The working student life has its up and downs, pros and cons. I have been a working student for 4 different trainers, from the time I was 16 until just this past year. I have always wanted the best possible training I could get but have never had the massive amount of money that it takes to have a horse in full training and full board. The answer to that equation is a working student job. I have had different situations with each trainer that I have worked for. Everyone does it a little bit different, but most people offer full training and either board or an apartment/living. I have always had my own horse, so I’ve usually taken the boarding option. After being a working student for 8 years, I want to give you my top 4 tips to being a successful and helpful working student.
1: Become a master at time management
I have been very fortunate with the trainers I have worked for, so I say this with love, but most riders have a hard time making schedules and sticking to them. If you can keep your boss on time, they will love you. Of course, with horses you can’t always stay on an exact planned schedule but your job as a working student is to try your hardest to keep your boss on time and running smoothly. You find every spare second to be getting things done. If you’re a working student, you should always have something to do. Sweep the barn aisle, scrub buckets, bring horses in and out from turnout, make grain up for the next feeding, tack up the next horse… there’s always something that needs to be done in a barn. Always. Use time management. If you’re walking the next horse to the arena, go on and take a water bottle for your boss so you don’t have to make two trips to the ring. While you’re rinsing off a horse, go on and rinse off the wash rack while you’re at it. As soon as that bridle comes off the horse, clean it, wrap it up and put it away. If a lesson is running overtime and you can tell your boss is somewhat stuck, walk in and remind them that they have somewhere to be. Time management is key!
2: Be the most organized person in the barn
This kind of goes along with time management because if you are not organized, you won’t be able to have good time management. This can be a little tricky. Some trainers will give you full access to organizing schedules and organizing the entire barn the way you want it, while other trainers have their own way of doing things and want to stick to it. All trainers that I have worked for, I generally keep it their way for the first couple of weeks to a month and then start to make some suggestions on making everything more organized. If they are up for letting you do that, go for it. I usually attack the tack rooms first. If you have to get a horse ready in 5 minutes, you need to be able to grab everything quick and know exactly where it is. I like to have all bridle and saddle racks labeled for each horse (or rider). This is also helpful if you have more than one groom in the barn. That way if someone else has to get a horse ready and you’re busy doing something else, they will have no problems finding everything. I like to have all boots in one area, all polos in one area, saddle pads, mattes pads, girths etc etc. Everything needs a place and a label. Then I will organize the tacking up area. Again, you want to know exactly where your favorite brushes and show sheen are. I promise this will make your life so much easier. Sometimes it takes a while to complete all of this organizing. I have even gone in on my days off to get everything organized. Sometimes it takes more than one day. But it’s worth it. I promise. Get out that label maker!
3: Don’t wait to be told to do something
This was a hard one for me to get used to. If you tell me to do something, I will do it right away. But in the beginning I was waiting to be told what to do. I learned being a working student that sometimes you have to just do things yourself. If you see a horse running in the paddock, don’t wait for someone to tell you to bring it in, just do it. If you see a dirty bridle hanging in the tack room, don’t ignore it, clean it. If the barn isle is dirty, sweep it. If the drain is clogged in the wash rack, don’t be scared to get dirty. Your jobs are endless and you need to just get it done. Jump in and get it done. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Your boss will greatly appreciate not having to micro manage.
4: Be confident in what your job is
This is where a working student job can go wrong. You need to be very clear on what is expected of you and what you are getting in return. Again, I have been blessed to work for very good people. However, as a working student, you can quickly be pushed to the back burner because you are not a “paying client” but still be working your butt off. Have a clear agreement from the beginning and your chances of this happening will be a little bit lower. Also if you live on the property, it’s very easy to be suckered into working on your days off. Refuse to let this happen. Remind them that it is your day off. Don’t feel bad about that, everybody deserves a day. I would recommend having a written agreement on what is expected of you and what you will be getting.
Working student jobs can be amazing. I owe almost all of my opportunities I have had to being a working student. If you are working for the right people that truly have your best interest in mind, it will be the best thing you have ever done. But you have to know going in that it is hard work. It’s usually very long hours and can be physically exhausting. It can be a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure to get things done. If you are receiving living as part of your compensation, don’t expect the Ritz. But as long as you are getting good training and care for your horse in return, it could be the best thing you’ve ever done.