Wellington, Fla. – April 26, 2019 – Nineteen-year-old Adam Edgar and eighteen-year-old Jordan Allen are just two of the many young equestrian athletes you will find spending their winter season in Wellington, Florida. Working under the tutelage of Ken and Emily Smith of Ashland Farms, Edgar and Allen belong to one group of unsung heroes in the hunter-jumper world: working students. Their title means they are no strangers to putting forth immeasurable efforts to further their riding careers and expand their knowledge both in the barn and in the saddle. While the experience of working alongside some of the industry’s top professionals is invaluable, these hardworking and determined individuals make many sacrifices as the future professionals of the equestrian sport, often living with the irony of being immersed in an industry that is comprised of thousands of people, but somehow feeling very alone.
Many of these young athletes’ dedication to their jobs has led them on a wild goose chase around the country, traveling with their teams year-round in order to keep up with the competitive nature of the sport and intense competition schedule. Consequently, working students spend a good majority of time away from their families, with unconventional school schedules, an immense amount of pressure to perform well in their work and riding, and limited opportunity to develop meaningful friendships with people who don’t understand the demands of the industry. With such responsibility so early on, the independence of working students has both positive and negative components, but one thing is indisputable, no matter who you are: having friends to lean on and a solid support system is imperative in this mentally-tolling sport.
Allen shares her own perspective saying, “From 12 years old I was going to horse shows with my trainer. You have to become really responsible very early on when you do things like that. My mom is like my best friend in the world and I love my dad, but when you don’t have them you need someone here.
For Edgar and Allen, their friendship has carried them through some of the toughest times in their lives. While both have had well-deserved success in their riding careers at a young age, they credit their accomplishments to the support of the other. After all, the foundation of their friendship is built on their mutual understanding of what it takes to chase their dreams as working students who are equally as passionate about horses and riding. The unstoppable pair each have their own stories, both of which have one constant: each other.
“You always need someone, especially in the position we are in with all of the pressure to be good at everything we do – not every day is a good day. Of all of the good days we have had, there are double the bad days that you need your friends for. I can’t imagine doing this without my best friend,” said Allen.
Though Edgar and Allen did not originally meet at Ashland, their similar experiences ultimately led them to their working student positions for the Wellington-based barn. From their early beginnings to climbing the equitation ropes as juniors, Edgar and Allen have followed in each other’s footsteps. So much so that when trouble arose at the in-gate on two separate occasions, it was Ken Smith that was there to save the day and offer Edgar and Allen a horse to ride.
“I did the equitation with Ashland my last two junior years. Jordan and I had met a little bit before that, but it is crazy how we both ended up at Ashland, riding there, doing the equitation and now we have both are back at Ashland as working students,” exclaimed Edgar.
Edgar’s love for horses began at only 5 years old in Leesburg, Virginia where his family lived on a farm. His riding career, however, did not begin until his mother won a school raffle for some riding lessons at a local eventing barn. With the help of his first hunter/jumper trainer, Carol Eichner, Edgar achieved a goal of his that financially seemed out of reach in 2014 when he went on to compete at the USEF Pony Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. It was at this prestigious final that Edgar met top trainer Bill Schaub of Over the Hill Farm, who would go on to offer him a working student position at 15 years old. Under the instruction of Schaub, Edgar spent his time in Florida, often visiting Ashland Farms where many of his friends rode. When owner and trainer Ken Smith noticed Edgar cleaning tack and helping his friends with barn chores one day he decided to give him a lesson in return.
“I didn’t see Ken again until Devon that year. My horse ended up being really bad there and Ken and [his wife and fellow trainer] Emily were watching. Ken was the first person to offer me a horse and help me out. That is really what started my relationship with them,” said Edgar.
Coincidentally, Allen’s story follows a similar course to Edgar’s narrative. At 7 years old, Allen took her first lesson at a local barn as a birthday present. Moving on to train with Kim Carey, Allen moved from ‘C’ rated shows to the ‘A’ circuit with her horse Avedon. It was Carey who recognized both Allen’s talent and desire to reach the highest level of the sport, introducing her to Ken and Emily Smith of Ashland Farms 2015.
“I started showing every weekend with Ashland and I remember one class my horse couldn’t show and Ken stepped right in to give me a horse to show. That is just the type of person Ken is. If he ever sees a kid that wants it but is struggling financially or for whatever reason doesn’t have a horse, he is the first person to lend one. He is amazing,” remarked Allen.
Over the past few years, Edgar and Allen have formed a friendship that has made them better riders, better working students, and better people. However, it wasn’t always that way. The once young and immature relationship has evolved over time.
Allen reflected, “Things have definitely changed, especially with time. Before we would just wait around at the horse show until 5 p.m. and then run around the show. Now, working hard is very important to us and I go the entire day riding and focusing on working. We have come a long way together.” With different priorities at the time, Edgar and Allen had no idea of what was ahead of them, but they both agree that growing up and learning together has only made them stronger.
“No one truly understands where we have come from. We were the kids that showed up late and Ken [Smith] probably dreaded giving lessons to because we were just hot messes. So I think it is just so cool that with everything that has happened we would have never thought when we first became friends that this is where we would be now. It is funny how our paths have guided us here,” states Edgar
When Edgar ended his junior career and moved to Savannah, Georgia, to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2017, their dynamic changed once again. Struggling with the transition from long days at the barn to long nights studying, Edgar had to find his footing when it came to balancing his priorities between school, riding and his friendship with Allen. From speaking on the phone every moment possible to being so busy that being in constant contact was no longer possible, Edgar moving away was undoubtedly a difficult obstacle to overcome for the previously inseparable friends. This new phase of their friendship required some work to adjust to the new ‘normal’ and eventually made their time together that much more valuable when Edgar would visit to work for Ashland and more importantly, see his best friend.
“When I made the college transition Jordan stood by me and now she is climbing the ropes and I am standing by her. I can’t even describe how happy I was coming back to see my best friend doing amazing and doing all of the same things I had been lucky enough to do. The joy I feel watching Jordan lay down a great course is something I have never felt for anyone. I went through a lot of the things that Jordan is going through now and she was there for me. It is really cool that if she ever needs advice or wants to talk about something I can apply what I learned in her position to the advice I give her. On the opposite side, if I ever need to call her about something in the barn she is so organized and I know that she will have an answer,” said Edgar.
Another point of discussion for the two young riders was how friendships affect the barn dynamic as a whole. A common issue in many barns is the variation in personalities that can cause unnecessary drama that is even carried into the show ring. To this Edgar commented, “We are all here for the horses to go well and at the end of the day the horse comes first. For me, I try to put my opinions aside to get the task at hand done and not let the little things bother me because at the end of the day those things will blow right over, the horse will be in the show ring in five minutes and it will be done and over with.”
It is this mature perspective on the industry that has given Edgar and Allen an extra edge when it comes to their positions as working students. Their outlook on life has led them to dedicate their lives to the horses by “eating, sleeping and breathing” the sport. Allen accounts her day-to-day life as “working all day, going home to watch [riding related] videos, going to bed and then waking up to do it all over again.”
While Mondays are usually rest days for both the horses and riders, you will still find Allen and Edgar in the barn just to check on the horses. “The amount you think about the horses is kind of scary. It is not bad, it just is part of what we do and our love for our jobs,” adds Allen.
While many aspects of their sophisticated work ethic are positive, there are also some inevitable negatives. The machine-like work performed by working students can make people forget the actual person inside of the hardworking outer shell. The anxiety of being replaced plays a key role in the feelings and emotions wrapped under the tough exterior of their helmets and boots.
“At the end of the day, in this industry, no matter how well you ride or how hard you work, everyone is replaceable. If you’re an amazing rider and there is someone that doesn’t ride as well as you, but they are working hard every day, people are going to have more respect for the person working hard every day. You just have to find a fine line between working and the horses, and still be able to get on, put your game face on, and give 100% in the ring. It is all about balancing things. You learn and you make mistakes, but it is all just part of the experience. Luckily, Jordan and I have been able to learn from each other,” shared Edgar.
What it all boils down to is this: being a working student is one of the most difficult and rewarding positions to be in. You will learn a lot from the professionals, the horses, and the experiences, but the knowledge that will stay with you forever will come from your friends. There will be bad days that are made brighter just by having someone that is there for you and there will be good days that make you feel like you are on top of the world just because you get to share it with your best friend. Through the tears and laughter, it is those that continue to show up and stand by each other’s side that will walk away with the largest win of all, a life-long best friend.
“We both have never really had the funds to own a string of equitation horses but we have always wanted it so bad. No matter how many bad days we had, we have always shown up. It really comes down to being able to just find that one person and stick with it. We have been through a lot but we have never given up on each other and we have always seen each other for who we are. We are just us,” said Edgar
Together, Edgar and Allen have many people they would like to thank in addition to each other for their love and support thus far. To name a few: Ken and Emily Smith, Bill Shaub, Brady Mitchell, Liz Riley, Michael Murphy, Rhonda and Sherman, Chrissy Kear, Nicola Cattle and Steve Edgar.
“Thank you to Jordan for being my person. I never would have made it this far if it wasn’t for you. I love you best friend, you’re amazing,” concludes Edgar.