Dream Jobs: Equestrian Public Relations

Attending the Olympics and meeting the world’s top riders and horses is all part of Rebecca Walton’s equestrian career.

by Karen Braschayko

Lifelong rider Rebecca Walton has found her dream job with horses by working in public relations. She represents elite equestrians and their horses as a senior account executive at Phelps Media Group (PMG) of Wellington, Florida.

Walton recently covered the 2012 Olympics in London, achieving the main professional goal she’d had since her college graduation. Here she tells us about how working hard at several internships, traveling to championship horse shows, and persevering though long hours of editing led to walking the course at Greenwich Park

Rebecca Walton of Phelps Media Group at the 2012 Olympics in London

 Rebecca Walton walked the courses and was at the center of it all during the 2012 Olympic Games in Greenwich Park, London.

Karen Braschayko for Equitrekking: What is your background with horses?

Rebecca Walton: I have been riding since I was a kid. I started showing locally in the hunters when I was in my early teens. When I was younger, I had to pay for all of my showing myself, but I would ride anything anyone would give me. I went to James Madison University, and their Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team switched barns during my freshman and sophomore years. I ended up leasing horses in college so that I would always have something to ride.

When I graduated, I rescued an Off-the-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) whom I showed a little locally and in the Baby Greens. Now I have a new OTTB who is a little fancier. He started in the Baby Greens at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida, and he has also shown at Fieldstone Show Park in Massachusetts and at Horse Shows In The Sun (HITS). Emry made his derby debut at Fieldstone, and we will do the adult hunters and hopefully some National Hunter Derby classes next year. I am really excited about him, because it has been a long time coming for me to have a horse who is really competitive in the show arena.

Rebecca Walton and her OTTB at a derby

 Rebecca Walton rides her Off-the-Track Thoroughbred Emry in a derby class.

I consider myself a very hardworking amateur rider. I usually ride three to five horses a day at my barn, Senator Bell Farm in Chester, New Hampshire, to make sure that I am always on top of my game. Plus, I love riding, and I love the challenge of new horses and projects!

Equitrekking: How did you decide you wanted a career in the horse industry, and what was your path to achieving that goal?

Rebecca Walton: I have always loved horses and felt it was important to find a job that included my passions. When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a trainer and professional rider, but then I got a job at my barn. I realized how much of a huge commitment that is and that it is truly hard labor, and I also realized that I wasn’t really a good enough rider to be a pro. I have huge respect for my trainer in Maryland, Laura Leroy at Fox Creek Farm, because she makes it look easy.

I started considering my options more. My mother was always pushing me to be a writer because that was my talent in school, so I thought I would focus on journalism in college. I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and I majored in media arts and design.

During my freshman year, I made it my goal to eventually work for Phelps Media Group, and they actually eventually found me. They began working on PhelpsSports.com, a subscription equestrian sports website, in 2006, and they approached me to do college columns. During my sophomore year, I went to the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) with Kenneth Kraus, executive director of PhelpsSports.com, to see what it was all about, and I was hooked. I planned to have an internship with the job I really wanted right before my senior year, so I had other internships in between that time. One was for a big marketing firm called Vertis Communication after my freshman year. After my sophomore year, I worked for ST Publishing, which covers horse racing and steeplechase. I also telecommuted for a West Coast company called EquestriSol during the school year.

Rebecca Walton's OTTB Emry

Rebecca Walton competes in hunter classes with her OTTB named Emry.

I cannot stress the importance of internships enough. They teach you so much about what you want out of your career, and obviously they make your resume look great. When I approached PMG for an internship after my junior year, I made it pretty impossible for them to overlook me, because my resume was exactly what they needed to see.

I went to PMG for the internship, and it was an amazing opportunity. I went to the Kentucky Spring Horse Show to cover my first show, and then I moved to Florida for the summer to see the day-to-day operations in the office. They let me work with clients and help produce press releases, so it was very hands-on, not just getting people coffee. Then, I also went to the Kentucky Summer Horse Show because the other account executives were in Hong Kong for the Olympics. So I got even more horse show coverage experience. Mason Phelps, president of Phelps Media Group, had offered me a full-time position for when I graduated pretty early on in the internship. I was being groomed to take on bigger responsibilities. I was also very smart about planning my graduation. I finished school in 3.5 years by taking online courses during the summer (while doing internships!) so that I could be ready to work during WEF.

Equitrekking: What is a typical day like for you, if there is such a thing?

Rebecca Walton: Well, there is definitely no such thing, because I have three “offices.” I am very lucky that during the summer and fall, I work from home in New Hampshire. My husband’s job forced us to move there, and Mason Phelps was wonderful about helping to accommodate that. So in the early part of the year, I go down to Wellington, Florida, for WEF and work at the main office. Then during the spring, summer and fall, I travel to different shows like the Kentucky Series, Brandywine Valley Summer Series, World Cup Finals, and the Indoors series (the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, WIHS, and the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden). When I am not a show, I am at home working from a home office. 

Rebecca Walton of PMG with British show jumper Nick Skelton

 Rebecca Walton meets top riders and their horses as part of her equestrian career. Here she is with British show jumper Nick Skelton, who won a team gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London.

WEF is absolute craziness. All of our clients are in one place, so we are trying to have meetings with them, as well as cover the show and help our clients that are horse shows prepare for the upcoming year. There is no such thing as a day off during WEF. Monday through Thursday I am usually in PMG’s Wellington office, with Monday and Tuesday being totally crazy as I try to catch up on all of my clients’ results and get those press releases together. Then on the weekend, I’m at the show covering the events and meeting everyone. There are also charity events that we cover almost every weekend.

The other horse shows are bit different because we are not in the office. Depending on the show, we are there all hours of the day. We have to be there to cover the hunters and jumpers, and if there is a night class, we will not be finishing until the early morning hours. We always shoot and write about our classes. So if I am covering a Grand Prix, that means I have to be taking pictures throughout the class and writing down what is happening. At the end, I try to get interviews with the first and second place finishers. Then I usually go back to the hotel, depending on how the internet connection is, and start writing.

I’ve had this job for almost five years, so I have gotten pretty quick with the writing part, but there is so much more to it than that. After I write, I have to go through photos and find the top 15 finishers. Then I edit photos for all of them, post everything online, and do the layout for both PhelpsSports.com and Phelps Media Group, which is a long process. And then I repeat that all the next day. If it’s a multi-week show, Mondays and Tuesdays are spent catching up on client work, putting together their results releases or other releases announcing anything new. So again, there’s no such thing as a day off.

The summer months, when I work from home, are a bit easier because I can focus solely on my client work. That can include any range of things. Normally, I am trying to follow all of the client’s show results, making sure that I have photos and releases ready to go at the beginning of the week so I can meet publication deadlines. I also work regularly with publications to do feature stories on my clients so that they can gain extra exposure. Basically, anything that my clients need, I am here for them. And that doesn’t change at the horse shows – it just adds to the craziness!

Equitrekking: What are the benefits of equestrian PR?

Rebecca Walton: Phelps Media Group’s main objective is to keep their clients’ names in the limelight. The main way we do this is through distributing press releases and information to local newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations. Depending on the client, this can be announcing show results or any exciting news they might have. We also work with publications to develop magazine feature articles about our clients, and we keep their names out there through social media, one of our new services.

In addition to my regular client work, I am the editor for the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation newsletter. This means writing the articles and organizing everything so that all of the information gets out there.

Equitrekking: What are the biggest perks of your job?

Rebecca Walton: The biggest perk of my job is the travel and getting to watch the top horse and rider athletes in the world compete. I have been to three World Cup Finals, the 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG) and the Olympics, plus I spend my winters at WEF. Instead of being stuck at a desk 9 to 5, I am at the ring watching the best in the world compete in the sport that I love. My hours may get long sometimes, and there are certainly days that get frustrating, but having the opportunity to do this and be connected with those athletes is simply amazing. 

Rebecca Walton of PMG walks the course at a Wolrd Cup Final

 Rebecca Walton's career in equestrian public relations takes her to top horse shows, including walking the course at World Cup Finals.

Equitrekking: What have been your most rewarding moments?

Rebecca Walton: The Olympic Games were amazing, and getting to see that was the opportunity of a lifetime, but there are two other moments that really stick out in my mind. The first was watching Rich Fellers win the World Cup Finals this year with Flexible. It had been something like 25 years since a U.S. rider had won, and during that jump-off you could not contain the excitement. Rich is such a wonderful person, and watching him on the podium as they played the national anthem brought tears to my eyes.

The other moment was watching Totilas and Edward Gal perform their Grand Prix Freestyle at the 2010 WEG. I am not a dressage expert by any means, but watching that pair perform when they were at the top of the sport was truly jaw-dropping. He is an incredible horse, and you don’t need to be a dressage expert to appreciate the movements and the harmony they had.

Equitrekking: What was it like to cover the Olympics?

Rebecca Walton: Incredible. The venue was absolutely perfect. Greenwich Park was amazing, and the sport was great. I just don’t think I can say enough good things about it. It was too bad that Team USA didn’t do better, but it was still amazing. The coolest parts for me were walking the courses, running into royals, and going to the Main Press Centre, where the really big-time reporters like Reuters, USA Today and the New York Times are based. It was a dream come true, and there just aren’t enough words to explain what it was like to cover the best sport in the world at such an incredible location. 

Rebecca Walton of Phelps Media Group covering the 2012 Olympics in London

Rebecca Walton covered the 2012 Olympics in Greenwich Park, London, for Phelps Media Group.

Equitrekking: What are the biggest challenges you face in your career?

Rebecca Walton: When I am at shows, there are not enough hours in the day. A PR person’s biggest goal is to keep everyone happy, and you want to cover as much of the event as possible, but it’s hard to be at the ring at 8 a.m. when you were up until 3 a.m. covering a night class. We usually try to find a balance, but it’s not always easy. I am trying to take care of my day-to-day clients while covering events, and people usually forget that our day is just getting started when their day ends at the show. I love my job, but it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds.

That, and talking to people after they have had disappointments can be a challenge. No one is excited to do an interview at WEG or the Olympics after they have had a bad round, and it’s not fun to write about. But everyone wants to know what happened, so you have to do it.

Equitrekking: If someone wants to pursue a career in equestrian public relations, what steps should they take?

Rebecca Walton: Find a good school with a good major, and become well-versed in everything. I was a media arts and design major with a corporate communication concentration. I learned about journalism, PR, photography, print design and web design. I came out very well-rounded so that I could go in any direction, and it really helped because I wear so many different hats in this job.

Also, find internships. I cannot stress how important they are. My first internship taught me that I am not meant to be sitting at a desk for nine hours a day. It also taught me that my job has to involve horses. My other internships helped me get great experience to bring into this job, so I could be valued member of the team right off the bat.

Equitrekking: What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the equine industry?

Rebecca Walton: Be ready for hard work, long hours and no weekends. In any aspect of the industry, that is the case. I have so much respect for the grooms and the riders and what they have to do, because I see it every day.

It’s also important to network. Everyone started at the bottom at some point in their life, and they are always willing to help. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. If you want to be a professional rider, you are going start by cleaning stalls, and if you want to be professional writer, that means you start by transcribing hour-long interviews. Neither are fun, but if you work hard and continue to listen and learn, it can pay off big time.

Anytime I am having a bad day because it’s pouring rain or there are 80 in a class, I remind myself that I could be schlepping to work in rush hour every day to sit at a desk and stare at PowerPoint and Excel files. And then I am happy to be anywhere near the horses.

Learn more about Rebecca Walton and the Phelps Media Group at PhelpsMediaGroup.com.

Karen Braschayko is a freelance writer and horse lover who lives in Michigan.