Friday, May. 24, 2024

Amateurs Like Us: We Have A Lot Of Homework After Two Months As A Working Student



Wow, life has slowed down for Echo and me! We had a terrific last lesson (sniff!) while doing the working student thing on Saturday, April 1 and then immediately loaded up and drove the 2 ½ hours back to Richmond.


Echo, Allison Spivey and I. Photo by Jason O’Keefe

Being back in the suburbs and working solely at a desk have been major culture shocks—a more difficult adjustment than the one I made when originally arriving at Allison’s. The first couple of weeks of being a working student were physically exhausting and that fatigue helped me get through the shock of living in a very remote location and working in a barn every day.

But let me back up to the show that I mentioned in my previous blog. We attended the VADA-NOVA schooling show at Morven Park on March 26 and had a great time! The show staff were great and I got to know all of them quite well after being there literally all day. Our team was both the first and last rides of the day and a ton in between. It was a busy day but everything went smoothly and all of the horses were troopers.

Echo stood on the trailer from 5:30 a.m. until I pulled him off at 2:30 p.m. to tack up and get on early for my ride. Needless to say, despite having a Back on Track sheet on, he was a bit stiff! And after working all day on my feet, so was I.

He was also a little on fire (for Echo), which has historically been very difficult for me to ride. Since he is usually easygoing and quiet, when he does get fired up and hot off the leg I don’t always do well with the adjustment. I am very, VERY proud to say that I warmed him up well, with only a little bit of assistance from Allison as she was warming up her own ride for the day, and really remembered to keep my body relaxed (as much as possible) and keep my leg on.

We did lots of bending and leg yielding to get him to loosen up in his body. He was a bit tough during the test but overall we laid down a very respectable test that didn’t look nearly as bad as it felt. We came in second place behind Allison (but only by 3 percentage points!) and I am so happy with how we both handled the whole day.


The last week at Allison Spivey Dressage was a tough one for me. I was very emotional about leaving and even got teary-eyed while picking paddocks, which is just ridiculous and hilarious.


With Camilla, Alison’s cool barn cat! Photo by Jane Hart

Our plan was to keep the week fairly light work-wise for Echo so on Saturday, when Jason came to help me pack up and head home, we could get good video. It didn’t work out quite as planned because Echo was still worn out come Saturday, so our lesson wasn’t mind blowing but it was solid and we got a lot of good work!

Allison got on Echo the Wednesday before we left, which was the first time she has sat on him during our whole “visit,” and she was very happy with his progress. I also got lessons on the Prix St. Georges horse that we have in the barn who is incredibly special. He is a very kind teacher and graciously let me fumble my way through multiple lines of changes and quarter canter pirouettes. I needed to get the feeling of the timing of the flying changes and riding a horse who is so rock solid in his changes was highly educational. I also got to feel what an “8” walk pirouette feels like so now I have a better idea of what they should feel like on Echo.

A video with a look at our progress…

So now I am back at my desk in Richmond and have had a couple of rides on Echo at home so far. Everything is very strange to me and I joke that I feel like an overstimulated cat about to bite someone. The noise of both living in the suburbs and working in a large corporate office are a little overwhelming when I’m used to quiet solitude at home and only three or four of us at the barn. Who would have thought that two months would cause me to adjust so much?! My rides on Echo at our home barn were good and I feel somewhat confident that I can keep the level of work up.


I have had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting on what I learned while working for Allison. I have really come to understand the importance of doing your homework.

When we arrived, our haunches-in was a joke and the canter was very unbalanced due to lack of strength after rehabbing. We spent weeks working on Echo allowing me to access his body and his becoming more supple and through.

Due to that homework, the haunches-in when we approached it “normally” was easy! The canter has become incredibly strong and powerful and we have had moments of Echo really sitting and lifting his shoulders, which is an incredible feeling. Because of the work we put in on making his gaits better and his body stronger, the “tricks” are coming easier than ever.

While we are definitely not ready to make our third level debut at this point, I know that if I keep plugging away every day on improving Echo’s strength, suppleness and gaits that the changes should be even easier the next time we work on them. I’m very excited to see the progress we make throughout the rest of the year and look forward to the show season!

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity provided to me by Allison and my desk job. The words “thank you” do not seem strong enough but they will have to suffice, so a huge thank you to Allison and my manager, Barbara, for enabling me to seize this chance to advance by education and have the experience of a lifetime!

When amateur rider Samantha Silver got the chance to spend two months as a working student for dressage trainer Allison Spivey, she grabbed it. Silver uprooted her life in Richmond, Va., arranged to telecommute for her job and shipped her off-the-track Thoroughbred Jimmie Echo two hours away to Middleburg, Va., for an adventure in learning, work and life. 

Read all of Samantha’s COTH blogs.



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