The Working Student Survival Guide

You landed that coveted working student position with your most idolized trainer… now what? Elise Fleischman of Entrigue Consulting pens the ultimate working student survival guide.

Photo provided by Entrigue Consulting

So, you’ve recently accepted a working student position. Your brain is running wild with excitement and the anticipation is absolutely killing you. But then you realize you may not be entirely sure what you’re in for. How often do they ride? Do they lunge their horses? Where am I living? Well, let me tell you that I’ve also been equal parts elated and terrified… you’re not the only one. I know a few tried and true tips that help regardless of who you work for.

Have an Open Mind

First things first — when you’re coming to a new barn, you have to wipe your slate clean. Well, maybe not completely clean, because nothing will impress your boss less than bringing a horse up to the arena with its saddle on backwards.

What I’m saying is, each individual barn has their own methods on how to do certain tasks. This goes for everything from how to put a saddle up to how to train the horse. If you come into your position adamant on your way being the right and only way, I promise you it won’t sit right with your employer. After all, you’re coming here to learn, right?

Be Professional, But Not Antisocial

Working my first summer position, I came in absolutely PETRIFIED. I was so scared of saying the wrong things that I just opted to say nothing at all. Turns out, people that don’t know you think you’re rude when you don’t talk to them. Surprise, surprise!

I finally realized that, although they were among my biggest idols, they were regular people like me, and all I was doing was missing an opportunity to build a relationship. Letting that fear go and showing my personality allowed me to develop a true connection — one that I’ve had for years and will have for years to come.

Become a Sponge

No, not the one on Nickelodeon. I’m talking about a metaphorical sponge — let the water be the knowledge and information you are given in this position. You are witnessing some of the most talented people ride some of the most talented horses. Embrace it.

Often times I’d come home from a long day of work, open up a Word document on my laptop, and furiously type away everything I’d picked up that day. Everyone in the industry has something different to offer, so soak up as much as you can and learn what works best for you. And no matter what, you have never learned it all.

Photo provided by Entrigue Consulting

Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions

There are (almost) no dumb questions. If you’re asking where the poop comes out of the horse, I’m not quite sure that this is the job for you. If the question is whether or not a horse gets polo wraps, though, that is perfectly fine.

Questions are not as embarrassing as they seem. Some barns use splint boots, some prefer polos, and others use both. Some barns like the chain to be under the nose, some prefer over the nose, and others prefer no chain at all. In order to get to know your environment, it’s vital to ask questions, and more often than not it is preferred. A trainer would rather you double check with them than have that horse that pulls back breaking a pair of cross ties.

Never Say No

Throughout my first job, I was often given obscure and odd tasks, such as painting pillars or laying sod. No, I’m not going to sit here and rave about laying sod — but hey, add it to my landscaping resume!

What I will say is that accepting these odd jobs shows your employer that you’re adaptable and willing to put in effort when and where it’s needed. In the end, your time there is definite, and the little jobs are just minor blips on the radar over your time there. Get your work done fast and go on to the next.

Wear Your Friendly Face

We’ve all been there – getting to the showgrounds at four in the morning to lunge and groom horses after an entire two hours of sleep (if that). It sucks, but you push through it and put a sweet smile on your face, because you never know who you’re going to meet.

The horse industry is a big one, but also an oh-so-small one — basically, everyone knows everyone. You’re not only going to be noticed by your employer, but several other trainers around, too. It’s a good idea to say hi whenever someone walks down your aisle, or to be friendly to the people that are introduced to you. Pair that with hard work, and people will always have something good to say about you when you need a recommendation. Plus, you just may meet a future employer.

Save Time to Unwind

Do you decompress by brewing a hot cup of tea and opening a good book? Great. Do you decompress by grabbing a spoon, popping the lid off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and shamelessly eating the entire thing while watching Friends for the tenth time? Equally great.

Obviously, it’s very important to put a large effort into the work you do, but it is just as important, if not more, to find a way to unwind and decompress. Spreading yourself too thin will only hurt your mental and physical health in the end, as well as having an effect on the quality of your work. Finding balance in your work and personal time is a necessity, especially in the horse world.

Now Go Out There and Be Awesome

Having a working student position ahead of you may be daunting, but don’t be too scared. You have new people to meet, horses to ride, and knowledge to gain. It may be full of tough work, and without an ideal amount of sleep, but believe me when I say that it is worth every second.

Photo provided by Entrigue Consulting

Have questions on social media and equestrian business that you want Entrigue Consulting to answer? Send an email to [email protected] and get your questions answered in next month’s article!

Elise Fleischman is a creative associate at Entrigue Consulting, a full service equestrian marketing and brand agency. She has designed and created marketing materials for several professional riders and equestrian brands, and loves being able to promote others through her work. In her free time, she rides and works with western all-around horses in the Quarter Horse circuit and is an avid photographer. If you have any questions for Elise, you can contact her at [email protected].

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