Q&A: Erin Lane
Pro hunter/jumper rider, media director, and trainer Erin Lane on working in the industry and changing the sport for the better.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Erin Lane. I am a 33-year-old professional hunter/jumper rider, Assistant Trainer at Starnes Equestrian in Bend, Oregon, and the Media Director at NOËLLE FLOYD. I currently have way too many horses (six counting my two semi-feral rescue minis), but Meatloaf is my main squeeze. Meatloaf and I do the 1.30m - 1.40m jumpers together, with hopes to tackle some small Grand Prixs next summer. He is 16 years old, but he wouldn't believe you if you told him. He is the most difficult to ride horse I have ever owned, but the most steadfast partner I could ever ask for. He's a mystery breed who doesn't look like he should be able to jump but will jump you straight out of the tack. Meatloaf is my best friend, soulmate, and the guy who always has my back...he'll live with me until his last day.
I also have a rock solid Argentine mare, Chula, who I play polo with; a sales horse I wish I could keep forever named Waffles (the fanciest twinkle toes hunter you ever did see and the kindest horse I've ever met); and a 9-year-old TB, Inigo, who I broke as a two year old and who now packs kids and adults around the .80s.
What was your earliest encounter with horses?
I remember my mom telling me stories of her life with horses as some of my earliest memories. She would talk about riding her mare bareback down a country road at a full gallop, about spending all day mucking stalls and brushing horses at the little barn around the corner, and about training her first foal. I think my heart connected to horses far before I ever actually encountered one simply through the magic of her stories. I often wonder if loving horses is in our DNA, because I can't remember a time in which I didn't feel drawn to them.
I got my first pony when we moved from Atlanta, GA to Bend, OR when I was 9 years old. He was a $700 strawberry roan POA, literally bought out of someone's front yard. He dumped me on the ground at 8 out of 10 jumps, but also let me ride him bareback in a halter, dress him up for parades, and lead him through my house like a dog. Dancer solidified what I already knew deep down in my soul: I was put on this Earth for a life with horses.
What has been the most unexpected challenge in your training?
I think everything is challenging when it comes to riding horses. Riding horses is such a test of your mental, emotional, and physical capacities—it's a sport unlike any other, where you have to have constant empathy and compassion for your teammate. You're responsible not only for yourself, but for the horse...you have to captain the ship, but you have to do it with care.
For me, I'm such a perfectionist and such a workaholic. I'm driven by success, and I've had to learn how to reframe that in this sport. There is no such thing as perfection when you're asking an animal to give you their all. You can't white-knuckle your way to the top when it comes to riding. I still struggle a lot with an intense fear of making mistakes, and it really does affect my performance. That's something I'm still figuring out how to navigate...that feeling that I need to prove myself somehow, prove that I'm "good enough" to be out here with all of these incredible horses and riders.
Another challenge I've faced, though I won't say it's unexpected, is the financial side of riding. We have all happened to fall deeply in love with an incredibly expensive sport where finances can genuinely limit you, no matter how much talent you have. It's one facet of the sport that bugs me immensely and it's part of our mission at NOËLLE FLOYD to change for the better. Accessibility is a big problem in competitive equestrian sports, and I've watched a lot of talented, dedicated, hard-working riders be pushed out because they can't foot the bills. I work very hard and have built a great career that I love, but I absolutely struggle to make ends meet in horse sport. I scraped through as a junior by being a working student for a decade, which taught me grit, resilience, and an excellent work ethic. As an adult, I decided to go pro so that I could continue to work off my fees, which allows me to show. I definitely have professional level goals—I want to ride on a Nations Cup team and reach the top of the sport—but if I'm being honest, the biggest driver to turning pro was the money. I 100% know that I could not afford to horse show if I did not trade for my training at home and shows, did not do my own grooming and stall cleaning, and did not sell horses. I lucked out and was able to get a very quirky 1.40m for $20,000, but the horses we compete against are upwards of $100,000. It's bananas. I feel for the juniors and adults who love this sport and give it their all but just can't afford it. It breaks my heart. I hope to do all I can through my involvement in this sport to create a culture shift towards more accessibility, and to give other riders the same opportunities I've been given.
Was there ever a time that you considered leaving the sport?
I think I would die without this sport, it's my lifeblood. However, I did stop competing in the hunter/jumper space for about 6 years, from age 19-24. I was burnt out from a decade of being a working student, and couldn't afford to ride on my own without the financial support from my parents (who spent their entire retirement to allow me to chase my dreams as a junior). I sold my big jumper and up and moved to Los Angeles to become an actor. Acting shifted to producing, and I eventually moved down to San Diego where, by a total fluke, I was introduced to a polo pro who asked me to come exercise his horses in the mornings. I did, and that man and his wife became some of my closest friends, who subsequently got me hooked on the game of polo. I wasn't jumping at all, but I was having the best time in the world learning to hit a ball and galloping on the grass, enough that I started teaching polo lessons and took over the marketing at the San Diego Polo Club.
The club is now closed and I'm back in Oregon with my focus on jumping, but I still play for fun and I credit polo with making me fall back in love with horse sports. It brought the joy back for me, and gave me a place where I could ride with zero pressure. Polo has done so much for me, from improving my riding to giving me more courage on the horse to giving me lifelong friends, so I'm eternally grateful for my "break".
What is your horse's favorite treat or snack?
Meatloaf is a total weirdo and he is downright OBSESSED with wasabi almonds. Loves anything spicy, but especially those. He will glare at you if you show up with a cookie, it's beneath him.
Waffles likes apples and only apples. He doesn't understand cookies, and doesn't love a carrot. His favorite treat though, truly, is human affection. He just wants you to hold his head in your arms. He's basically a dog.
Chula is a polite and perfect angel and will gratefully accept any treat in any form, and always gingerly. Don't let that fool you, though—she is a chunker and steals everyone's food in the pasture.
Inigo loves carrots and cookies, can't figure out how to eat an apple. He's never been much of a problem solver.
Tina Turner and Cheeseburger, the minis, love any treat that they can snatch from your hand as quickly as possible to avoid any actual human interaction.
What has been the greatest act of kindness you’ve received from another rider?
I've been so lucky to be mentored by three incredible women in this sport, and to have been given so many opportunities by them.
My trainer growing up, Nicole Cobb, recently passed away after a battle with breast cancer, but she gave me everything. She saw something in this horse-crazy kid with the $700 pony and treated me just like everyone else. She gave me a job, taught me everything I know, let me work off my fees, and always pushed me to work harder, chase bigger dreams, and to believe in my abilities. It was the biggest kindness, and I owe her everything.
My trainer in San Diego, and my best friend, Jasmin Stair, brought me back to jumping. She never cared that I was on a $2000 green Thoroughbred or that I didn't even own a saddle or tall boots. She encouraged me, sat drinking wine with me into the late hours when I was having emotional breakdowns, not knowing if I wanted to keep riding. She worked with me when finances were tight and always kept me in the saddle.
I had no idea when I moved back to Bend, Oregon how lucky I would be to land at Starnes Equestrian. I had always planned to ride with Nicole again if I ever moved back, but after her passing, I was lost as to where to go. I found Simone, and quickly realized it was the perfect place for me. What I didn't realize is how much she would give, and continues to give, to me. She brought me on as her Assistant Trainer and has mentored me every step of the way, believing in me even when I don't believe in myself. She never laughed or doubted me when I came to her to tell her that I want to jump 1.60m and ride on a Nations Cup team before I turn 40. She cried when I broke down at a show, telling her I don't think I'll ever measure up to these other riders, because she wholeheartedly wants me to succeed and believes I can. Her belief in me and her support has been an enormous kindness that I'm grateful for every single day.
Aside from my mentors, I've experienced so much kindness and connection in this sport. It's what I love most about it. I've had friends spend hours talking me through a bad round. Karl Cook, who I look up to immensely and who has become a friend through our work together, has let me send him video of my struggles with Meatloaf so that he can help. My fellow competitors have clapped and cheered for me, even when they're in the same class.
I think that we all share something very special in our love for horses that connects us on a level others simply can't understand. While I know there is bullying, competitiveness, and cattiness in this sport, I also think there is so much love, support, and kindness. I absolutely think we need to be better...more inclusive, more accessible, more open minded...but I also think we can double down on what brings us together: we are all horse crazy, and we should love each other for it.
What do you think is the most important (or underrated) riding exercise? What is your favorite exercise? And what exercise is most difficult?
I've learned SO much through producing the Equestrian Masterclass courses over the past few years with people like ten-time Olympian Ian Millar, Anne Kursinski, Tik Maynard, Dr. Jenny Susser, Max Corcoran, Mette Larsen, Karl Cook, Martin Fuchs, and other incredible talent. The biggest thing I've taken away from their teachings is that there are no quick fixes. No exercise is going to the change your riding.
What will change your riding is great flatwork. I'm a huge believer that great flatwork creates great jumping rounds. Karl taught his entire Masterclass on the canter; it's that important. Martin felt so passionate about the shoulder-in that he taught a whole course on it and credits it with changing his rounds on his best horse. Ian and Anne teach about developing feel and how important it is to be able to read the horse underneath you. Tik teaches about understanding your horse's psychology. Mette can ride her FEI dressage horses tackless and perform some of the most incredible movements you've ever seen.
So instead of any exercises, I'd suggest to any rider at any level to work more on the flat. Make your flatwork purposeful. Gobble up as much education as you can, and work hard on the basics on the flat. That's what will change your riding.
What has been one of your most humbling moments with horses?
Kidding, but also not. Riding horses is a humbling sport. Over the past few years, especially since turning pro and deciding to chase these really big dreams, I've realized that I have to squash my ego. It just can't be all about me, that's not good riding or good horsemanship. Sometimes you have to put your own goals aside to do right by the horse.
In what ways do you believe riding horses has informed your personal life and behavior?
Riding and spending time with horses has shaped everything about who I am.
Horses have taught me patience, humility, resilience (still working on that one), empathy, and kindness. They've taught me to live more in the present and to enjoy the moment I'm in. They've also taught me that sometimes just being around a horse is good enough.
Working in the horse industry has shaped me professionally and I credit my early days as a working student in a tough program for the success I've experienced in my career. I learned to work hard, never complain, be kind to people, collaborate whenever possible, and to think for myself, and those skills have taken me far. I learned how to handle tough but delicate situations with grace and to expect the unexpected.
I have learned more life skills and more about myself at a barn than in any classroom or any book.
Do you have any superstitions around shows?
I don't, but I almost wish I did! I don't even have a pre-show routine, which I'm working on. I'm usually showing several horses each day and between those rounds I'm on my laptop or phone working for NF, or coaching clients, so mostly I just hop on and go. BUT, I get terribly nervous, so I'm thinking I need a little more routine.
I do need an oat milk matcha latte and some dark chocolate everyday, and I need my dog Chorizo to be at the show, so I guess those are my only weird little things.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve done — on or off a horse?
On a horse: anytime I jump 1.40+ I feel courageous. It's pushing the edge of my comfort zone for sure, but it feels amazing. It feels like flying, but it's scary to gallop up to a jump that size and hope you don't royally screw it up.
Off a horse? Lots of different things. I like taking risks, even though it gives me anxiety. When I was 19 I moved to LA to be an actor. I didn't know a soul, and I didn't have an apartment. I took my parent's minivan and drove 18 hours to a new city with nowhere to sleep and no agent. That was a big risk and my years in LA were really challenging, but it paid off and I'm glad I did it. I always think about how every risk, every mistake, and every chance has lead me to the life I have now, which I love and wouldn't trade for anything.
What inspires you to continue to learn within the sport?
The horses and the people keep me going even when things are hard. I really want to reach the top level, a dream I had as a junior that I thought had to be over now. When I finally sat down with myself and decided to go for it, I knew I had to give it my all. My husband and I are freezing embryos next year so we can put off starting a family for a while so I can pursue this crazy goal of 5* GPs and riding against the best in the world. It's crazy... it feels absolutely insane and I question it ALL. THE. TIME.
But ultimately whenever I'm on a horse jumping a big jump, I realize that's the feeling I'm chasing. That teamwork, that sense of flying. And truly, I'm happiest surrounded by horses and horse people. It's all I want to do.
When you’re not riding, you can be found doing…?
I'm always riding or doing something with horses (apologies to my husband, friends, and family who I never see). If I'm not on a horse or at the barn, I'm usually working on projects for NF or on set filming for Equestrian Masterclass, so that's horse adjacent.
I love to travel, but I always try to incorporate horses in there somehow! My husband is a passionate surfer, so we try to find places where there are both. I love to read and can devour a book in a day, and I love good food.
But mostly, I love horses. I'm an addict.
Is there a movement, organization, or cause that you are involved with?
I'm not personally involved with any causes at the moment, but it's something at the forefront of my mind to pursue harder. I'm very fueled by giving back to this community and we do at a lot of that at NOËLLE FLOYD, but I want to do more personally. We recently worked with the Compton Cowboys on a four-video series and connected fundraiser in partnership with Corro and I was incredibly touched and inspired by their stories and their impact on their community.
I'm looking to start volunteering at Healing Reins here in Oregon, an equine therapeutic riding center that works with children and adults with disabilities, PTSD, and more. It's an incredible program.
I also love Little Hooves Rescue in California, run by my friend Savannah. She does great work rescuing minis and other neglected horses from terrible situations and giving them new leases on life.
I'd really like to be more involved with organizations and movements that support inclusivity, acceptance, and accessibility within horse sport, so please send them my way if anyone knows of any great ones!
In one or few words, what does horse riding mean to you?
All photos taken by:
Kya Equestrian Photography
Anasofia Vazquez Photography