Alex Warriner Hasn't Stopped Learning On The Way To The Grand Prix Ring

Jul 3, 2008 - 10:00 PM

After trying on a few horse careers, she’s found her niche as Kent Farrington’s barn manager.

“It’s not fun to stand next to me when I’m watching one of our horses go!” Alex Warriner said. “I’m a nervous wreck. I jump up and down and talk my way through it. I’m hugely competitive.”

As grand prix show jumper Kent Farrington’s barn manager, Warriner has found an environment that whets and rewards that competitive streak. The star of the barn is Up Chiqui, the fiery chestnut gelding who won 12 grand prix classes last year and placed 13th in the FEI World Cup Final (Sweden) in April.

Warriner’s main focus is managing all aspects behind the scenes of Farrington’s program, but if Up Chiqui is showing, he’s her priority. “We’ve always had a pretty special bond. He’s a lot of fun, so he makes the long hours worth it,” Warriner said.

“He is quirky—it’s all about him. He might be a little bit spoiled. He has one of those personalities that draws you into him. He’s challenging sometimes and he’s a work in progress. It’s amazing what he’s accomplished and hopefully he can do more.”

Farrington believes that his success in the ring has been helped by Warriner’s dedication in the barn.

“Alex does everything,” he said. “She manages all the horses. She’s an excellent rider on the flat. She knows all the medication rules and can spot lamenesses as well as any veterinarian. She’s part of mapping out the horses’ competition schedules and feeding regimen. She’s an integral part of my program.”

For Warriner, 35, watching her charges succeed is just reward. “It’s so much fun when we really have a horse where we want it, and we’re confident with a horse and they feel good and look good and they go in the ring and win a big class. The World Cup Finals were really fun with ‘Chiqui.’ Yes, he’s won a lot of grand prix classes, but he was competitive there too and can probably be even more competitive.”

Life on the road with a string of top horses has a unique set of challenges. Farrington is currently based out of Brewster, N.Y., but “we travel a lot,” Warriner said. “Sometimes I get bored of traveling and I want to be home, but then we’re home for a while and I get bored with that. I can’t imagine being in one place for too long. It’s in my blood.

“Everybody questions it because you do nothing else but the horses. Yes, you have a social life and friends, but to go away and have a real vacation doesn’t happen. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. You wonder how long you can do it, but then you’re going to World Cup Finals and winning grand prix classes. And what else would I do? I couldn’t be in an office job.

“One of the best times is driving home from a horse show when you’ve just won a big class. You think, ‘Wow, that was worth all the work.’ ”

What She Wants To Do

While Warriner has ended up in a job she wouldn’t trade, she took a bit of a circuitous path to get there. She grew up in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

“There were no after-school sports, so friends of my parents said, ‘Why don’t you try riding?’ And that was it. It was a done deal from that point on,” she recalled.

Warriner showed locally under the tutelage of Cheryl Levitt and then moved on to show with Paul Valliere for the remainder of her junior years. She put lots of hard work into riding.

About Alex

Age: 35

Home: Brewster, N.Y., and Wellington, Fla., originally from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Education: A degree in early childhood education from Lynchburg College (Va.).

What she likes about working for Kent Farrington: “I like the way he looks at things—his planning. He’s young, but he’s very smart about the way he does things. He’s not like a kid who has to get in the ring every time whether the horses need it or not. That was really refreshing,” Warriner said.

What she’d do if it wasn’t horses:
“I have no idea. I’ve thought about it, but I don’t really want to start out at the bottom of anything else. I’m doing a good job at what I’m doing, so why change it?” she said.

Her frame of mind: “Alex is incredibly upbeat and optimistic, which is a good balance because I’ve been known to get down on myself,” said Farrington. “She’s good at encouraging and being positive. Everybody who works with her likes her, especially the horses.”

“I did everything on my own, taking care of my horse, when I was a kid and a junior,” she said.

She competed at the major equitation finals in 1988, ’89 and ’90, placing second in the USET Finals in 1989 and second in the ASHA Medal Finals in 1990.

Warriner took a year off and worked for grand prix rider Margie Engle before starting at Lynchburg College (Va.). She graduated with a degree in early childhood education but didn’t really want to pursue a classroom-teaching career. She found her way to Garrison Forest School (Md.), where she worked as assistant trainer.

“That’s what got me back to horses. I enjoyed the teaching and it was a good stable job. I took the kids to shows and taught a lot,” she said.

After a year at Garrison Forest, Warriner moved on.

“I did my own thing for a while, running my own business teaching and training, operating my own farm in Maryland. It was a good learning experience—I learned a lot about myself, the business and what I do and don’t want to do!” she said.

When an opportunity to return to working for Engle came up, Warriner jumped at the job, which was strictly riding. “It was great to get back into the big shows,” she said. “Margie’s brilliant. 

“I learned a lot about riding different horses with Margie. Watching Margie—she’s a great rider and amazing competitor,” she added. “She’s a great teacher—she helped us a lot with the horses. I could ride blindfolded to a jump and trust her completely. The experience of getting on all those horses was invaluable. I got to show some sales horses with her, too, which was neat.”

Finding Her Place

But Warriner wanted to do more than ride all day long. “I was afraid I was going to learn to hate it, and I
didn’t want that,” she said.

She knew the Weeks family from Martha’s Vineyard, where she’d taught them in the summers, and took a job managing their barn. At the time, they rode with Farrington.

“Then I approached Kent and said, ‘I really want to find the right job that makes me happy with the whole
picture.’ We worked it out that I manage for him. I just like the variety of it all—working with the horses, making sure they’re sound and good and happy. It’s a pleasure working for Kent because he’s so talented. We make a really good team.

“I start and finish with feeding and making up feed. I make sure the horses and grooms are in order, getting a plan for the day. I help Kent with the horses. There’s the fun paperwork of entries, billing, travel papers and organizing everything. I plan the vet and the farrier. If a horse gets sick, I’m there. It’s 24/7. If the grooms need something done, I fill in. If we only have a couple of horses going to a show, I’ll go instead of a groom.”

For Farrington, Warriner’s breadth of experience is invaluable. “She’s so detail-oriented. She notices everything about the horses. She’s very good at surrounding herself with other people who are like her, to help her do her job and getting the best out of not only the horses, but also the people she works with,” he said.

Warriner doesn’t really have any aspirations to show herself.

“I don’t miss it,” she said of showing. “If the opportunity came up to ride some more, I’d love to do it. Kent’s great—he helps me a lot at home and that part of it is quite fun. Kent’s asked me if I miss showing and riding a lot, and it’s odd, but I don’t think I have time to miss it. As long as I get to ride a bit, I’m happy.”

In 2006, Warriner got the chance to travel internationally with horses for the first time. She accompanied Farrington and Madison to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the FEI World Cup Final. The trip was more of a learning experience than Warriner expected.

“Madison went in the first round and tied up,” she recalled. “We treated her just with fluids, and she came
out of it so well. She came back from that and won the grand prix, so that made the trek across the world worthwhile.

“She was really fit and really ready,” she added. “I think it was just the heat and the travel and the change in the climate. She was always one that was sensitive to those things. After the fact, we changed her diet a little bit. That’s kind of the learning as you go. You can read about it in a textbook, but when you’re dealing with it, you learn a lot as you go.” 

Molly Sorge

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