Business student corrals passion for horses
“I’ve been kicked in the face. It’s not fun.”
Juliane Dykiel, a senior in the Manning School of Business, is talking about the dangers of horse training, which is both her life’s passion and future career. She says it nonchalantly while slowly feeding hay to Rocio, a 600-pound vanilla-and-chocolate-colored mustang that arrived earlier that day at Windflower Farm in Acton.
Born in Paris, Dykiel (pronounced Dee-kee-elle) learned to ride horses as a young girl growing up in France. When she was 6, her father took a job in the United States and moved the family to Acton. She and her older brother, Hadrian, began riding at Windflower Farm two years later, after meeting the farm’s owner, Ainslie Brennan, while on a walk in the woods. Dykiel has considered Windflower a second home, and Brennan a “second mom,” ever since.
“As a kid you don’t realize how lucky you are, but now I understand,” Dykiel says as she watches Rocio investigate her new surroundings, a muddy corral lined by tall pines on a secluded point of land jutting out onto Lake Nagog.
This is where, for the next 100 days, Dykiel will domesticate Rocio, training her to walk, trot and canter under saddle. It’s all part of a unique competition called Extreme Mustang Makeover, held annually by the Mustang Heritage Foundation to promote the adoption of the more than 50,000 wild horses living in the Bureau of Land Management’s corrals.
“The main point of the event is to promote awareness and get these horses adopted,” says Dykiel, who learned from Rocio’s paperwork that she was rounded up from the plains of Wyoming in 2010 and has been living in captivity ever since — all in the name of population control. “She is not in good shape. It’s just unfair that she had to live this way. I’d love to help her find a good home.”
Ten different states are taking part in this year’s competition, with the Massachusetts event culminating at the Topsfield Fairgrounds on Aug. 7 and 8. There, Dykiel and Rocio will compete against 25 to 30 other trainers and mustangs. The winning trainer takes home $7,000, while second place receives $4,500. All of the mustangs will be up for auction following the competition, with their respective trainers receiving a 50 percent commission.
“I’m not very good at riding in front of people, so it will be a little nerve-wracking, but I’m hoping I’m more nervous than she is,” says Dykiel, who has created a GoFundMe page to help cover an estimated $1,500 in expenses for Rocio’s care over the next three months.
Of course, training Rocio (Spanish for “dew”) isn’t the only thing on Dykiel’s mind at the moment. She is also scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in business administration and a dual concentration in general finance and international business. Plus, the 20-year-old works part-time for a home mortgage company to “help pay the bills.”
“A lot of equestrians choose not to pursue educational degrees,” says Dykiel, who figured a college education would be helpful in case “I break my legs or the economy tanks and I can’t be a horse trainer.”
Dykiel, who graduated a year early from Acton-Boxboro High School, says a big reason she chose to attend UMass Lowell was the Professional Cooperative Education program. She participated in the program the summer after her freshman year, working at her brother’s e-commerce startup, AllHorseStuff.com.
“It was great because I learned a ton about entrepreneurship, networking, social media, search engine optimization and content creation,” says Dykiel, who credits her faculty adviser, lecturer Ashwin Mehta, for helping to make the experience so rewarding. “That knowledge has helped me a lot in my business classes and in promoting the adventure with Rocio. And that was thanks to UMass Lowell. I never could have done that without it.”
Dykiel, who got her riding instructor’s license when she turned 18, has already started her own freelance business of traveling around the area to train horses. While she would love to own her own farm someday, she realizes she’s lucky to be paid to do what she loves.
“I don’t ride for free anymore, which is just awesome,” says Dykiel, who hopes the makeover competition will help build her clientele. “But there were many years of shoveling poop, 14-hour days, working without pay to get to this point.”
While Dykiel has never trained a mustang before, she does have plenty of experience working with domesticated horses that have been mishandled by their owners, resulting in behavioral issues. When she was 16, Dykiel spent a summer in Pennsylvania working as a cowboy’s apprentice. “I got to ride a lot of crazy horses, which turns out to be my forte,” says Dykiel. “I think it’s just because of how comfortable I am on horseback and how determined I am. And I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie.”
While Dykiel knows all about the book and movie “The Horse Whisperer,” she says her work isn’t like that at all. “It’s not magical, it’s not mystical,” she says, “but there’s a method that goes into it. You just have to be very businesslike, very clear.
“It’s dangerous, and it’s fun, and I love it,” she adds. “I want to do it for the rest of my life.”