By Allyson Mentlik
When eighteen-year-old Mavis Spencer was offered the opportunity to learn from a top professional and ride some of the most incredible horses in the world, all in exchange for some work around the barn, she jumped at the chance. Her days are now filled with hours in the saddle, learning at every turn, plus a slew of barn chores including feeding and mucking. And she loves it.
Her passion for riding began at the age of two when her aunt, who owned a breeding farm, put Mavis on top of a retired stallion named Galoubet and led her around the barn. By the age of five she was taking lessons and went on to spend most of her junior years competing and winning under the instruction of Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer. After graduating high school, Mavis was well prepared for a working student position with top East Coast rider Kent Farrington.
I am Allyson Mentlik, a college graduate and devoted equestrian, who was lucky enough to come down to Wellington from snowy Amherst, Masssachusetts, for the week and spend some time with Mavis, my friend Joscelyn, and EquestriSol.
A day in Mavis’ life starts with the alarm ringing at 6:30 a.m. After a quick bite to eat, we threw on the typical barn attire, and were on our way to the barn by 7:00 a.m.
Feeding hay and grain was the first chore, and then we moved on to cleaning stalls. Aside from Mavis, there are six other grooms working at this Wellington farm that houses approximately 24 horses. As Mavis worked through her mucking duties, she was able to share some stories with me.
AM: How did you meet/end up working with Kent Farrington?
MS: I actually met Kent in Lake Placid a few years ago through a mutual friend. Kent has a business partner based out of Europe that helps with buying, selling, and transporting new horses over here for Kent to ride. During one of my trips to Europe back in November of 2008, I tried horses at his barn over there. I knew I was planning on taking a year off between high school and college to learn as much as I could as a rider so we began to plan ways for me to stay in Europe and work there. I then spoke to Kent about my ideas and he helped me realize that I would love to work for someone who is in a position that I one day hope to reach. Kent is still a young professional, only 29, so I discussed everything with my parents and we all agreed that Kent would be incredible to learn from. I’ve been officially working with him since the Devon horse show last May.
Once chores are done, Mavis checks the list of horses that she will be riding. Depending on Kent’s schedule, she will usually ride between six and eight horses per day.
AM: Which horses are you riding? Do you have a favorite type of horse?
MS: I ride almost all of the sale horses here. With an active sales business, we always have new ones so there is always a variety for me to ride. I’ve been riding and showing a horse named Uno since this past summer. Right now we show in the 1.40 classes here in Wellington. I also rode Uno in the USET finals and he was great. Another one of my favorites is Valencia, an adorable eight-year-old bay mare. We get along well – she has such a good heart. I don’t know if I can say that I have a favorite type of horse. Being a working student allows me to ride so many different types of horses so you learn to adapt to many different rides.
AM: Explain how your working student situation works.
MS: My day starts with chores in the barn. I take care of Uno but am still part of the team just like everyone else. There isn’t any special treatment for me because I’m the working student, I just do a little bit more riding. I am not paid for the work I do, my pay is the time I get to spend in the saddle. My situation is a bit different only because most working students are junior riders. I’m 18 so technically I am considered a professional. There isn’t really a protocol for how long you can be a working student, if you have a good situation you can stay where you are until you may be ready to move on.
The first horse that Kent had to ride today was Up Chiqui. Mavis’ job is to warm up Chiqui on the flat so he is ready when Kent wants to ride and school him. Once Kent is on Chiqui, Kent’s next horse is brought out for Mavis to warm up on the flat. Seems to be an effective system that helps Kent and allows Mavis to ride and learn at the same time.
AM: Some of your favorite moments as a working student for Kent?
MS: A really funny and favorite moment was this past summer when we were in Kentucky. Kent was very busy at the show, so he called to tell me which horses to ride and at the end of the list he said Chiqui, which to him didn’t seem like a big deal. Everyone knows Up Chiqui as one of Kent’s most successful horses and the one he competed on in the 2009 FEI World Cup Finals. I was very nervous but everyone told me I would be fine. I just flatted him and he was actually great. Kent says I can jump him one day but I may just stick to flatting him, he can be quite the handful. He’s incredible for Kent though they’ve had tons of success.
I have to say that I’ve seen such a big difference in my confidence since I’ve worked for Kent. I’ve matured in so many ways by being exposed to this world and gaining the experience that I have from riding so many incredible horses.
AM: What have been some of your greatest experiences as a rider that have shaped your style today? What about your favorite moments as a competitor?
MS: I remember watching lessons when I was about five years old and just admiring all the older riders. I learned very early on that if I fell off, I got back on and that there wasn’t any crying in horseback riding. This definitely shaped me into the rider that I’ve become.
Some of my most memorable experiences would have to be traveling over to Europe two summers ago to work for Neil Jones in Belgium and going to Australia last January for the Australian Youth Olympics. I rode on a team with three other girls, chosen because of the amounts of prize money we had won the previous fall season. We were down there for a week and a half and ended up 4th overall as a team.
One of my favorite moments competing was definitely winning a 1.20 class in Europe at the Beervelde Horse Show. It wasn’t a huge class but there was a big ceremony after where we got off our horses and stood on a podium to receive our awards. It was just a much different experience than I had ever had here in America.
Next horse to ride is Salem, one of the sale horses, followed by Valencia, one of Mavis’ favorite mares. We take them out to the large grass field, a great space for flat rides. Mavis uses her knowledge and feel to flat the horses with plenty of circles and bending exercises.
AM: Do you have your own horse here?
MS: My horse Winia unfortunately is not here, she is leased out right now. She was my junior jumper; we also competed in the Prix de States. I wasn’t sure if I was going to work for Kent until right before Devon when he called and asked me to ride. So I flew right out to start working for him, returned home for graduation, and was then able to remain on the East Coast. Leasing out Winia just made things easier for everyone. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was the best one.
AM: Whom would you consider your mentor in your life/riding career?
MS: I would absolutely have to say my mom. Even though she doesn’t ride she is the most awesome horse show mom. She always drove me to horse shows no matter how early and watched all of my lessons. She helps me achieve my goals and definitely guided me to where I am today. She is so supportive. I know she will definitely be visiting a lot next year when I am in New York.
AM: New York? Does this mean for college?
MS: Yes, I will be attending Columbia in the fall. I always knew I wanted to find a college on the East coast and I love New York City. My family owns an apartment on the Upper East Side so we have always spent a lot of time there.
Last horse of the day is Transavia, a Chestnut mare who seems very quiet and a pleasure to work with. It’s about 2:00 p.m. and after this ride it’s time for afternoon chores. These include cleaning the stalls one more time, re-filling everyone’s water buckets, and giving the barn a good sweep. By 4:00 p.m., the horses are hungry and through the occasional whinny are ‘talking about’ their upcoming meal of grain and hay. Before leaving, the team checks each horse to see they are comfortable and have an ample supply of water. That is the end of the day. That is, until night check. Night check is divided up by days between each groom. Fortunately, today is Mavis’ day for night check so we will have one last trip to the barn at 8:30 tonight. Before we end the day, Mavis answers a few more questions.
AM: What is your favorite horse show? And why?
MS: Wellington is definitely my favorite because we are able to actually live down here. It doesn’t feel like coming to a horse show, everyone is down here together. We are all able to ride together, hangout, and really make great friendships with people who have all of the same interests. We spend so much time here that it feels like home. The quality of horses here is on such an international level and the prize money is huge which creates such a competitive atmosphere that is amazing to be a part of.
AM: Any hobbies outside of riding?
MS: When I had time, I used to play tennis. I’m pretty normal, I like to read and listen to music. I also like to hang out with my brother Duncan. He’s a sophomore in high school out in California.
AM: And are you planning on making a career out of riding?
MS: Well, I’m not really sure what I will be majoring in college. I do know however that riding will part of my career somehow. I would absolutely love to have a string of horses that I am able to show. As far as riding through college, Kent spends the fall months at a barn in Brewster, NY, about an hour outside of the city. I will definitely continue to ride with him as much as I can and hopefully be able to spend time in Wellington during the winter.
At about 9:30 p.m., this day is coming to an end for Mavis. We have finished night check, which includes another round of hay, water, and the occasional blanket change, and are now able to rest until the next busy day begins.
AM: Any final advice you would like to give to any other young riders looking to be in your position one day?
MS: Never forget that hard work and dedication do get noticed. Always do your best and if you don’t know something, ask someone. No one will judge you for asking a question especially when it comes to the care and well-being of a horse. More than anything else, what someone once said to me, “Make decisions on planning to succeed and not fear of failure.”
Thank you Allyson and Mavis for spending the day together. Good luck with college, horses and pursuing your dreams!