From Stable Hand to Grand Prix Dressage Entrepreneur: Rebecca Waite Recalls her Journey to the Top of the Sport

Wellington, Fla. – April 3, 2020 – Four years after slipping on her shadbelly to ride down the centerline for her first ever Prix St Georges, Rebecca Waite, the now Grand Prix level professional athlete and trainer, prepares to take her first solo steps as her own boss. Serving as longtime number two under famed American dressage rider and trainer, Shelly Francis, Waite spent seven years learning everything from training techniques to business management from her fellow Mainer. Starting out as a stall cleaner for Francis, Waite worked her way up the ladder behind the scenes from stall cleaner to head groom for the European circuit, and most recently as a professional athlete competing in the international ring in Wellington.

Following Francis’ recent decision to relocate her business four hours north of Wellington to Ocala, The University of Maine graduate is marrying the knowledge gained from her undergraduate studies in Business Management and her hands-on training at Shelly Francis Dressage to start her own training business.

A C1-rated Pony Club rider from Northern Maine, Waite rode any horse that she could sit on. Living in a small town, she would travel hours to compete in the only recognized eventing competition within reach. The lack of training in her hometown of Houlton slowly pushed her to seek bigger opportunities, and eventually to Francis’ doorstep. While Waite had trained horses on her own and ridden in clinics with Francis before, she had never worked in a barn with a caliber of business that Francis was running. After only one month under Francis’ keen eye, Waite was hooked — the endless learning opportunities that came with working and training at a top-level Grand Prix facility were just what the small town eventer had been hoping for.

She took a break from horses in college, but once she graduated with a degree in Business Management, Waite jumped at the chance to work with Francis again, this time much further south. A far cry from her quiet hometown, Waite moved to Wellington, Florida, to work as a stall cleaner, leaving her horse and home behind. Though she dreamed of the grandeur of Wellington, her reality was rather different from the glamour seen on the surface. She worked tirelessly, first as a stable hand and eventually as a groom. Even with her hardworking attitude, Waite did not sit on a horse for years, but her persistently positive mindset allowed her to push through to achieve dreams she did not know she was capable of.

Rebecca Waite groomed for Shelly Francis at the 2016 CDI in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

“I didn’t go into it thinking I was going to have many riding opportunities,” Waite explained. “I was just so happy to be working in Florida in a nice barn and learning everything I could from Shelly that I was beside myself. Of course, I wanted to ride, but I didn’t assume I was going to get to ride these horses. It takes so much hard work. Going to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and watching the warmup was a big thing for me since I am from such a small town.”

Eventually, Waite earned Francis’ trust, and was invited to sit on some of the top level athletes’ horses. What started out as Waite cooling off horses for Francis evolved into her showing and assisting with some of the upper level horses in Francis’ arsenal, especially when she kept the farm running while Francis campaigned in Europe. Waite’s ticket to international competition began in 2017 in the small tour aboard one of Francis’ horses Le Roi. However, two years ago, Francis was making changes to her competition roster and her longtime Grand Prix and Nations Cup partner, Doktor, was put up for lease. When no fit candidates surfaced, Francis and Doktor’s owner, Patricia Stempel, casually gifted the rider to Waite. Having never ridden Doktor, better known as “Dok,” before, Waite soon realized that he was much less of a schoolmaster but would teach her the most.

“I had ridden all of her horses at that point except for Doktor. He is a very sensitive horse so it was a little tricky at first to transition. Doktor is also very smart though — he knew when he was going to show with Shelly at Aachen and he knew when it was his job to help me,” Waite said about her equine partner. “He made me realize that I had not been riding as effectively as I could have been in the past. When I get on him, I really need to work efficiently and communicate with him so that he can do his job. It changed my riding from just sitting and looking pretty, to sitting and being effective every step of the way.”

Doktor and Waite made their CDI Grand Prix debut in 2019 and together, they have continued to rack up scores in World Cup qualifying competitions with scores up to 73.98%.

“Doktor taught me alot, not only as a trainer but as a competitor,” she continued. “He is always a good boy, but there is a significant difference based solely on my riding. I can go in and put in a really good test or I can get a mediocre score. If I ride him effectively and dare to creep out of my comfort zone I get those great scores. I’ve gained so much confidence that I can go out in the international ring and dare to ask for things and it pays off.”

Under the tutelage of Francis, Waite achieved more in seven years than she thought she would in a lifetime, only making her recent decision to part ways with one of the top U.S. riders that much harder. When Francis made the decision to move her operations north to Ocala in favor of a milder climate for her horses, Waite was faced with her own set of queries.

“It was a very difficult decision as I still wanted to ride and train with her, but there were a lot of reasons why I wanted to stay here in Wellington,” Waite said. “I respect our relationship so much and appreciate everything she has given me to develop into the rider that I am today, but I needed to make the best move for myself. We were both making the next steps in our careers, and for me, that meant staying in Wellington to develop my own business and riding.”

Waite, who will stay on until May to assist Francis with her move, ultimately knew that this was the moment she could take the next step in her career. Like many of the working students in the equestrian community, Waite got comfortable in the cycle of the industry starting out lowest on the food chain and working their way up the ladder to the jumping off point. Waite had a tough decision to make — keep climbing that ladder under Francis or take a big leap to start her own business.

“There really is no good time. It is easy to sit back and have that comfort with a professional above, working beneath them and the clients all go to the professional for their concerns,” she explained. “For me, it just happened naturally. She decided to move and it seemed like the best time for me to branch out. If you really put in your time and learn from some of the top trainers, you will feel more confident going out on your own. It takes so many years to really learn someone’s training system. There is no good time to leave, but you need to do what is best for you”

An enthusiastic Waite about launching her own training operation by utilizing all she has learned to model her new business venture on the teachings of Francis. Having the knowledge to set off on her own, and seeking flexibility in her life with friends and family, Waite was ready to take the leap.

Once an unknown, small town rider from Maine, Waite has certainly put in her dues and worked her way to the top of the sport. Looking forward to what lies ahead, Waite has nothing but admiration and gratitude for the woman who made her career possible. Waite plans to keep the same business structure as Francis, focusing on the training and development of horses as well as taking on clients to teach. In the upcoming months, Waite will continue to grow her client base and seek out her next Grand Prix partner.

“It has been life changing working for Shelly Francis and she has given me so many unbelievable opportunities that I would never have had otherwise,” Waite said. “She is an unbelievably talented trainer, and continuing her training ideas and methods is very important to me. I did not bounce from trainer to trainer getting bits and pieces — I focused solely on one training philosophy. I think having one system and producing horses will be the track I stick to. That is the part I enjoy the most and what I have to offer: a ‘master’s degree’ from Shelly Francis Dressage.”

To learn more about Waite, visit her website.

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