Jenni Autry tells us what we missed while we were on the couch recovering from a New Year’s champagne hangover.
Top photo: Fellow Howdaa working student Deena Cahill, left, helped yours truly, right, conquer the icy ramp to the manure spreader, a feat we celebrated rather enthusiastically. Photo courtesy of Meg Kep.
I had a fantastic opportunity to be a working student for Sinead Halpin Eventing last weekend thanks to the Howdaa Working Student Bootcamp. Howdaa, a new online education portal launched by Meg Kep and Dana Romano, provides live classes, discussions, and hands-on opportunities with equine experts and professionals. This Working Student Bootcamp was Howdaa’s first offering, giving the chance to work in Sinead’s barn for two days while learning about barn management, horse care, nutrition, and show turnout. While we covered many topics over two days, I promised Dana and Meg I wouldn’t unveil all the details. You’ll have to take a Howdaa bootcamp to learn all the secret sauce for yourself; the next one is scheduled for Jan 26-27. But here’s a quick breakdown of the most valuable tips and interesting tricks I learned as a working student for Sinead Halpin Eventing.
“Work smarter, not harder.”
Meg is a big believer in working smarter, not harder. In a top eventing barn, where time can quickly slip away from you, it’s critical to effectively manage your time in order to maximize the day. To stick to this philosophy, Meg only uses two bridles for all the horses scheduled to be worked each day. Each horse has its own bridle, but the daily tack cleaning regiment means Meg and her team — which currently includes working students Addie French and Sarah Rupert — would end up doing a lot more cleaning if they used each horse’s personal bridle. So the team rotates two bridles, adjusting them as needed and switching in bits depending on the horse. The team also picks hooves into a small bucket that permanently lives in the aisle, a trick Meg picked up during her summer at Maizey Manor. This keeps debris out of the aisle and leaves less of a mess to be swept throughout the day.
Hard vs. soft deadlines
Meg emphasized the importance of setting hard and soft deadlines as a working student. For example, Sinead starts riding the horses at 8 a.m., which is a hard deadline. Meg plans the rest of the morning’s schedule around that time, meaning horses are fed at 7 a.m., followed by getting the first horse ready for Sinead and mucking. Other examples of hard deadlines would be vet calls and client visits. Soft deadlines are then structured around the hard deadlines, because soft deadlines can be moved and changed throughout the day as needed. Some examples of soft deadlines would be cleaning tack and scrubbing water buckets. A working student’s job is to keep the barn running on schedule, so it’s critical to stick to those hard deadlines. Meg does that by writing the day’s schedule on one of her many whiteboards and placing it on a shelf in the barn aisle where the entire team can see it.
Show turnout tips & tricks
I was especially excited to hear Meg’s tips and tricks on show turnout, since Tate always looks super shiny and lovely at the big three-days. When it comes to mane pulling, Meg pulls the mane over multiple days, starting about a week before the event. After she’s pulled the mane, she uses a surgical glove to pull off little uneven bits to achieve a perfectly straight mane. She also uses surgical gloves to pull the tail and recommends applying a wet tail bandage before dressage, which can quickly be pulled off after warm up to reveal a fabulously smooth tail. Instead of using pricey ShowSheen to condition coats, Meg swears by her trusty Hair Moisturizer from Healthy HairCare, which she uses daily to promote healthy coats. She also uses antibacterial Palmolive to give baths, instead of more expensive specialty shampoos. And here’s a random trivia fact: Meg can fit 33 braids into Tate’s mane.
Upper-body strength, or lack thereof
While I realize this isn’t really a tip, I thought it important to comment on the importance of upper-body strength as a working student. The daily stall-mucking routine at SHE involves pushing full wheelbarrows up a steep ramp and dumping them into the manure spreader. I successfully did this once with a smaller wheelbarrow on the first morning of my working student stint — after a running start and a grunt a la Serena Williams. But once the snow started falling and conditions became slippery, the ramp started winning. Us Howdaa working students ended up each taking a side of the wheelbarrow and pushing it up the ramp together. I’m sure if I was pushing wheelbarrows up the ramp every day it would eventually become easier — Meg made it look like cake — but my tiny guns just couldn’t cut it. So if you’re hoping to be a working student in the near future, start lifting weights now.
Thank you, Howdaa
This is just a very small taste of my two days as a working student for Sinead Halpin Eventing. We fed. We mucked. We tacked horses. We cleaned. We scrubbed. We swept. We organized. We watered. We also listened to two very informative lectures. Dana, who used to work for Buckeye, talked about building and maintaining an equine nutrition program, and local vet Dr. Jaime Horner talked about major muscle groups and diagnosing lameness. For someone like me who works an office job and will likely never be a full-time working student, the Howdaa Working Student Bootcamp provided a wonderful learning experience. Having one of the sport’s leading head grooms critique and correct your skills — from wrapping and tack cleaning to braiding and tail pulling — is just invaluable. So bookmark the Howdaa website, follow the blog, and get ready to take advantage of incredible learning opportunities. Go Howdaa.