“I was ignoring my instincts for the pay cheque, beginning to resent riding and losing my lifelong love of being in the saddle.”

From Horse Training to SEO

Carli Leavitt had a suspicion that her career wasn't right for her, but it took a life-changing accident to make her pay attention. Now, she's found a place for her passion for horses as a hobby, alongside a career she loves. Read on to find out how.

What work were you doing previously?

I was following my dream of working with horses and was scraping by as a part time equine vet assistant and horse trainer.

What are you doing now?

I am currently working as an SEO (search engine optimization) consultant for Highrank Websites. I handle outreach and public relations for multiple clients including a Criminal Defense Attorney, and a Personal Injury Law Firm.

Why did you change?

My career change came about for a number of reasons. I was in the process of making the change after working for 3+ years in part time veterinary assistant positions and supplementing my income by training "problem horses" around San Diego County. Granted most of my training clients were not "problems" at all, but simply needed to be ridden more often, so I would hop on horses, take them for trail rides and work out their "kinks" so the owners could ride when they had time. It was my dream job, but sadly did not pay anywhere near what I needed to live in San Diego. I was scraping by, happy to be riding every day but realizing I was putting myself in dangerous situations and not listening to my horse instincts when they were telling me not to ride because I needed the money. I was ignoring my instincts for the paycheck, beginning to resent riding and losing my lifelong love of being in the saddle.

As I was making the tough decision to leave my horse training days behind me, I was shoved into reality when I woke up in a hospital in early August 2011 with no memory, no idea who I was or what had happened, a neck brace on, a broken pelvis, broken shoulder blade and major concussion. Apparently, from what the doctors told me, it looked like the horse I was riding spooked and slipped on concrete, falling over on top of me. I had compression sprains in every joint of my rib cage indicating something very heavy had fallen on top of me. After 10 hours of complete memory loss, four days in the hospital on severe pain medication and almost six months of recovery time, I wasn't just thinking about making a career change - I was forced into it.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I had decided to make a career change after working with a number of equine veterinarians and realizing there was nowhere to go in an assistant job. I didn't want to be a vet and didn't always agree with the decisions they made. I had a hard time watching them give joint injections to show horses that needed to be retired, just to keep them going a little longer, and I knew it wasn't the direction I wanted to go.  I had made the decision before I was in my riding accident, but while I was dragging my feet, the accident gave me a solid shove in a different direction.

Are you happy with the change?

I couldn't be happier with the decision to make a career change. At first I was heartbroken. I had wanted to train horses my entire life, but then I realized, I didn't really want to train horses, I just wanted to be around them and training and/or being a vet assistant didn't necessarily fulfil that desire. I began to resent them as I had to use whatever skills I had to control them in difficult situations, push them to do things they didn't necessarily want to do, and wasn't feeling the connection I had once felt.  Now that I've gone in a different direction, I still ride at least a few times a month and am back to loving nothing more. I have a salary that supports my lifestyle and I have successfully stayed out of the hospital for over a year. My health meant more to me than working as a trainer and I'm much happier riding for pleasure than making it my career.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I definitely miss being outside all day long. There is nothing better than riding a horse on a beautiful day and that is the main part of my career that I miss. I also miss the horses themselves. They were not just a job to me, I loved every one of them and truly enjoyed seeing them get through a tough hurdle or conquer a fear.

How did you go about making the shift?

I had started searching online before I was in my riding accident but to no avail. I was still debating sticking with horse work and just trying a different route or switching careers completely. After my accident, I had plenty of free time to research jobs and make some decisions. I had a BA in English and had decided to take that route again. I thought about going back to school for a Masters degree but decided it was too expensive and time consuming as a woman in my late twenties. It was time to find a serious career. All I knew is that I wanted to write, use my degree and be successful. I took a part time restaurant job while I continued to look for something more long term. After two weeks working at the restaurant, I was offered a management position, but instead of taking the job, I resigned and took a barely paid internship at an online marketing firm. It was the best decision I had ever made.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I was lucky to have support from my family, but I wanted to limit that as much as possible. By taking a part time restaurant position, it freed up time for me to job hunt and schedule interviews since the restaurant had different hours than the positions I was looking into. It helped free up my schedule while also relieving some financial pressure.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The most difficult part of the entire process was coming to grips that it really was time for a change. We tend to get complacent and comfortable in our situations, even if we are struggling. It's easy to settle for what you have rather than go for what you want. I was shoved into a career change (or trampled into one actually) but it took a few months for me to realize that was no longer my career path. I had to let go of my attachment to the horse trainer title and persona I had created, and move on.

What help did you get? 

I had help from my family, support during both my recovery and career change. My brother and his wife were kind enough to let me use their spare room until I found a job and could get back on my feet.

What have you learnt in the process?

Forget about the title, forget about society and what others will think of you, follow your gut, and choose a career that is right for YOU. I had a hard time letting go of the horse trainer title, but once I did, I was much happier. Being an SEO may not be as exciting as being a horse trainer in other people's eyes, but it makes me happy and has helped me create a life for myself that I enjoy.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I think it's pretty obvious - I wish I would have made the career change just a few weeks sooner. Then maybe I wouldn't have emergency room paperwork for "Jane Doe" and six months of recovery time.

Honestly though, that experience is probably exactly what I needed to follow through and really make the change. I still ride horses and I'm still a cowgirl at heart, but I'm much happier with my career and much healthier.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Follow your gut. I had put so much pressure on myself to succeed in the horse world that I ignored the signs that it just wasn't working. Although it seemed like my dream job, when it came down to it, I wasn't happy. I was afraid to let it go and listen to my gut that was telling me to go a different direction. I ignored it so long that it finally took some pretty drastic measures to make me realize it was time to move on - and I'm glad it did.

What lessons could you take from Carli's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below. 

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.