Updated: Feb 22, 2019
From Scoring the Perfect Position to Avoiding the Major Mistakes
*Working Pupil = Working Student. I will refer to the term as 'WP' within this article*
Everybody starts somewhere! A WP position can be the base of your education & career, potentially leading you to a variety of career options in the horse industry. Whether your long-term objective is to become a trainer, a professional rider, or just a well-rounded & educated horse person. I believe that one of the best places to figure out where you fit in within the industry, is by jumping into a WP position - with a plan!
Here is all the information that I wish I had at 18, when I decided I wanted to try the whole ‘WP experience’ but I had no clue on what it actually meant or entailed. If I help even one person who is interested in pursuing this path, truly understand and make a plan towards finding their dream WP position, then this article will have succeeded.
Outlined in the #WorkingPupilStartupKit are:
Your questions - ANSWERED.
Your worries - SOLVED.
A plan MAPPED OUT for you.
From truly understanding what a WP is and does, figuring out if it’s the right fit for you, helping you find the right position and going through the interview process. I will also touch on figuring out the financials of owning/competing your own horse, what to do if it goes wrong, and where to go from being a WP.
Why? Because we need a relevant, up-to-date guide from someone who has been through the WP experience, in order to #groweventing! It's something I've gotten asked about, often with great confusion & stress! Livin' Eventing is all about growing our sport and opening doors, so let's start from the base and build upwards!
Let’s begin with a seemingly simple but incredibly important question:
What is a Working Pupil?
"In the equine industry the term 'working pupil' is typically associated with someone who works at a yard, lives on the premises and keeps their horse there and, in return for this, they get training. There is no legal definition of a “working pupil” and this term is not a legal employment status. If you are a working pupil you are more than likely an employee."
^ Above The British Groom's Organization has a clear, matter-of-fact definition of a working pupil: https://britishgrooms.org.uk/news/166/working-pupil-facts
Right off the bat, you can see that a WP is not an employment status, and there is NO legal definition of the position. If that worries you slightly, you're not alone. I’m not going to get into the legalities of becoming a WP in this particular article, but I wanted to give you the heads up. Doing some further research into this will help protect yourself, and whoever may be giving you an opportunity to learn! This article from Horse & Hound is a good place to start investigating: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/survey-aims-uncover-truth-working-pupil-positions-679489
As a WP you help your mentor/rider, and they help you! Here is what you offer somebody as a WP and what they offer you in exchange.
The Working Pupil Helps Their Mentor/Rider:
With yard & exercise work (generally 6 days per week)
Grooming at home & at competitions (when needed and often when you, yourself are competing!)
Basically, you are an extra set of hands on the yard to help groom, be jump crew, be an exercise rider, become a master lunger, and be the navigator to events. You might even become a social media assistant, and have sleepovers with the dog!
The Mentor/Rider Helps Their Working Pupil:
Accommodate their horse on their yard
Teaches the student lessons on their horse or their own horses
Finds them suitable accommodation
Trucks them to competitions and offers coaching (if they aren’t competing at the same time)
Provides them with training opportunities, often with their own trainers (dressage/jumping lessons, xc schooling etc)
*This is a rough idea of the give-and-take within a WP position. Each position varies in what is offered to a WP and what a WP is expected to do in return. For example: I’ve had WP positions where I’ve had to pay reduced livery/board, and others where it is completely covered. *This needs to be discussed and made CLEAR before you proceed with a WP position.*
Is a Working Pupil Position Right for You?
It will be a little bit of this..
But even more of that!
The best way I’ve been told to look at your WP experience is that they are your ‘college years’ and to see it for what it is: an education. You will live & breathe horses, you will have long days and it will be tiring but if you find the right position, I promise it will be worth it!
Here are lists of why you should and shouldn't look into trying this challenging but rewarding position...
You should look into a wp position if:
You have a strong desire to learn, ride and care for horses
You have a positive attitude and are ready to take a WP position as seriously as you would take a college course
You want to learn from a rider you admire, follow their system and learn how a professional yard operates
You want to improve yourself and your horse’s training as well as get an opportunity to compete (and learn to be competitive)
You should not look into a wp position if:
You want a fun holiday where you get to do lots of riding on top horses
You already believe yourself to be the next Michael Jung, you just need to be discovered
You want a 9-5 job where you get your horse and your accommodation paid for
You think that your potential mentor is a cutie and you want an excuse to get closer to him/her ;)
A Day in the Life of a Working Pupil
This is an example of an average day when you are not: preparing for an event, going to an event or going training. These mornings can start anytime in the AM, end anytime in the PM & really shake the day around!
START: Anywhere from 6-8 AM: Morning chores: feed, hay, muck out, turn horses in/out, morning check/groom, blow/sweep yard.
Anytime between 8-10 AM: Rider arrives (might have a cup of tea & chat with the team) fills in and reviews diary/schedule.
Starting anytime from 8:30 AM: Start tacking up horses in rider’s preferred order & start riding/exercising horses yourself.
Anywhere from 1:30-3PM: Clean all the tack, make sure all the horses are happy then take lunch break: it can be anything from a mad dash for a bite of a sandwich to a one hour sit down meal, depends on the day!
Anywhere from 3-6PM: Afternoon chores: skip out, turn horses in/out, hay, feed, sweep/blow for a 5-6PM FINISH
Anytime between 8-9PM: Lates/evening check: give late feeds and check that all the horses are okay (also give scratches - see video below)
*This is an example of an average day at an eventing yard, there can be many changes/differences between yards*
Time to Make a List
If you are still reading, and are not scared off by the daunting list of chores then you are ready to do some serious thinking about your next step! I’ve found the best place to start is by gathering your thoughts onto a list. You want to take the time to figure out what you truly need in a position! I can’t stress enough how important this part of the process is! When writing your list you will decide what you absolutely cannot go without, and what you are willing to negotiate on.
*This is an example of a wants & needs list. Once you have that organized, write down a list of questions you want to ask about the position. I put an example above with some questions you might want to consider!*
Where do I Find a Working Pupil Position?
Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to start the search! There are many ways to find a WP position, from word of mouth to online listings. The good news for you: people are always taking on WP’s! Before you jump in and start making calls, do some research!
First, find out if the position fits in with what you need (from your list) BEFORE giving the number on the ad a ring or a message. For example: An ad will generally state wether or not it is possible to bring a horse with you. If you have a horse and the yard cannot accommodate one, it would make little sense to call-up and ask about the position!
To start your search, it is useful to ask around and make your equestrian community (pony club, local riding school, connections from your trainer) aware that you’re on the hunt for a WP position. Online listing are a fast and easy way to find what you're looking for. It can also be helpful to make a list of people you’d really like to learn from, and check their social media pages/websites to see if they are currently looking. If they aren't currently advertising for WP's, it's always worth it to shoot them a message inquiring about availability in the future!
Sites to Check-Out:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/Twitter.eventing/ *you will need to request to become a member of 'Twitter Eventing'
What to Ask
Now that you’ve found a potential position: It’s time to phone or message to inquire about it. If you are calling, have your list of questions ready and be prepared to answer all the questions they might have for you. (Example: Do you have a horse? Have you worked in Eventing before?)
It’s easiest for everybody if you avoid wasting time in this process. If you don't waste time getting to the point in a conversation or email by saying something like: “Hi, my name is Ali, I’m interested in your WP position available. I have a horse currently competing at BE100, I would need accommodation, I have my own vehicle and would like the opportunity to compete this coming season." It saves an awful lot of time (as nice as a leisurely chatting about the recent stretch of sunny weather is)!
Ask everything from your list of questions, and keep a notepad out to write down the answers. If anywhere along the line of communication you can tell something isn’t realistically going to work, tell them right away (respectively). If it seems to be a good match, set up a time to meet for an interview. This will also give you a chance to check out their yard.
When you go for your interview- bring a notepad! Any remaining questions, and any you come up with as you tour the yard, should be written down. It might seem nerdy to bring a notepad with you.. but keep in mind; with all the information you have documented, you will be better able to make an informed and educated decision that seriously effects your future #winning
After your visit to the yard, you believe you've found the right position, and the rider is happy to have you as their WP. Awesome! .... Now what?
My next blog post: ‘The Ultimate Working Pupil Startup Kit: PART 2’ will give you a run down of where to go from a successful interview. We’ll start by talking about trials, going into your first day/week/month, the (inevitable) difficult days, and where to go from a WP position *with a note about financial security
👥#EventingShares: Do you know somebody who is thinking about pursuing a Working Pupil/Student position? Tag people who might be looking below and if you know of an available opportunity, share this post with the ad! Let's make some matches! Any available positions will be featured with the release of PART 2 of: The #WorkingPupilKit - March 6th. Get ready.. #GrowEventing