Dream Jobs: Georgina Bloomberg, Professional Show Jumper and YA Author
Georgina Bloomberg has made her career as an equestrian, author and philanthropist helping animal-centered charities.
by Karen Braschayko
Many have heard of her as the mayor of New York City’s daughter, but in the horse world she’s Georgina Bloomberg, award-winning professional Grand Prix show jumper sponsored by Ariat. Fiercely competitive, Bloomberg has earned numerous prizes including gold medals at North American Young Rider Championships, the Maxine Beard Award, and several World Equestrian Festival (WEF) Challenge Cups. Recently she was the winning team captain for the Nespresso Battle of the Sexes at FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF) in Wellington, Florida.
Georgina Bloomberg and her rescue miniature horses. Photo by Geoffrey Tischman.
Bloomberg has expanded her roles in the equestrian world to include mentor and humane activist. She works with young riders and encourages them to keep trying, sharing her own struggles as a realistic guide. Bloomberg is also known for her extensive, ardent work with the Humane Society of the United States, horse rescue organizations and therapeutic riding facilities.
Like many equestrians, her career is multi-faceted, and Bloomberg writes a horse-centered young adult series with Catherine Hapka called The A Circuit. In her novels, Bloomberg knits the glitzy world of A circuit shows with the dirt, smells and love of horses. Everyone in the show barn, from grooms to top riders, has a place in the drama of growing up and developing as horse people. Bloomberg’s immeasurable hours in the ring and at the barn shine through authentically on every page. The third novel, Off Course, debuted in November 2012, and the fourth, about the Indoors show series, will go on sale in August 2013. A portion of her book sales goes to charities such as the Equestrian Aid Foundation and Friends of Finn.
Whether at her farms Gotham North, located in North Salem, New York, or Gotham South in Wellington, Florida, Bloomberg is hard at work training young horses and honing her jumping skills. Here she tells us about what has inspired her to become a professional show jumper, write young adult novels, and pursue the aspect of her life that is so important to her – using her celebrity platform to help animals and other people.
Karen Braschayko for Equitrekking: What is your background with horses, and how did you choose show jumping?
Georgina Bloomberg: I started riding when I was four. My older sister started taking riding lessons, and I wanted to do everything she did. My mother had had racehorses in her family in England, where she grew up, and she wanted us to be around animals. So I just started taking riding lessons, and I fell more and more in love with it.
I started competing a little bit when I was six. I did only hunters until I was 18. After my last year, I really wanted the challenge of jumpers, and I decided to get more into show jumping.
Equitrekking: What was your path to becoming a professional equestrian?
Georgina Bloomberg: It’s always been my biggest passion. It’s something where you’re not necessarily deciding with your head. I think it’s something that’s in your heart, when you really love it. You know when you want to wake up, do it all day, and work hard at, and you really enjoy it that much. I feel very lucky that I just kind of found what I wanted to do with my life.
I turned professional in 2006. I was riding as an amateur, and then I got my first opportunity for a sponsorship. I had to make the decision as to whether I wanted to make this my life or not, to be able to accept sponsorships and make my own money through the sport. For me it was the right decision at the time.
Equitrekking: How did you get inspired to turn your experiences in the show world into a young adult series?
Georgina Bloomberg: An agent approached me at first. The publisher had Catherine Hapka, who’d had a lot of experience doing young adult series, and they were really interested in doing something about the equestrian world.
They approached me with the idea, and at first I was very against it. I was not a good writer in school, and it was not something I particularly enjoyed doing. But when I actually started talking to them about the idea, I realized this was the first time that I’d ever had the opportunity to write about something that I not only loved but also knew very well. It’s very different when you’re assigned a book in school that you’re not interested in and you have to write a whole paper about it. This is writing about something that comes so naturally, and I love talking about it. I found that I really enjoy the process of doing it.
The biggest challenge for me was creating language that you don’t have to be a horseperson to understand. Because I had grown up in the horse show world, I didn’t realize that there are so many terms that somebody who didn’t ride wouldn’t know. So that was the biggest hurdle for me, being able to talk about the horse shows and not make it seem stupid to the people who did know what was going on. I also wanted to make it something that the average person who didn’t ride could possibly still enjoy.
Equitrekking: What is your process like for writing the books?
Georgina Bloomberg: Cathy has so much experience with writing, and it’s something that I didn’t really know that well. I wanted to write something that was interesting to teenagers and seemed realistic, yet wasn’t too risqué. That’s kind of still a struggle to me. I’m never really sure how far to go, but I want it to be something that kids can read and that their parents are okay with. So basically, we email back and forth some ideas and storylines. It comes very naturally.
The first book was the hardest, because you’re coming up with these characters and thinking about where you want to go with them. After that, they’re just so natural because I know, okay, this girl is 17. I know where she’s coming from, the kinds of horses she has, and probably what her next show is going to be. Then I come up with their stories.
I always stress that there’s not one character that’s based on one particular person, but all of the characters are generalizations of many of people I grew up with and many experiences that happened. I’ll give you an example – in the next book, the kids are all going to Indoors and thinking about college. That’s something that I struggled with and I can relate to. I knew so many people who were my age then who had to choose from different paths in life. Some didn’t have as many options. Some wanted to go to college and not ride, and some people wanted to go to Europe. It’s fun to be able to bring in my own experiences into that. These are definitely things that have happened, not necessarily to me but to people I know.
Equitrekking: What is a typical day like for you, if there is such a thing?
Georgina Bloomberg: When I’m in New York, every day is a little bit different. Right now, I’m actually down in Florida. We brought our horses down for some small shows going on before our main circuit started in January. I have younger horses that I’m developing and getting to know. The early shows were a little bit smaller, so there’s not as much pressure. It was nice to be down here and kind of get a head start for the circuit.
These days I get up at 5:30 a.m. and let my dogs out, since I have five rescue dogs. I’m at the gym from about 6:30 to 8 a.m. Then I’m at the barn by 8:30 a.m., and I’m usually done just before lunchtime. Some evenings I do pilates; sometimes I don’t. In the afternoons, I’m running errands, taking care of my dogs, and then working either on the books or with the various charities I support. I’m staying in touch with people and organizing things with them.
I do a lot, for sure. I’m very passionate about everything I do, and I’m very honest with people who ask for my time or any level of commitment. If it’s not something that I genuinely look forward to working on, I can’t take it on. I think that you’re always more effective in any cause if you really genuinely care about it. For me, animals are my thing. I’ve always been an animal person. I’ve been very lucky recently that I’ve found ways to be able to turn that passion into something productive and to really help animals. It’s one thing to say I love dogs, and it’s another to find ways to truly help dogs.
Equitrekking: When did supporting animal welfare organizations become important to you, and how did you develop The Rider’s Closet?
Georgina Bloomberg: Right now the two biggest charities I work with are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society, including their Friends of Finn organization. I also recently joined the board of Animal Aid of the United States, which was founded by my friend Prince Lorenzo Borghese.
The ASPCA is very involved with a lot of horse shows because they sponsor the ASPCA Maclay championship class at the National Horse Show, and they do a lot of things in the equestrian world. The ASPCA Equine Fund is amazing. We work on raising money for different horse rescues that might have gotten in trouble, but we also – most importantly – raise a lot of awareness.
In the equestrian world that I compete in, people think that there are these big fancy horses and that they’re well taken care of. We don’t see the other side of what horses are going through and what the issues are, such as horse slaughter. There are so many different issues that we just tend to not know about or most people just choose not to care about. People don’t realize that even a lot of the show jumpers that we have – pampered and well cared for – if they get into the wrong hands, they can end up at a slaughterhouse. Seriously, it happens. We do a lot of speeches with the press. It’s not just about raising money. It’s about raising awareness too, which I think is so important.
Working with the Humane Society, I do more canine-oriented things. The biggest one that I work with is the charity called Friends of Finn, which my friend Amanda Hearst started. We raise money for puppy mill raids, and we raise awareness mostly on the legislation side, trying to get puppy mills closed. We know that we’ll probably never get them totally closed down, which is obviously the ultimate goal. In the meantime, we want to create stronger punishments for people who don’t follow the rules and who treat the animals badly. We are trying to create better conditions for dogs that are inevitably going to be in puppy mills.
I have been to some puppy mills myself, which is a really important experience. I’m one of those people that if I really genuinely care about a cause, I’ll face it head-on. A lot of people said, “Don’t go. It’ll be really upsetting. Let people go who are hardened about it, because they don’t get affected by it the way that you’re going to be.” I was really nervous, but I’m so glad that I did it. Yes, it’s emotional, and it made me sad. But it made me so much more passionate about the work that I do. I think that’s so important in order to do something effectively and well.
I also support therapeutic riding. I used to volunteer when Claremont Stables in New York City was open. That’s how I actually started learning about therapeutic riding. Their program was pretty small. They only had one day a week to do it at Claremont, so they always had a lot of people who would write in asking to join the program or doctors writing in saying, “This is why this kid needs it, and I know what therapeutic riding can do.” There were also people writing in, “Wow, this changed my life, and this improved my kid in this way.” I’ve always known that horses brought me a lot of joy and that they’ve given me a lot, but it wasn’t until then that I stopped to think about how horses do amazing things for people.
Later I got involved with Pegasus Therapeutic Riding, which also runs my charity The Rider’s Closet. I started it when I was collecting clothes and distributing them myself, because I saw the chance to help equestrian teams and riders who struggled to afford expensive show clothes. I realized that I don’t have time and I’m not home enough, so Pegasus took it over and we work together now.
We take all riding clothes and equipment, basically any show clothes or riding clothes that people might need. We don’t usually say that we take tack because then we’ll get things that are broken or unusable, but we do accept things that are in good enough condition or can easily be fixed. We’ve done mostly hunter jumper clothing, but we do also get a lot of dressage clothing and some Western. It’s been amazing, being able to grow and help so many more people now. It’s my baby – I started it, and I did everything. I enjoyed doing it. But it wasn’t fair to people who needed help to keep trying to do it myself, because it wasn’t going to help the people we needed to.
Equitrekking: What are the biggest challenges you face as an equestrian?
Georgina Bloomberg: As a rider, I’ve had a lot of injuries, so I’d say it’s staying healthy. That’s always been my thing. It is a hard sport, and you have to sacrifice a lot of time. Not just day to day, but a lot of years. You need a lot of experience.
It’s not like gymnastics, where you give 12 years of your life and then go on and do something else. For us, it really is a life commitment. Our best riders are all in their 40s. They have the years behind them.
I would say my biggest struggle is when I have a couple of bad days or even a bad year, and I think to myself, “Why am I doing this? Do I want this? Is this worth it?” I struggle with that sometimes, really thinking, “I’ve dedicated my life to this – is it the right decision?” I would say that tends to be my biggest struggle, going wholeheartedly into it.
But at the end of the day, I am very happy getting up, working hard and moving things forward as far as I possibly can for the next couple of years. If at a certain point I haven’t accomplished what I want to accomplish, at least I’ll know that I gave it my all.
Equitrekking: What has been the most rewarding moment you’ve had in your career?
Georgina Bloomberg: I really enjoy getting a young horse, working with it, and seeing it develop into a better horse as it gets older. That’s the biggest thrill.
I’ve had a lot of successes, some incredible wins, and things that I’ve wanted to accomplish, and that’s been amazing. But I honestly think that nothing I could ever possibly win is ever going to hold a flame to the work that I do with animals or with young riders and being able to help other people. I think sometimes people do charity work because they think that they need to. For me, I do it because I genuinely love it. I think that is my calling in life, however lost I get in any other part of my life. My cause is to help animals.
Equitrekking: What advice would you give someone wanting to rise to the top as a professional show jumper?
Georgina Bloomberg: What I always say to younger kids is this: You have to accept that you’re going to have bad times in the sport, and you can’t let them get you down. You have to learn from them, and then you’ll appreciate the good days. For every class that you win, you’re going to lose 10 more.
You see a lot of younger riders who have a great couple of years and start their careers off with a bang. People always think, “Wow, they’re going to be our future superstars.” But I always say, “Wait five years. Wait until they’ve had a bad year. Wait until they’ve been out of a job, not had a good horse, or had an injury, and you then see them come back.” I respect that so much more than winning a class.
I’ve seen so many of the senior riders have their struggles or have a few years when they haven’t had a top horse. They still come. They still work just as hard at it. They come to the horse shows, smile, and root everybody else on. Then they’re able to come back.
For me, it’s not about never falling – it’s getting up and riding again. That’s more important. I think that young riders have to accept that they’re not just going to be able to go buy a top horse and win a class. It’s a lot of work, and you have to understand that you’re going to have more bad days than good.
Equitrekking: How would you advise someone who wants to write about horses?
Georgina Bloomberg: I would say – write what you know. I think that’s the most important thing. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t pretend to write about something that I didn’t know. That way it comes naturally. It always comes out better if you genuinely enjoy the process of putting it on paper and you know it very well in your heart.
Find out more about Georgina Bloomberg on her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/georginabloomberg.
Karen Braschayko is a freelance writer and horse lover who lives in Michigan.