What Does It Take? – An Inside Look at the Life of Working Students: Emily Wright

Be Patient with the Progress with Emily Wright

Wellington, Fla. – July 6, 2017 – Ever wonder if you have what it takes to be a working student? Though the tasks and compensation vary depending on the trainer, the position is often a hands-on learning opportunity in the dressage industry. In our new column, we touch base with a variety of working students who give an inside look at the ups and down.

Based in Loxahatchee, Florida, Emily Wright, 26, has been the working student and barn manager for USDF Gold Medalist Heidi Degele for the past year. Prior to Degele, she held a working student position with Bill Warren and Bill McMullin. Wright currently shows her 7-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Sanchez, at Fourth Level.

Left to Right: Nick Bertelli, Heidi Degele, Dianne Delayo on Delaware and Emily Wright

What is your favorite aspect of being a working student?

My favorite part is getting to be around the horses every day. It’s hard work but you get to be around something you absolutely love every single day. My job is something that I would do for fun.

Also, I really want to have a career in the dressage industry, so I think working with trainers who are well-established helps you get a really good idea of what it takes to run the business. Heidi has given me the opportunity to ride all levels, and one of my favorite opportunities was getting to ride a Grand Prix horse and learn on him.

What would you say to an aspiring working student?

Take it all in. There are really hard days, but then the really good days make up for it. Even when you do have a tough day, you’re still learning a lot. It’s an amazing experience that I think every young rider should do before they decide to go out on their own as a professional.

What does an average day look like for you?

I get up early, feed the horses and then I start riding. It depends on the day but it’s usually 5-6 horses a day. I’m also responsible for all the medical care of the horses, setting up their grain and making sure everybody else in the barn is doing what they are supposed to be doing. I try to make Heidi’s life as easy as possible. Working students are there until everything is done — sometimes that’s 5 p.m., sometimes that’s 8p.m. It just depends on the day.

How have you grown as a rider because of your position as a working student?

I feel like I’ve improved drastically since becoming a working student. When I first began, I would be a little disappointed if I didn’t have a good ride on my horse. Heidi explained to me, “You have to look at the big picture. It’s not always progress. Some days it goes back down a few steps, but if you look long-term and the horse has improved, then we’re doing something right.”

Horses are not machines, they’re animals. You can’t expect them to do better each day. That’s been a huge thing that I’ve learned. You have to be patient with the progress.

Heidi Degele with Lakota, Gaberial Erdi with Ryder, Emily Wright with Sanchez. Photo by William Allamirano.
Heidi Degele with Lakota, Gaberial Erdi with Ryder, and Emily Wright with Sanchez. Photo by William Allamirano.

What has been one of your proudest moments?

One of my proudest moments has been showing this season. Heidi took several horses to show, and she gave me the opportunity to ride one of the sale horses at Prix St. George. Also, my horse ended up scoring in the 70’s at Fourth Level by the end of this past show season, so I was really proud of that.

What has been one of the hardest lessons to learn?

I’ve learned that every horse comes with problems and we have to figure them out. I put a lot of pressure on myself but my personal horse has taught me to be patient, take a step back and look at the whole picture, instead of focusing on that one problem. It took me a few months to learn that lesson, but once I figured it out, everything has improved — my riding, my horse’s performance and all the horses that I ride have improved.

What are five things you have learned about horsemanship or horse care as a working student?

1. You can never be too organized!
2. Each horse is different — you have to think outside the box when training a horse. Just because something works on one horse doesn’t mean it will work on another horse
3. I’ve learned a lot about medical care being a working student. I thought I knew a lot before, but I was very wrong! You never stop learning.
4. No matter what you can never really have a set in stone plan when training and working around horses. You may come out with the plan to work on flying changes, and that day maybe your horse decides he sees a monster in the corner. It’s not a good idea to work on changes that day. Rather, work on relaxation. Set the horse up for success.
5. Be patient! One of the hardest parts about training horses is that there are days where you feel like you’ve taken five steps backwards. We forget horses aren’t machines. Maybe they aren’t feeling well that day. I find if you are having a tough day it’s better to find something you know your horse can succeed at. Then end that day on a positive note, rather than drilling something over and over again that might not be working that particular day. Come back to whatever you were having trouble with the next day. We want our horses to love their job!

Have you learned any out of the ordinary exercises that help with your dressage training?

Heidi has us work with cavalettis everyday as it helps the horses warm-up and helps their minds. With the cavalettis, the horses get to do something different outside of the dressage ring. It really helps their backs and helps develop them. It’s made a huge difference in every single horse that comes through here.

Photo courtesy of Emily Wright.

What has been one of the funniest moments at the barn?

We have six dogs here at the barn. Every time that we go to hook up the horse trailer, the biggest challenge is not loading the horses into the trailer, it is in fact rounding up all the dogs and trying to get them into the house. One day, Heidi’s Rottweiler was letting her get close enough that she could just about reach her and then she’d dart away. The dog ran and jumped in the pool, and just sat there and looking at Heidi. She finally caught her and put her in the house all wet from the pool. It’s almost like the dog knew “haha, I got you.”

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