To Robert McNeel it’s important to keep dreaming.
Robert McNeel began riding as a child and loved it immediately. Though his family couldn’t afford the expenses associated with the sport, he worked for lessons and rode until he turned 17. “Then I went and saw my first Broadway show and I thought, I’m going to do that,” he said. He studied dance and worked in theater throughout his twenties. “I ended up getting about 10 or 12 shows over 10 years, and it was a really great time,” he remembered.
One day, at age 31, Robert was reading the newspaper and saw an ad for a show jumping competition at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, near where he lived. “I went to watch the grand prix, and I thought, now I want to do that,” he said with a laugh. “I had no experience, no money, and no connections, but I decided I wanted to go for it.”
Ten years later, he was riding competitively up and down the East Coast and in California and Canada. In 2003 he won the high-amateurs division at a show-jumping event representing the United States in Holland. “I felt like I had arrived at my podium moment. I got a medal and they played the national anthem. It was like the Academy Awards!” he recalled. Since then, he has been teaching and training at top show stables in the Northeast.
Robert had started from the bottom to become a successful rider and trainer, and he was beginning to see that he had accomplished what he had set out to do. “I was turning 50, and I decided that there had to be more. I could do more,” he said.
When one of Robert’s friends in New York City got a gift certificate for a six-week comedy course for Christmas, Robert saw an opportunity. “Her employees had bought it for her as a goof because she doesn’t have that much of a sense of humor,” he laughed. “So she tried to give it to me. I said, ‘Nope, you’re going. And I’m going with you.’”
At the completion of the course, each student was invited to perform at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan. Gotham is a staple of the comedy scene in a city famous for giving comedy-greats a venue, with lineups that include comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK. As Robert stepped offstage after his first set ever, the agent for the club came to him and immediately asked how long he had been doing comedy.
He now performs three or four nights a week at two of the marquee comedy clubs in the city, in addition to hosting charity events throughout the year. “I’m committed to staying in New York to get my comedy chops. I’m a beginner, and I want to surround myself with the best people in the industry,” he explained. “That’s what I did in the horse world. I had a specific set of goals and I walked up to Leslie Burr Howard and asked her to help me with them.”
Surprisingly, a similar skillset is required in both the equestrian and comedy industries. “You are the product, and you have to sell how good you are and your networking skills. You need to get yourself a seat at the table, and you get better the more you do it. Performing is performing, and then there’s passion,” he observed.
Though he may not know it, it is obvious that Robert’s numerous journeys from dream to accomplishment are the result of his magnetic personality. He is able to laugh at himself, enjoy what he does, and work hard toward becoming better. The qualities that make him a good trainer and a good comedian also make him great at connecting with people, which in turn propels his career forward.
“I plan on staying around the horses for a long time. It’s what I do,” he declared. “I just found out about a talent show they have in Wellington that is supposed to be a huge success and a lot of fun. Just wait till I get down there… I need to come up with some new horsey material!”
For Robert, it’s not about closing doors, it’s about expanding boundaries. “Just because you have found something you love doesn’t mean you can’t continue to find new things to do and feel passionate about,” he explained.
“You’re as young as you feel and you can accomplish new things,” he said. “I think that if you believe it’s possible, then it’s possible. And I’m the proof of that.”
See Robert perform at Carolyn’s in New York. (Warning, adult content)