In the Chronicle’s new series, we follow various equine professionals throughout a typical day. In this installment, we asked Caroline Cochran, a working student with Olivia LaGoy-Weltz, to take us to work with her.
Caroline was born in Germany and grew up as an Army brat in a family of perfectly normal people who had the good common sense to avoid pursuits as expensive and ridiculous as horses. After university, Caroline decided to put her honors degree to good use and fulfill childhood dreams by shoveling poo in elite dressage barns in exchange for an education she could never afford. She joined the team of top U.S. dressage rider Olivia LaGoy-Weltz as a working student in 2018. In 2019, Caroline was given the amazing opportunity to lease a real-life Grand Prix horse for the 2020 winter season in Florida. Together, Olivia and Waki are still hoping to one day succeed in enlightening Caroline that a piaffe does not actually resemble a monkey humping a football in any way.
4:30 a.m. My alarm goes off so that I have time to do yoga before work.
4:31 a.m. I hit snooze and go back to sleep.
5:53 a.m. I awake in a panic, throw breeches on, and swallow a fistful of Advil for breakfast in lieu of a morning yoga session.
6 a.m. – 6:30 a.m. I drive next door to my barn to feed the horses and dress them for turnout.
Our program consists of 20 horses split between two barns. We keep the horses in training with Olivia at her sponsor’s farm, where I live, and Olivia’s students’ horses at our client’s farm next door. I am the resident “Adult-Amateur-Lady-Wrangler,” so I spend my days looking after our wonderful ladies and their horses.
Our program at home is much quieter than our busy Florida season. During the summer we are based at Olivia’s beautiful small farm in Virginia where we enjoy having the entire team together at one facility. I also get to spend all day with a certain famous big brown horse up north.
6:45 a.m. Olivia arrives at the other farm to start riding her horses. We start mucking out 12 stalls while the horses are in the paddocks.
Our staff consists of one full-time working student at each farm, two part-time working students who help us both get through the morning chores, and one barn manager/assistant trainer/benevolent overlord/real-life-wonder-woman who keeps us all from misbehaving. Our client’s barn also has a wonderful farm manager who cares for the barn owner’s horses and keeps the grounds immaculate.
Every morning after we feed breakfast we muck out and bed the stalls, swap 12 horses in and out of turnout, clean water buckets and feed bins, blow out the aisle, put away laundry and tidy the barn.
9:30 a.m. On a good day, the barn is done, and horses are brought in from turnout. Clients start arriving for lessons, often bearing leftovers and pastries to keep the resident working student from wasting away. If you ever wondered how many donuts a working student will eat when provided with free-choice donuts, the answer is all of them.
10 a.m. Olivia arrives at my barn to start teaching. I spend the morning grooming and tacking up horses for the clients and putting the horses away after lessons.
10:30 a.m. I torture my (borrowed) horse Waki and his best friend with their morning walk on the hot walker, which he would describe as a death march. The horses can’t be turned out that long in Florida so it’s important to find ways to keep the older horses moving.
11:01 a.m. There is an uprising in the barn because lunch is exactly 60 seconds late, and this is completely unacceptable.
11:30 a.m. In between getting horses ready for the clients, Olivia and her assistant, I tackle all the other odd jobs around the barn. These include cleaning tack, rolling endless wraps, setting grain, giving medications, walking horses, ferrying supplies between farms and attempting to keep the barn presentable. I also help the many vets, farriers, saddle fitters, massage therapists, and other professionals that come in the barn on any given day.
12:30 p.m. Fanning the ladies as they enjoy some post-ride prosecco? This task might not be part of the job description, but I am there to help our clients with anything they need.
1 p.m. Before Olivia finishes teaching I usually sneak Waki out of his stall again for a hand walk and graze. He spends most of this time judging the polo ponies across the street and destroying the landscaping.
2 p.m. Olivia is usually done teaching the clients if we are miraculously on schedule. She heads back to the other barn to continue riding well into the evening. After I put the last horse away I start afternoon barn chores. I pick stalls, fill waters, give hay and clean the aisle again.
4 p.m. The horses eat dinner, and I set breakfast for the next morning. If I have a chance I will drag the arena while it’s still light out. Thankfully no one is around to watch me accidentally take out half of the dressage arena with the tractor every day without fail.
4:30 p.m. Waki’s turn! I usually don’t ride until I’ve taken care of all the clients and barn chores. The barn is quiet, and I can take my time getting my horse ready, including lots of scratches and snacks during grooming time.
Anyone who knows me knows I am the queen of baby oil and white wraps. I love making the horses shine, and I like to think my above-average wrapping skills might distract from my below-average riding skills. I also make sure to do carrot stretches before every ride. Waki is not really a fan of stretching, but he is most definitely a fan of carrots.
5 p.m. I take Waki for a 15 minute hack around the property before and after we work in the arena. If Olivia has time she will come back and teach me. Lessons mostly consist of Olivia trying to convince me that I do, in fact, have perfectly functioning legs attached to my body, while Waki the Majestic Grand Prix horse reminds me that I am completely unworthy of his majesticness.
6 p.m. Majestic Grand Prix horse gets all the snacks and a bath after he works. I ice his legs after every ride before he goes on the Theraplate. Sometimes I stand on the Theraplate with him in an effort to lower my Advil intake.
6:45 p.m. I put away all of my stuff and finish any tasks left from the day. More donuts for dinner!
7:30 p.m. I pick the stalls, give hay and fill waters again for night check. Waki gets goodnight snuggles. Every horse is tucked in and gets a goodnight snack before lights out.
9 p.m. I arrive back at my little room to drag myself into the shower. I live in a room above the observation area of a beautiful indoor arena, and the view outside my window is the horses schooling. If you’ve ever attended the U.S. Dressage Federation FEI-Level Trainers Conference and wondered who that girl you could see through the windows wandering around in her pajamas was, that’s me!
9:30 p.m. I crawl into bed and scroll through the shenanigans that often fill our barn group chat to find the schedule for tomorrow. I should really do yoga to help these aches and pains, but I’m too tired, so I set an alarm extra early and look forward to ignoring that idea in the morning yet again.
9:45 p.m. My attempts to stay awake and interact with the outside world are in vain. I fall asleep to wake up and do it all again tomorrow!
This day is a typical easy day. There is always something happening to squeeze into our schedule such as vet visits, saddle fittings, sales trials, photo shoots, clinics and shows. The days in Wellington are crazy, but the extraordinary people who make up our team and the fun we have through the long hours make everything worth it, even on the days I find myself hiding in the bathroom Googling how to be a trophy wife. Behind every rider competing at the World Cup Finals or Olympics are long hours, hard days and a dedicated team. It is a privilege and inspiration to be a part of such a remarkable journey.