Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 10
Curiosity got the best of 9-year-old Miguel Wilson when he found his father’s old riding hat and tall boots. Through the strange looking velvet cap and tall black boots, Wilson felt a connection to horses. And that interest in them has carried through years of traveling from Texas to California to Vermont to Lexington, Ky., for his final trip to USEF Pony Finals as an 18-year-old before heading off to American University (D.C.).
“I’ve just been a working student for basically the entirety of my riding career,” said the Atlanta native. “And I’ve never had a horse of my own—I just go to each barn and learn.”
Wilson started riding at a general lesson barn in Atlanta. But after mastering his weekly lessons, he got discouraged by the expenses involved with the equine industry.
“I actually stopped riding for three years because I was like, ‘I don’t have any money. I don’t know how I’m going to do this,’ ” said Wilson. “The thing that I’ve noticed—and this is obviously me and my observations—is in this industry, you’re either a trainer’s kid or you have a lot of money. And I didn’t fall into either of those categories, and so that was originally why I was discouraged. I was like, ‘Oh I’m not going to ride,’ and my parents were actually really upset about that. They said, ‘Why would you stop now?’ ”
Needless to say, after three years, Wilson found his way back in the tack—with a new tool in his box.
“I had a new outlook—and I think I finally had an understanding of the internet. So I would search all the websites and call everyone—and of course there were a lot of people who said, ‘That’s not realistic. I’m not going to let you come and ride.’
“But I picked it back up after looking through some ads of people looking for someone to help out at the barn,” Wilson continued. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘I was going to show.’ I just wanted to ride, so I showed up at the show and met Phoebe Loughrey, and she was like, ‘OK, you can come and ride with us.’ ”
With his responsibilities in the barn and in the classroom taking a toll on his sleep, Wilson pitched online schooling to his parents so he could mold his own schedule.
“Very rarely do you see riders take their academics as seriously as their riding and excel in both,” said Piper Klemm, who owns some green ponies that Wilson has helped train through the years. “Miguel Wilson is a classic example of that, and his self-discipline and motivation in his academics is evident.”
“I would stick to my schedule,” said Wilson. “Like, ‘OK, I wake up at 5, try and do an hour of school work, go to the barn, help feed, start riding, ride like six or seven horses, then take lunch or something, do a few lessons if you can, work ahead.’ ”
At 15, Wilson packed up his belongings and headed to Texas to work for Matt Cyphert. After a year, he went on to be a working student for Will Roberts and now works for Katie Cooper. And after four years away from home, Wilson admitted that he probably learned the ways of being adult earlier than most.
“You learn to work on your feet and figure it out and hopefully everything works out,” he said. “I tell my mom, ‘There is no plan.’ We don’t plan. Everything will go off the rails completely.
“It’s going to be interesting [going to college] because a lot of kids haven’t had that experience—that exposure to tough love,” he continued. “And I don’t necessarily think it’s tough—it’s just life. Somebody’s got to do it. Someone’s got to water the horses. Someone’s got to feed the horses. They aren’t going to do it themselves.”
And while his upbringing in the horse world brought many early mornings, many chores and hard work, he prefers it.
“I think because you have to work hard for it, you realize if you actually want to do it or not,” he said. “Like when it’s 4 in the morning, and you’re like, ‘Do I really want to go and longe these horses?’ And [the answer is], ‘Yes.’ You go because it’s what you want to do.
“Some days you do spend the whole day riding, and then some days you spend like all day cold-hosing legs or taking care of a horse that’s hurt or colicing,” he continued. “When you’re completely in it, you’re not thinking about, ‘Oh I didn’t ride as much today’ or, ‘Oh I rode a lot today.’ You’re getting the job done.”
So as his last hurrah to Pony Finals before entering college to study business, look for Wilson campaigning Emily Elek’s Woodlands Churchill in the medium green pony division.
“I think my situation is really nice actually because I grew up out of the horse world. I didn’t have the horse trainer parents, and I didn’t grow up sitting in a stroller at the side of the ring,” said Wilson. “I’m not burnt out on the idea of ponies. I’m like, ‘Yeah, more ponies!’ ”