Katie Mays has spent her last two years with Molly Kinnamon and the MK-Equestrian team. Katie works with the team out of their farm in Kirkwood, PA and completed two winter training sessions in Aiken, SC. Check out why Katie chose MK-Equestrain, what she is learning from the experience, and don’t miss her thoughts for those individuals interested in the working student lifestyle.
Photo credit – Lisa Thomas
1. Tell us about your equine background and how you chose to join Molly’s team.
My family had horses my entire childhood, but it wasn’t until I was 8 years old that I took interest in them. After several years of being consumed by riding and taking care of horses, I turned that passion into a career, and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Equine Science at Morrisville State College in NY. Through my degree, I completed a 15 week internship at an Eventing farm, since I had always had a fascination with the thrills and challenges of trying to master the 3 Eventing disciplines.
With the help of my internship supervisor, I learned that Molly had a working student position available. I visited Molly when she had 3 horses competing in the CIC divisions at the September Plantation Fields Horse Trials (AKA the Best Event Ever). It was a long weekend, but I enjoyed working with her head groom, and admired the “teamwork makes the dream work” mentality that everyone had. I decided to join this team because it was made up of fun, hard-working, dedicated people. And I could learn the aspects of caring for, managing, and training upper level event horses. Plus we are surrounded by some of the best events and riders on the East Coast!
2. What have you learned over the past two years at MK-Equestrian?
I had little experience working with event horses prior to this, so I learned all about icing, studs, braiding, the various equipment needed for each phase, the vet box, etc.
The biggest things I learned have not been about horses, but about myself. We all have various personal skills that are strengths we have acquired over time. I’ve always been an organized person. Growing up and through school, I planned for things days in advance; I set aside time for various projects, and I stuck to a schedule. This has been excruciatingly vital to my time at MK Equestrian. Having a schedule/plan, goal lists for each day, and planning ahead makes the day productive and efficient. This skill allows me to accomplish a lot of things on a daily basis, and keeps the ship flowing steady on horse show days. I also have a good memory, and can memorize quite a few things, which was also a skill I developed in all of my years studying at school. This has made it easier for me to recall what the horses eat, what gear they wear, etc.
I feel that anyone can learn about taking care of horses, training them, and even riding them. But learning about your personal skills and how to use them to their full potential is the best lesson you can get from wherever you may be working because they can be applied to anything you do, so own them!
3. Tell us about your rides and your goals for the year?
Since I started working at MK-Equestrian, I have had the opportunity to ride quite a few awesome horses. During my first year, I acquired the ride on one of Molly’s sale horses, Kynynmont’s Cassidy. This lady was quite the sassy princess, I can remember one of my first rides on her resulted in me getting a bloody nose! She was the sweetest horse in the barn, and she had the athleticism of a 4 star horse. I spent lot of time riding hunters growing up and through college, and she quickly taught me how to ride like an Eventer. Within a few months, she took me from Beginner Novice all the way to Training Level. I think we were so successful because we had spent a lot of time developing a partnership and I just felt so confident with her. We had multiple successful events at Training level before she returned to her breeder. Out of all of the horses that have come and will come into my life, she will always be one of the special ones.
Knowing that Cassidy was a sale horse and would not be around forever, I began leasing The Queen Bee, a fabulous Mustang owned by Camilla Grover-Dodge. She too is a sassy princess, but she has been a phenomenal teacher. Cassidy gave me a break on some of my rookie habits, but Tuesday will not hesitate to tell me if I’m not riding the right way. She has been essential to improving my overall technique, and I am grateful for what she is teaching me. We just tackled Training level at NJ finishing in 9th. My goal for the rest of this year is to continue building my partnership with Tuesday and have some successful Training level events under our belt (or girth!) before the end of the season. The long-term goal is perhaps moving up to Preliminary!
4. What advice do you have for working students searching for an opportunity?
I have several things to advise potential working students about. I think this is what separates this blog from others because it isn’t what you typically see.
The most important advice I can give is to put YOUR well-being before anything else. When I say this, I am talking about your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Working students work harder than anyone in the horse industry. We are working LONG days with little breaks, in all sorts of weather conditions, and with half-ton animals with minds of their own. Sometimes in our desire to please, we will push ourselves beyond our limitations. I think it is healthy to push yourself past your comfort zone at times, but know your limits. In order to be a successful operation, your farm needs everyone to be at their best. If you’re not, you can’t be efficient and productive, and like dominoes, the stress will increase, the positivity and work ethic will decrease, and you will find less reasons to enjoy your life. I say life because being a working student isn’t just a job, it’s a LIFE. Being honest about anything is one of the main requirements any employer, owner, or fellow employee will look for in you.
Do not be afraid to speak your mind about various situations. We all see the world differently from one another, so you might see a more efficient way of doing things than your employer. I encourage you to suggest ideas that can improve the business, but if your employer is firm in their ways, then do not ignore those ways and do your own thing, that is how you will break their trust and lose opportunities or your job. At the end of the day, it is their business, and as their working student, you are expected to do it their way.
If you choose to move forward to something else, you can decide to take or leave their methods.
Lastly, give your employers reasons to trust you, value you, and respect you. Have a work ethic that inspires productivity, be honest about yourself or the situation, be appreciative of every lesson, clinic, horse show, or ride that you can partake in, love and care for the horses as if they were your own, and work together with your team. Inspire others, help others, share in the victories and defeats, ask questions, and enjoy the journey!
Last October during the Fair Hill International CCI, Lisa Thomas, the creator of the MK Equestrian website, took a photo of Molly and I after her dressage test on The Diesel Boy.
The caption I wrote for it: “I am grateful and lucky to have joined something that has given so much back to me, something that has wrapped me in its emotions and energy that charges my soul.”
This statement still sticks with me to this day. I think this is the feeling that every working student should have about their job. This feeling is what separates being a working student as a job verses as a LIFE!