Many upper level trainers will regularly take on working students, which is an opportunity to work with horses of varying levels of training, under knowledgeable professionals. They often involve a lot of grunt work, like mucking stalls, bathing horses, grooming, tacking up, travelling to shows, and watching lessons. They also often include time in the saddle. Many working student opportunities are unpaid, or provide a small stipend, where payment is primarily in the form of knowledge gained. Working student positions are invaluable learning opportunities. But only if you’re willing to work hard and have an open mind.
Bring a positive attitude. Every single day. Working with horses all day every day can be exhausting, but also very rewarding. Watching a young horse grasp a difficult concept and execute a movement he’s been struggling with is a feeling that every trainer aims to feel.
Ask questions. Always ask lots of questions. Your employer wants you to ask questions, as that is the best way to learn what you don’t know. If you’ve been asked to do something and you aren’t fully sure of what you’re doing, or you’ve never done it before, ask! Your employer would much rather you ask, than assume you know what you are doing and have yourself, a horse, or a coworker end up injured because you simply weren’t sure how to put on that piece of tack, or that bandage, or use that piece of equipment. Sometimes people want their stalls mucked a certain way, or have a particular routine for their horses to be tacked up. Asking and applying this information can make a big difference in how successful you are. Being willing to take direction is a high priority for many trainers with working students.
Act like a sponge. We never stop learning in the horse industry, and being a working student is where you are likely to be exposed to more information than any other time in your equestrian career. Absorb every iota of information anyone is willing to share with you. If you aren’t sure about something, like above – ASK! Don’t ask and then assume you already know the answer, really listen to the answer and analyze it so you can apply the information effectively in future situations.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Whether it’s a discipline you thought you’d never be interested in, or competing at a level you think is above you. Your employer wants all of their working students to walk away as better horsepeople. They want you to succeed and they will try their hardest not to put you in a situation you can’t handle. Trust them, and their faith in you when they put you in situations that push you a little out of your comfort zone.
Stay humble. Never believe that you are too good to do a task assigned to you, because that attitude can quickly close a lot of doors for you. Part of horsemanship is being hands-on with the horse, and having done every nitty-gritty job from the bottom up is the best way to learn and earn respect.
Being a working student is what you make of it. The more open-minded you are going in, and the more willing you are to absorb new information and try things a different way, the more you will take away from your experience!