Equestrian Alumni of the Month: Alex Gravett ‘07

Owner at Kismet Farm
(editor’s note – beginning this month, The Woods Today will be profiling a William Woods Equestrian alumnus, in their own words, who is currently putting their degree and the training they received at WWU to work in the industry)

I’m from St. Paul, Minnesota and now live in Simpsonville, Kentucky. I first heard about William Woods when Gayle Lampe came and did a clinic at the barn I rode at when I was a kid; I was in sixth grade. From then on, for me, it was all about William Woods and I did not apply anywhere else.  I had internships in Southern California and in Kentucky during college, and completely fell in love with Kentucky. I took a permanent job with Nelson Green at his farm in Nicholasville, and eventually moved to Simpsonville to work for Bill and Kris Knight at Pleasantview Farm. They were the ones who encouraged me to start a riding lesson program of my own. As my program grew, I found myself quite busy working my own training horses and teaching lessons; and so began Kismet Farm in 2014 in Simpsonville.

College days at The Woods
There’s so many favorite memories from my time at William Woods. Having the opportunity to show at the American Royal my senior year is one of my most favorite.  I showed The Great Gazoo in Missouri/Kansas 5-Gaited Pleasure class and won. Back then there was not a Missouri/Kansas Championship, so I showed him in the Adult National Championship and we were third. It was really cool, I believe he was the only horse shown at the National level that year from school.  He is currently retired in my field at the age of 22 and is living the life!  He remains a very special horse to me.

I also loved being part of the Alpha Phi house. It can be easy to forget about the non-equestrian parts of my life, but I met a lot of great people in Alpha Phi that I would not have met otherwise.

Learning to be an Instructor
The teaching part of the curriculum was the most beneficial and the most impactful now that I look back on it. I thought I would never teach lessons nor did I want to. But now, owning a business in this day and age, I have found that lessons are SO important to generate new business. Despite the fact I was certain when I graduated that I would never teach lessons, those classes really helped make me a very well-rounded instructor. Also, the opportunity to ride other seats at William Woods really helped with that well-roundedness from an instructor standpoint. Even though all the lessons I teach currently are Saddle Seat, I would feel confident teaching a hunt seat or western lesson if need be.

First Equestrian Job
Anyone who has worked for Nelson Green knows that you are going to work very hard and everything is hands on!  He was a very challenging person to work for. He’s a very well respected trainer and a master when it comes to training the American Saddlebred. I was very fortunate to get to work for him and learned a great deal. It was a very difficult job at times, but he was a great teacher of discipline, accountability and responsibility. I was in charge of taking care of a string of show horses, breaking colts, ordering grain, making sure we had supplies on hand, getting horses ready to go to horse shows and taking care of a few broodmares and babies. There were also the normal daily barn duties like feeding, cleaning stalls, helping the farrier and vet.

Journey to Becoming a Business Owner
I started working for Bill and Kris Knight at Pleasantview Farm as their Assistant Trainer in February of 2009. It was a lot of the same responsibilities as when I worked for Nelson, but I was able to work a lot more horses and have a lot more freedom. They gave me confidence in my ability to get a horse ready to show both for an amateur or for myself. They really pushed me to start a riding lesson program, even though I was already helping teach clients on their show horses. Bill and Kris were very generous with helping me get started.  They guided through the “how tos” of setting up a business, but made sure I did all the work myself so I would gain the experience. Kris in particular, helped a lot by guiding me on how to get things started correctly from a business standpoint, instilling in me the importance of properly running a credible operation.  There was a huge learning curve and I found much of it to be trial and error. They also allowed me to continue using their facilities while I was preparing my business and working for them full-time. When I worked for them full-time I would do lessons in the evenings. We moved facilities in early 2014 and it was shortly after that move that I started taking on training horses of my own. Eventually I could not handle all of my own work and continuing to work for them, so Kismet began in the fall of 2014. I have now been able to lease my own facility, which allowed me to create a division from them to get my own name out there.  In the spring of 2018, I moved back to the facility they now own so things have come back full circle in a way.  It has been quite challenging at times, but I am so grateful for the opportunities they have given me over the past 10 years.  Not a day goes by without some sort of a challenge, which keeps me on my toes and is good for me. It’s a competitive market in Kentucky but there’s no place I would rather be.

We generally start at 6am and work until 3pm.  We come in, feed and then we all clean stalls, myself included. I have learned, you have to be willing to do everything when you own your own business. The biggest expense I have is my payroll, so I’ve learned the more you are willing to do yourself the better. After cleaning stalls we go straight into working horses. That takes until about lunchtime, but we do not generally take a lunch. We finish up with the horses and then we do projects.  Those may include washing tails, fixing fences and other repairs, cleaning tack, maintaining the outside property during the summer months or any other things we need to get done around the farm. We feed in the afternoon about 2:30 and lessons begin at 3:30 Monday through Thursday and go until about 7. I have an assistant that teaches three days a week and I teach two days a week. On Saturdays clients come to see their show horses and practice. We try to finish on Saturdays by noon. We alternate feeding on Sundays since that is our one day off. In the summer we show on the Kentucky county fair show circuit. We show just about every week, it is a bit unique how it works here. There are shows most commonly Wednesday through Saturday and they are in the evening. We will leave about 3pm. and get home around midnight or a little later, only to do it all again the following day. It’s not for the faint of heart but when you are passionate about it, there is not a day it feels like work.

Favorite Part of the Job
I have a favorite part of my job as well as a most rewarding part of my job. My favorite part of my job is getting to show a nice horse!  There is no better feeling in the world than showing a nice, well turned out horse.  The most rewarding part of my job is getting to see a rider of any age, finally have that “A-ha!” moment of a connection with a horse. It’s great to feel like a part of making that happen.

Advice For Students
My biggest advice is to be ready to work harder than you have ever worked in your life if you plan to do this professionally, especially if you plan to own your own business someday. But do not forget to have some fun along the way! It is a very demanding career with very long hours. It becomes very easy at times to not en