Being a working student can be incredibly rewarding but it’s also, as the name implies, a lot of work. Lila Gendal shares some tips for getting the most out of the experience.
Top: THF students having a little too much fun at a GMHA schooling jumper show 2010!
How many of you have spent the better part of your lives as working students? How many of you had life changing experiences riding for some of the best event riders in the country? How many of you spent all your money as a teenager and got nothing in return? I’m guessing there are thousands of young riders, teenagers, and young adults who are currently applying for a working student position, have already spent the time as a working student, or are longing to be on some accomplished event rider’s team.
In order to become a working student, you must be ready to dedicate your time to someone else for x amount of months, or years; you must have a basic idea of what it is you want to accomplish from the experience (regardless of how extreme or minuscule your goals are); you must have some sort of funding in place to allow you to go be a slave without being compensated; and you must have an open mind. There seem to be various stages associated with this working student topic. Let’s focus on the meat of the subject matter: What to do, how to act, how NOT to act, and what to expect when you’re a working student.
What To Do? Well, this isn’t exactly brain surgery here. You should do exactly what the barn manager, or the owner of the farm tells you to do. If the barn manager or the person you are riding for wants you to sweep the shavings in each stall so that there is exactly 4.5 inches between the stall door and the inside of the stall, then that’s what you need to do. If they ask you to re-apply oil to the tack you already cleaned that morning, then get another sponge and some oil and get ready to clean. If someone has a list of To Do’s, then follow that list and try and get as much done as you can possibly get done in one day.
The purpose of being a working student is to learn everything you possibly can from accomplished and professional riders. The purpose is not to take your sweet time with each and every chore and drive off the second the clock chimes 6pm. If you find yourself counting down the seconds till a lunch break, or the end of the day, then maybe being a working student is not for you. Do what they ask you to do, and do it well.
How To Act: This is REALLY important so take notes, or make a mental note. Be friendly. Really, it’s as simple as this. Of course this can be harder for some of us than others. I know all too well that stepping out of your shell and becoming more outgoing can be a major task. But, believe me, once you start opening up and becoming a more likable person that others want to spend time with, everything starts to get easier. Even if you’re not on your way to Rolex, or on your way to the Prelim championships at Fitches Corner, and even if you’re not the most talented rider in the world, if you have a good attitude, and you want to improve AND you’re a hard worker, then everything will be okay.
How NOT To Act: Obviously the opposite of being nice and outgoing, would be someone who is shy and grumpy, or unapproachable. If you have a bad attitude, have no interest in learning, and lack a hard-working mentality, then you might benefit more from working in a private cubicle where you are by yourself all day. Other pieces of universal advice that should be noted regardless of the individual you are working for:
- Don’t sit around (in fact never sit unless you’re completely off the clock).
- Always look for something to do.
- Always stay busy.
- Don’t ask if you can leave now-work until they tell you it’s okay to leave.
- Don’t walk around the barn, or farm like you’re assisting your 94 year old grandmother on a stroll around a garden, walk like you have a purpose-HUSTLE!
- Don’t wait to be told to do something-take initiative.
- If you happen to be setting jumps in a jump set-don’t stand there like a statue, if a rail gets knocked down, run to go put it back into place.
- Don’t talk back in a lesson. Example: “My horse is being a jerk today,” or, “that’s not how my other trainer said I should do that…”. You’re a working student because you want to learn from one of the best. Even if you don’t agree, bite your tongue and try your best to do whatever he or she is asking of you. There are tons of other pointers, but really the most crucial components are being nice and working hard!
What to expect when you’re a working student: This point is fairly open-ended. What to expect when you’re a working student really revolves around your goals as a rider. Do you just want to improve your riding in general? Do you want to move up the levels with your horse? Do you want to improve your jumping, or are you more concerned about your skills as a dressage rider? Are you trying to become an upper level event rider? I think some of the best advice I can offer as far as what to expect, is maybe don’t expect the world to change in one summer. In other words, you should have your personal goals in the back of your mind, but you also ought to arrive at so and so’s barn with an open mind.
You might learn things you were never aware of. You might learn completely different skills that you were unsure of. No matter how much you love or despise your working student position, you’re going to learn something from the experience and that’s always a good thing. If the timing is right, if your attitude is right, and you’re in an ideal position, you may find that your life does completely change after being a working student for someone.