Madi Hunter
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Madi Hunter

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Make It Work (and Work, and Work, and Work)

Photo courtesy of Madi Hunter.

Photo courtesy of Madi Hunter.

As equestrians, we are notoriously busy. Whether riding is your main job or something you do on the side, we are all busy.

Riding is also a sport that demands a lot physically from both horse and rider, and as riders don’t always have the extra time to get fit ourselves outside of the barn. I understand how difficult it is to get motivated to work out outside of the barn or outside of what you already do, so I’ve come up with a list of things you can do at the barn while you are completing all your other chores! 

  1. When walking to the paddocks to either bring a horse in or turn a horse out, do lunges. It may take a little more time and your horse may look at you a little funny, but you have to get the the paddock somehow! 
  2. Resistance bands are easy to pick up and cheap to buy. There are tons of exercises you can find to do with them as well. While standing at the end of the day and cleaning a large pile of tack, slip a resistance band on and do a little bit more work! 
  3. When cleaning stalls, fill your whole wheelbarrow. Don’t fill it most of the way — fill it to the top and then keep filling. Not only does it give you more to lift and push, but you have less trips to the manure pile to make. 
  4. Always push your wheelbarrow, don’t pull it. Just like when your horse is working you want them pushing and not pulling, use the same work ethic for yourself. And if you have access to them, use a wheelbarrow with one wheel instead of two! It tests your balance a little bit more too! 
  5. When sweeping or raking your aisle, do so with a purpose. Don’t lazily sweep your rake — really put your body into it. It may feel a little silly and like it isn’t making a difference, but I promise you, it does! And on that note: Do everything with a purpose! 
  6. Go for a jog, but bring your horse. This way, you both get a workout! I had a friend who did this multiple times a week and it really helped her fitness as well as that of her horses. It’s also a lot more fun to go running if you have a buddy to do it with! 
  7. When your stacked hay becomes slightly disorganized, take the whole thing down and then stack it all again! Sure, it may seem like a waste of time, but hay bales are heavy and hard to handle which benefits your muscles in the long run. And having a neat stack of hay just makes things look cleaner — it’s a win-win! 
  8. If you have a hose to fill up water buckets, stop using it! Take each bucket to the source, fill it all the way, and carry the full bucket back to its stall. Heavy and awkward, but you can pretty much watch your muscles grow with each bucket you carry. 
  9. Also regarding water, while your buckets are filling (hose or not) do some high knees. Instead of just staring at the bucket fill, which we all know makes it take longer, be a little productive! 
  10. Here’s an obvious one: Sit the trot more. Do more no-stirrup work. Yes, I know, ouch — but do it anyway! 
  11. For those of you with stiff or locked hips, invest in a dollar store hula hoop! This idea was given to me by Lisa Marie Fergusson and it’s a great idea for helping you find a better seat in the saddle. 
  12. Do squat jumps onto and off a mounting block or bags of grain. With the bags of grain, you can change the height and really make yourself work harder!  

Always Get Back On

Photo courtesy of Madi Hunter. Photo courtesy of Madi Hunter.

When you fall off your horse, your trainer will always tell you to get right back on and do it again. George Morris has said you either go to the hospital or you get back on your horse. I think there is incredible value in getting back on after a fall, for many reasons. Sometimes, you are physically not able to get back on your horse, but that doesn’t mean you back off or stop showing up. You can always get back on, just in a different sense. 

Earlier this fall, I broke my back and had to sit out for about two and a half months. Instead of sitting at home and crying about not being able to ride or compete, I still showed up to the barn everyday. My trainer rode my horse, Sparrow, every day until I could come back and I was there watching for at least all of the jumping rides and many of the flat rides.

During the time I had off, I watched more lessons than I imagined both where I board and at other farms. I took the opportunity I had to attend shows as emotional support despite not being able to be of much help. I expanded my photography skills by following people at an event all day and being my trainer’s right hand girl — giving advice, making sure people got where they needed to go on time, checked to make sure numbers weren’t on upside down.

I also got to audit a William Fox-Pitt clinic that my trainer rode in and tagged along to multiple lessons she had with Phillip Dutton. In addition to being out and about at the farm, I did a lot of reading and research to keep my brain sharp. During the time I was out, I also began my own business. My intention was to keep myself busy with smaller tasks and start saving up to help my horse winter in Florida. Thankfully, my back healed and I was able to work enough to get both me and my horse to Florida. 

We have now been in Florida since the start of January and the both of us have been working incredibly hard. In addition to being a regular working student, I have been continuing my business and working at other farms.

In the past week or so, I have noticed more pain creeping into my back in my daily chores. And in the past few days, I received word that I am supposed to stop working and riding and put my back brace on again.

Getting this news meant I had to withdraw from my first Novice run with my horse at Rocking Horse 2. This was an incredibly hard choice for me to have to make and I have certainly been devastated, shedding a lot of tears. It would have been very easy for me to pack up my stuff and sit in my camper until I was allowed to ride again — so easy, in fact, that that’s almost what I did.

Instead, I chose to figuratively get back on the horse and I offered my services as a volunteer at the event. I spent one day as a dressage ring steward and am now spending the day as a cross country judge for Preliminary and Training.

I am pretty genuinely worried that I have officially pushed myself too far and that I may not be able to come back from this injury, but until I know that for sure, I will still be making the choice to better myself everyday. I may not be able to lift water buckets or tack up a horse, but I can still make phone calls and send emails. I can still read books and type things into the Google search bar. I can still be searching for advice, owners and sponsors, barns, trainers, clinics and planning my rehab.

So when I say get back on your horse, it doesn’t always have to mean physically — sometimes that just isn’t plausible. The mental aspect of this sport is just as demanding, if not more, than the physical. 

Read a book, volunteer at a show, or make a phone call. It all adds up, keep yourself prepared.  


‘Just Keep Showing Up’

Photo by Xpress Foto. Photo by Xpress Foto.

I have sand permanently stuck between my toes, pieces of hay in places hay shouldn’t be, a layer of sawdust coating my eyes, sweat building up everywhere, blisters all over my feet and some awful tan lines. My recovering back is sore, there are ants that crawl on my plates, I can barely stand up in my shower, I have bruises covering both my legs, and my mind is tired from trying to remember who’s bridle belongs to who.

I’m surround by supplements, leather, stirrups, grain, medications, cross country fences, dressage rings, manure, half pads galore, an array of boots, a handful of fly masks, and some hanging plants. When I go “home” I walk into a camper with a bed barely big enough to fit me, no room for my clothes, three spoons, a fridge that can fit a few apples but not much else, and no service. 

But am I complaining? No. These are just facts. I am a full time working student for Steph Kohr in sunny Florida with my horse of a lifetime. I am also running my own business, Madi Hunter Equine Services, in the few hours I am not working for Steph. And in the minutes between bites of cereal or in the time it takes me to walk to a paddock or clean a stall, I am dreaming of reaching the top of the eventing sport, with a horse I hope to acquire within a year or two. 

Photo by Xpress Foto.

Photo by Xpress Foto.

And before you say it, yes, I do know I’m crazy, so you can save your breath there. 

Being a working student is hard, working for yourself is sometimes harder, and trying to reach for the stars without a lot of money or any idea where to truly begin, is even harder than both of those combined.

Every morning I wake up to an incredible sunrise and incredible fog, and I get to go greet my best friend. I work hard all day, trying my best to get everything done on the list that Steph has left out for me. I get to ride a couple horses a day, if I’m lucky, and during lunch, I’m working towards accomplishing my own list of work. I’m lucky, I know this. I get to work with an amazing trainer and person each day, as well as spend it with my incredible horse, in addition to all of the other horses at the farm. I have access to top name trainers, multiple jump and dressage arenas, and a phenomenal cross county course, as well as trails to hack out on. 

I didn’t get where I am today without a lot of blood, sweat and tears — literally. I’ve taken a number of bad spills, worked long days in all types of weather until I felt like I had sweated myself into a puddle, and I’ve cried a lot — because of frustration, feeling like I’m not good enough, but more importantly, because of pure joy.

Photo by Xpress Foto.

Photo by Xpress Foto.

I’ve worked incredibly hard to be the rider and the person that I am today, and I certainly do not think that I know everything there is to know nor do I think I ever will, but I learn something new every single day, and in all aspects of my life. I’ve always been a hard worker and I always will be — I will very literally work until I drop and then get up and keep going, I’ll work even if I’m not getting anything out of it financially, I will continue working after plenty of people have told me to stop, I’ll keep going no matter how tired I am and no matter how injured I am. 

Horses are important to me and horses are what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to be able to ride a four-star cross country course and have a thousand fans cheering for me. I want to be a reputable trainer — but most importantly, I want to be a horsewoman. I can’t get there alone, but I also can’t get there without devoting my whole self. I will find the supporters I need, in addition to all the emotional ones I have now, and I will one day make it to the top.

A friend of mine recently told me to just keep showing up — and that is exactly what I intend to do. I will show up every single day until I can turn around and not even recognize where I am!