Ayla Robinson returns to Midway College in Midway, KY for her sophomore year riding high after a summer job any horse obsessed girl dreams of. For vacation every year for seven years, Ayla and her mom traveled from Plainfield, Il, a suburb of Chicago, to the Kentucky Horse Park. They would always go to watch the Breeds Barn show and there the spark was lit.
“When I started college at Midway, I mentioned to my college advisor my desire to work at the Kentucky Horse Park in the Breeds Barn. Early spring, she found out the KHP was hiring, I applied and got my first ever riding interview!” Ayla was hired as a one of eight seasonal employees in the Breeds Barn who worked alongside three full time workers. Alya gives us a behind-the-scenes view of the work and fun her dream job entailed.
What’s the schedule and duties for work at the Breeds Barn?
Work at the KHP Breeds Barn is very structured and time sensitive. Two shows run every day at 11am and 2pm. Both shows have completely different horses to allow guests to see different breeds. The Breeds Barn has 30+ horses of rare, common, and unusual breeds.
The day begins by retrieving the horses from pastures all over the horse park. We extensively show groom the horses, which takes up to a couple hours. They have to be extremely clean to look good for the public after rolling in mud all night.
Once ready, we tack up, do makeup and get dressed in our costumes, then ride around the visitor’s area of the park prior to the show. The shows take about 30 minutes total. Typically, there is an opening act, followed by individual breed demonstrations, and lastly, a drill with all the horses together. I rode two different horses in two different costumes each day. Typically there are 5-7 horses each show, so between 10-14 different horses in costume each day. After the first show, horses are fed and watered. An hour before the second show, the routine of tacking up, dressing up repeats. After the second show, we complete all standard barn chores including, turnout, feeding, mucking stalls, cleaning tack and any other tasks. Overall, the job is very diverse with plenty of saddle time and horse/barn care.
What have you learned about different breeds?
Reading books about different breeds and seeing pictures is nothing like working with them in person! I have learned so much about different breed characteristics and how desired conformation really depends on the breed. A major purpose of the shows is to educate the public about the history and purpose of the breeds, so I have learned a tremendous amount of information that goes beyond being able to identify a horse’s breed. Now I have a background of their country of origin, original purpose, and what they are typically used for today. As a rider, I have gotten to experience how different breeds ride with their different gaits and different disciplines.
Do you interact with public?
Yes! The majority of the audiences are non-horse people or people with a very limited knowledge of horses. I have gotten every type of question imaginable. But it is wonderful helping educate the public about horses and different breeds. One of the best parts of the shows is “meet and greet” where we line up by the rail. There the audience is encouraged to come pet, take pictures and ask all the questions they would like. It is almost like being a celebrity with the amount of pictures taken of me and the horse I’m riding. But of course it is all about the horses because they all are looking beautiful in their costumes. Another great part with interacting with the public is when school groups come through, especially elementary school groups. Their excitement and pure joy of just seeing or petting a horse is just so rejuvenating and wonderful. It really rekindles those feelings that made me fall in love with horses to begin with.
What’s your riding background?
I took hunter/jumper lessons once a week in middle school at Aliboo Farm in Minooka, Il. I also volunteered at a therapeutic riding facility called Ready Set Ride for over eight years. All this time I did not have my own horse but I had opportunities to ride. In college, I joined the Huntseat and Dressage teams. Along with that I started taking western reining lessons and interned at a reining/cutting farm. My roots are huntseat but I love learning new disciplines and trying any breed or type of horse. My major is Accounting with a minor in Equine.
My favorite costumes are the Gypsy costume, because it’s so colorful and the Native American costume because it just looks so authentic on the horses. I really enjoy dressing up in all of them though, as I feel like an actress playing all these different characters. Also, riding in dresses on horses, with your hair blowing in the wind is every horse crazy, little girl’s dream come true! The Native Arabian costume with its thick black material with a head scarf is less fun in the Kentucky summer heat. Pretty much in all the costumes though, you cannot really escape the heat.
Awkward moments on the job?
In the middle of my performance on a windy day, I came into the arena on the flag horse and lined up in the center. I went the wrong direction of the wind so the flag flapped in my face, covered my horse’s head and I lost my hat. The crowd laughed and cheered because it was so funny and they seemed to love it.
Best moments on the job?
One of the best moments is when I was on the Friesian, in a long purple medieval dress, and a little girl dragging her parents saying loudly how she wants “to see the princess.” It felt awesome, as if I was working at Disney World being one of the princess’ in costume where all the little kids want to meet you.
Other highlights included meeting and working with Odd Job Bob, the movie star Gypsy Vanner who appeared in the film, The Greening of Whitney Brown. Also, I got to meet Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship as he performed in our show for a guest weekend.
Did the experience match the fantasy of working at KHP?
It truly was one of my dreams to work in the breeds barn, and I still cannot get over the fact that it came true. It has been one of the best experiences of my life, just loving going to work each day. My long term life goal has been and is to own and run a Friesian farm, but after this experience I may need to add some other breeds of horses to my dream farm.
Breeds at the KHP Breeds Barn: Friesian, Azteca, Marwari, Quarter Horse, Fjord, Shire, Gypsy Vanner, Miniature Horse, Appaloosa, Morgan, Akhal Teke, Arabian, Haflinger, Paint, Fell Pony, American Saddlebred, Mountain Pleasure Horse, Mustang, Tennessee Walking Horse, Lipizzan, Paso Fino, Chincoteague Pony, Andalusian, and Icelandic. Some of the breeds have more than one.
For more information about Midway College and its students visit www.midway.edu