By Yelena Sapin

Photos by Sunni Wigginton

Mary Midkiff goes through a pair of Gore-Tex trail shoes every year. The professional horse trainer and author spends hours in the barn each day, subjecting her footwear to muck, mud, soap, water, miles of walking, and the occasional trampling by the animals in her care. Not sure you can relate? You might be surprised by how much you have in common. Step into her shoes and see for yourself. Ready? It’s morning. You’re Mary, and the alarm is going off.

You hit the snooze button — a couple of times. But your two dogs are licking and pawing at you, so you give up trying to sneak in a few more minutes of sleep. Last year, you trained a couple of horses that were racing and had to be at the track before 5am. This year, you’re working with two 2-year-olds that aren’t racing yet, so although you’d rather get up a little later, it’s still not so bad.

After feeding the dogs and letting them out — or walking them if the weather is nice — you get ready and drive to the HighPointe Training Center in La Grange where your client’s horses are stabled. You might have some toast or yogurt before you go, or make a stop at Starbucks on the way.

Your assistant has already cleaned the stalls, so you focus on grooming and checking the horses, finessing the details of their care and training regimen, and making sure they’re ready to go when the exercise rider arrives. Having grown up around horses and built a solid career in the equine industry, you find the sounds and smells of the barn familiar and comforting. You’re here six days a week, seven if a horse needs extra attention.

With all the walking and lifting you do, you see the barn as your gym. The work is physically demanding and a great way to stay fit. You’ve always been an athlete, but now that you’re 60, staying healthy is more important than ever. First and foremost, however, you’re a horse whisperer. You respect and communicate with the animals and forge genuine bonds with them.

Your dogs are waiting back at the apartment, so after making a stop at the post office, you drive back home. You shower to wash off the barn dust, then eat a simple lunch. It might be a salad, some leftovers, or cheese and crackers and fruit.

You’ll spend the next several hours working on your computer. You manage the websites for your businesses, Women & Horses and Midkiff Horse Training; check your social media accounts; and process any orders for your books, DVDs, and The InBalance Horse essential oil blend you sell. You’ll also check in with your 85-year-old parents, who live in different parts of Kentucky.

You’re scheduled to work as a sales associate at Orvis today, so you put on your black or brown flats and head to the Paddock Shops. Starting over hasn’t been easy after your 25-year marriage ended two years ago. Of the divorce, you say you took a jump off a cliff and haven’t quite landed yet. You’d love to get more racehorses to work with and do something that betters utilizes your skills and expertise — maybe finally write that third book — but for now, you’re doing what you can to pay the bills.