Working Students: A lifetime of Dedication

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

BY PEARL RUNNING DEER

In honor of us “barn rats” I wanted to focus on three working students, all from very different backgrounds—even an exercise rider! Many famous successful horses and riders came out of working student programs. Perhaps you can see yourself in one of these three.

Photo courtesy of Addison Gamez

Addison Gamez – 15

Schooling barn exercise rider out of Suffolk Stables in Shamong, NJ. This successful business is owned by Deborah Lyons-Greer. It’s a pony club riding center, has summer and winter camps, is an IEA training facility, offers lessons and boarding facility, and has a spring and fall schooling show series. 

When we moved to New Jersey, I tried a few different sports, but nothing clicked. We passed by a local riding facility, and my dad and I stopped in. The next thing I knew, they had me up on a horse for an introduction lesson. I loved it from that moment and knew this would be the sport/life for me.

As a working student, I have learned time management. There’s so much more that goes into the upkeep of a barn than just riding. I learned what goes into cleaning and resetting stalls and the different types of feed and supplements. Working with other riders, I learned what different types of bits are for, when to switch, and how to fit a saddle to a horse.

For anyone looking to further their knowledge and skills within the horse world, being a working student is great. In 5 years, I hope to be attending an equestrian college and a member of their IHSA team.

Photo courtesy of Katie Kalftan

Katie Kalftan – 20

Former exercise rider at Monmouth Race Track and a summer intern/working at Hunter Farms in Princeton, New Jersey. Hunter Farm is owned by Andrew H. Philbrick, a well-known former international rider that maintains a busy schedule of teaching and training Juniors, Amateurs, and Professional Riders. Andrew is also the Show Organizer of the top-rated Princeton Show Jumping Horse Show Series. 

I started riding horses when I was 7 years old at a local riding school. I immediately fell in love with the horses, and it was down the riding rabbit hole from then on! During my first 7 years of riding, I stayed on the school level. I started competing at local shows at 10 on lesson ponies. I wanted to spend every minute of every day at the barn; I truly was a barn rat. Although I did not have the flashiest start, I learned many valuable lessons that I keep with me to this day!

The person who gave me my first start is Mary Knowlton. In 2018, my mom and I decided it was time for me to take the next step. I was ready to get more competitive. I was lucky to find Mary Knowlton and her Knightsbridge Farm. With Mary’s help, I leased my first horse and started to help at the barn. That allowed my riding to quickly improve. Mary again opened the door for me to compete at rated shows from Vermont to Princeton. 

After gaining valuable show experience, I committed to finding a summer internship in the best stable I could find. Mary directed me to Hunter Farms in Princeton and I was lucky enough to be accepted. This wonderful stable is well-known as a top-class teaching and training program. As part of the exchange for being a working student, I was able to show some farm-owned horses with top instruction. This was my first time ever catch riding. It was an eye opener and a terrific feeling being trusted to compete on someone else’s horses. 

This past summer my riding improved ten-fold thanks to working with Andrew and Sarah. Andrew worked continuously on correcting my basic position by focusing on staying upright and strong in my core. We did a ton of gymnastics work to help me with this and it’s clear how much this work has changed and improved my riding! 

Additionally, my horse care skills—everything from grooming, aftercare, and feeding—have dramatically improved. The top professional caretakers in the barn at Hunter Farms were instrumental in teaching me that good care is as important as good training!

In addition to learning the value of just plain hard work, the most important thing I learned as a working student is to be confident and believe in myself. Like many riders, I have nerves and self-confidence issues that can get in the way of competition success. My Hunter Farms experience really helped me to realize that I have the potential to be a solid professional rider, teacher, and trainer. Even simple comments from Andrew, such as when he lightly said, “when you’re a 1.40meter rider, which you will be…” are enough to truly boost my self-confidence. To have someone who has achieved so much to see and inspire confidence in you is one of the best feelings. This inspired tone that boosts self-confidence is why I feel so lucky to have spent my summer as working student at Hunter Farms.

Margie & Royce. Photo © ESI

Margie Goldstein-Engle – Icon Grandprix Rider

Rides out of Hidden Creek.  She’s an American show jumping rider and a 10-time American Grandprix Association Rider of the year. Margie is available for clinics.

I was born in Miami, Florida. While in kindergarten, I got my picture taken on a pony. Instantly, I fell in love with horses. I’m sure my parent thought I would grow out of it. But I didn’t!

At the age of 8, I worked at Gladewinds farms owned by Mr.& Mrs. Dorothy and Robert Kramer in Miami, Florida. Their place was a riding school that boarded horses, dogs, and cats. I started off cleaning out the kennels until I got a little older. Then I worked up grooming horses and ponies. A lot of people got their start there. We are all one big happy family.

I wore hand-me-downs instead of designer equestrian clothing. I bought my own paddock boots from babysitting money. Many of my clothes came from the Kramer’s daughters after they outgrew them and also as gifts from some of the people l showed ponies and horses for when l was a junior.

The Kramer’s gave me my first jobs riding—first breaking and later competing on ponies and horses they bred. And also others that were for sale or off the race track we would make up as hunters and jumpers to sell. I got many catch rides on other ponies and horses at Gladewinds Farm. Many from some of the other trainers at the stable such as Bibby Farmers Clients, Penny Fires, and Karen Harnden Smith who all also helped give me lessons when I was a junior rider and beyond.

The most important thing I learned as a working student is that the horses come first. When you get to the barn, you have to check your ego at the door. Being a working student, you’re aware of your surroundings. It teaches you not to be selfish.  You’re up early in the morning to get everything cleaned up and organized. Horses should come first, always.


Pearl Running Deer was the first Native American who rode on the circuit in the 80’s-2002. Her trainer was Maurice Honig from the French Equestrian team. She would follow Frank Chapot or Bert De Nemethy teachings. In the 2003-13 she was a high fashion model at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. In between, she working with film directors, being a girl Friday. Ms. Running Deer teaches, coaching at horse shows and gives clinics. She has founded a nonprofit Turtle Island Equestrian Inc. Starting a Native American Equestrian Team. Ms. Running Deer also is a Freelance writer.

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