I’m not sure how many articles have been written about working students, but I’m here to give you my perspective on how to be the best possible working student you can. As I have been a working student myself, maybe I might just have a few good tips. You can be the judge of that!
You have decided you want to be a working student, congratulations! If you aren’t 100% sure where you want to work or who you want to work for, then you need to ask yourself a few questions.
Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How: if you know who you want to work for that’s great, get to applying. If you don’t, start with asking yourself what discipline you are interested in, be it Dressage, Eventing, Polo, Racing, Vaulting, etc. Once you have decided this, hopefully you’ll have someone you look up to or admire because of their ability or horsemanship in that discipline. You need to want to learn from that person before applying, otherwise you will most likely run into problems later on. Take into consideration where this person is based, can you commute daily, do you need to move cities, or even countries? Are you prepared to do this? If not, then don’t waste anyone’s time by applying. Take a bit of time to think about why you want to be a working student. If you are thinking of it because you have this idea that playing with horses is easy, well please do us all a favour and go away. Or do
you want to learn as much as you possibly can, you may or may not want to be a professional, but you want to take the next year of your life and learn everything you can? Well that is fantastic; wherever you go, you can succeed. Which brings me to my next point, know exactly how long you are able to commit for a working student position and be up front about it from the beginning. How are you going to hold up to the demands of a physical job? Be honest with yourself, because no one wants to hear you are quitting a week in because of whichever of the 1000 excuses you have decided to use.
Fantastic! You have come up with your top 3 riders you’d like to work for. Tip: apply to more than one person, if you go for a trial and decide it’s not for you, it won’t be a big deal because you have another trial the next weekend. Keep your options open, as much as it’s important for you to be the right fit for the employer, remember that the job has to be the right fit for you as well.
When you are writing your application letter, remember a few key things;
1. Always ask the references you list if they are okay with being used. Even better, ask them if they would give you a strong, positive reference. A negative reference can sink your application.
2. Give detail about your experience with horses. Obviously, no one wants to read a letter that comes across as if you are god’s gift to the equestrian world, but your employer wants to know your experience. Did you start riding when you were 4 or have you only just started 2 years ago? Are you involved in pony club, young riders, 4H, or another club? Do you compete your own horse and up to what level? Throw in a bit about where you think they can help you improve and why you want to work for them.
3. If you need accommodation, tell them.
4. If you have a medical condition, mention it. You do not need to go into detail, but they need to know.
5. If you want to bring a horse or pet, mention it.
6. If you have any other commitments such as another job or school, it’s a good idea to bring that up.
Always go for a trial. You don’t want to move around the world and find out you don’t like the job.
A few things to remember when going for a trial:
1. If you are on time, you’re late. Be at least 5 min early. Find out what time they finish before your trial and make sure you can stay all day. If you can’t, make them aware before the day of your trial.
2. Show up prepared. Dress appropriately for the job and the weather, bring a change of clothes if it’s going to rain and bring extra clothes if it’s cold. You know you will be working all day so pack a lunch and bring something to drink. Bring everything you need to for riding; you will look pretty stupid when you forget your half chaps. Also, it only takes a few minutes to clean your boots and doesn’t take much effort to put on clean clothes and put a brush through your hair. First impressions matter, so take a few extra minutes to pull yourself together for the first few days. Don’t get me wrong, it you have been there a few years and you turn up for an entire week with the same breeches on and you haven’t dared take a brush close to your head, well no one is going to bat an eye.
3. Every yard does things differently, so go in with an open mind. You might learn a thing or two.
4. If you don’t get to ride, do not complain.
5. If you don’t meet the head rider, the big cheese, your idol… don’t complain because 90% of the time you will be working with their team and not the head person, so you need to get on with them.
6. Be careful when asking about pay and holidays. Of course, that is something you need to know, but if that is the first thing out of your mouth, then it will be a red flag. You need to care more about the horses, the routine, the roles of each person, than yourself.
Be game to do any job that needs doing; you are not too good to sweep or pull weeds.
I know the work is hard and you are going to be exhausted when you first start, but you can’t let your
expectations of yourself drop. As soon as you do that, you will make a mistake. Mistakes will happen, so when they do, be upfront about them so they can be fixed immediately and learn from it. Every single situation is a learning experience, just be sure not to do it again.
Personally, I think attitude and work ethic are the most important things, even more important than being talented. If you don’t have the drive to put in the work or you don’t want to learn, eventually the holes will show because the foundation is missing. People who work hard every day when no one is watching, failing constantly but still trying, still showing up every day – well, those are the people that you want on your team, because they will eventually succeed because there is no other option. They will not stop until they get it. You have to put in the work like you are doing it for your own horses; would you leave him with dirty legs? Exactly, you wouldn’t. I know you were meant to finish an hour ago, you’re cold, wet, and have only eaten half your sandwich on your way to the field to catch the loose horse that pulled a shoe. Guess what, you wash the horse’s legs, because you know you should.
As you can see from the above pictures, I am always sleeping.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whatever reason you’re asking. Be it you don’t understand, need clarification, didn’t hear the first time, or want to understand a method or piece of equipment better. You are there to learn and the people around you might not know how much knowledge you have. 99% of the time, your question will happily be answered, and the other 1%... don’t ask for a long explanation on how something works when the yard is chaotic. Ask at the right time and I promise you will get more information than you wanted. Asking questions shows that you are interested, you want to learn. Be careful, there is a fine line between asking questions to learn and being nosy; first week in don’t ask why their Olympic horse in now off the grid; that might not be taken well.
With all that being said prepare yourself for some amazing experiences. The harder you try the more you'll get out of your WS position, that goes for anything in life really. The places you'll go, the people you'll meet and the life long friends you'll make are only a few things you can look forward to.