them all of the images for use on their website or social media. They get really pretty ponies as models and a really pretty facility. All of that stuff is a premium. On top of that, I market on a platform that I’ve been working really hard to grow and have followers who trust my opinion and are along for the journey.
Yes, your time is so valuable. Also, outside of the equestrian world, influencers are worth thousands if not millions of dollars. To have your product on a post you’re spending sometimes $5-12k a post.
Yes! So, that was the transition that definitely needed to happen. I’ve been blessed to work with some awesome brands that get it and see My Equestrian Style as a business.
How do you define a modern horse girl?
No two horse girls are the same and that’s a good thing. I’ve found is there tends to be this stereotype that if you’re the kind of horse girl that is the athlete, that mucks her own stalls, that rides day in and day out—you’re more of a horse girl than the one who can afford to have a groom, who has full care and just shows up and shows. When in reality there are different facets and different ways to be a part of the sport.
I try not to put horse girl in a bubble as far as what that person should look like because I’ve been able to interact with a lot of people on the other end of the spectrum and still see how passionate and driven and obsessed with horses they are.
The overwhelming theme that I’ve seen every horse girl have is a passion for care as far as taking care of their horse and unapologetically doing what it takes to be what is successful to them. It can look so different.
I love that. That is exactly what I thought about when I started HGC in terms of not making horse girl so limited. .
So, you literally nailed it.