Q: What made you decide to work on the Morgan horse farm?
Dickson: I wanted to get away from everything. I wanted to be on my own. I just turned twenty and had only experienced high school.
Q: So you didn’t go away to college?
Dickson: No, and I wanted to experience something I couldn’t in Michigan.
Q: How did you hear about the job?
Dickson: I had a friend I rode the bus with in sixth grade. He worked with his grandparents who were in the horse show business. I always helped them out because I was fascinated by horses. He called and told me a farm higher up in the business wanted an extra horse groomer. The farm made a lot of money and offered free room and board, with a small hourly wage. They only needed someone for three months over the summer until World Championships. It was perfect for me because I could start back up my local college in the fall and I really wanted to learn more about horses.
Q: So, what was your typical day like?
Dickson: I’d wake up at 6:30 a.m., go to the barn and start working. I had to clean the stalls, feed the horses, groom the horses, and put on the equipment they needed for the day. There would be a list hanging on the wall that explained the workout each horse was getting and the equipment I needed to use depending on the horse’s temper the past few days. I always liked the grooming part and developed my theory on how to do it.
Q: What do you mean?
Dickson: Well, Morgan horses are very high strung because they’re over-bred. I learned that I could gain trust if I started by brushing the foretop. It’s the very front part of the mane. My theory is they couldn’t brush their own mane or see a mirror. They could feel it being combed — it was mental and physical. They liked the feeling that you were taking care of something they couldn’t see but could feel. It made the horses trust you more and put them at ease. Anyway, after I did all the basic grooming, feeding, and cleaning, I’d wait until the horses were worked and I’d do all the put away stuff.
Q: How long were your days?
Dickson: That’s the thing. It was like third-world labor. I worked about fourteen hours a day and made $3 an hour under the table. Most of the people doing the work were really young or illegal immigrants. We weren’t paid shit for doing a shitload of work. That’s how they make their money. Ralph Nader would have a field day with the horse show business. It’s real corrupt. But the people I worked for were amazing, brilliant, quick thinking. It’s a cutthroat business. They survived because of smarts and family. It’s a family-run business. The owners’ strengths were that their beliefs were intact. Also, they didn’t care about what anyone thought of them. Very on the ball.
Q: So they had an impact on you?
Dickson: They had a moral impact and work ethic impact. They were very big on individual growth. They definitely had a religious impact. They were devout Catholics.
Q: Did you have a problem with the way you were treated as a laborer versus their religious beliefs?
Dickson: Yes, I never did say I liked those guys.
Q: Did you have any time for fun?
Dickson: Work first fun second. Work before play. From 4 or 6 p.m. until bed was when we had fun. It was like a family because I was expected to do all my work… to contribute… more than a regular job. But I wasn’t treated like a regular family member. I wasn’t treated as well.
Q: What did you do for fun?
Dickson: A lot of people smoked weed. Some people would scam out of the vet’s tranquilizers he injected into the horses. They wouldn’t take the whole bottle… just pull a little out the top with a syringe so nobody caught on. Other than that we would go to Wal-Mart for the hell of it.
Q: Would you do it again?
Dickson: No, it wouldn’t be the same going through it the second time.
Q: Why not?
Dickson: The novelty of working with the horses would wear off. The first time feeling would be gone. The negatives would stand out more. It would be like taking a step back because working with horses isn’t a part of my future plans.
Q: So you did it just to try it and now you’re done?
Dickson: Basically I did it to kill time, make money and learn something new. That’s about it.
Q: Are you glad you did it?
Dickson: Yes. I’m not big on regret and I think anything you do you walk away better for it… no matter what kind of hell you go through and no matter how ignorant you feel while you’re doing it.