By Yvonne Barteau
For many young and aspiring horse trainers, becoming a working student, or acquiring an internship, with a reputable professional can become the link, that launches their career. Gaining such a position can be tricky and learning to work to industry standards, and to make the experience as beneficial as possible for both the student and the trainer, some guidelines should be followed.
First. Don’t over sell yourself. The professional already knows what they are looking for and what sort of person will be most helpful to them. Show interest in the opportunity and also a willingness to work hard and to learn how things work. Do some research about the establishment or the individual you want to apprentice with before you make your initial request. When you do reach out, do not bore your prospective employer with too much impertinent details about every place you worked, what blue ribbons you won in 4h years ago or all your ideas and goals during initial interactions. The trainer most wants to know just a few things. Are you trainable, willing to work hard, and easy for others to get along with? Express those things.
Second. Work out the terms before you start. Is there pay, are there living arrangements and are meals included or not. What will the work be and what lessons or instruction can you expect if things are going well? Also how long are you willing to commit to being there? Say that. And if you say a year then you should do so even if the going gets rough. Only legitimate emergencies should keep you from fulfilling the time line you agree to when you start. Your boyfriend breaking up with you does not qualify. If you have vacations or trips already scheduled before you begin the position make sure you are fair and mention them before you are hired. Those kind of surprises are never welcome.
Once you get there. Fit in! Do as much as you can as soon as you can to become useful to the company you work for. You may think you are invisible when the trainers back is turned but you are not. Everyone notices whether new help is actually that. Help. Try to learn fast and to see what needs to be done and then do whatever it is as efficiently as possible. No task should be beneath you. Think of things to do without being asked. This time of your life should be about testing yourself and proving yourself not about saving energy. Do work hard. Do get tired. Do more than is expected of you. The will and the inspiration to get up each day, to work that hard, at your own future, must come from within you. Do not think joking around, being a nice person, creating personal drama or making excuses will make you popular with whomever you are working for. Sincere efforts and a good attitude about everything is the tried and true recipe for success.
Take every opportunity to learn all you can and better yourself both on the ground and in the tack. If you get an opportunity to ride make the most of it. Be ready on time or if you are allowed to have the horse warmed up early and know how to do so do that. If you are allowed practice riding time on other horses take advantage of it and apply your new skills to those horses. Imagine that the whole barn, all of the horses within and all the responsibilities for things to go well we’re really yours. Make life easier for whomever you work with by understanding they have a lot of responsibility and your job is to do what you can so their day goes smoothly.
If you want something ask. Don’t complain. Many people complain about opportunities they never got or chances they did not have without mentioning that they did not actually step up and ask for them. If you want a chance to show a horse, or start a horse under saddle or learn a new skill…ask! You may not get the answer you want but even if the answer is no at least everything is on the table and you can always ask why or if you might have said opportunities at a later date. Most trainers do want their working students to do well and to succeed if they are the right sort of worker and person. Make sure you do not ask for privileges that you do not feel you have earned or are worthy of. Be someone that stands out in a good way by being an ongoing example of all you agreed to do and can do each day. Not only will you be remembered well you will open door after door in your future wherever it may be!
KYB Dressage often has openings for working students in a few different categories. There is a Fast track option for amateur or professional riders who want riding opportunities or a chance to earn their medals and while there is a cost associated with this sort of opportunity it is more of a riding apprenticeship but you can improve your skill level immensely in a short time.
There is also the more traditional opportunity where one lesson a day is provided but all costs are covered because of the additional hours per day the student works.
Being a working student is often whatever you make of it. You need to be sure you are ready for this experience before you agree to take it on. Many top trainers and riders started out as a working student and built wonderful careers from there!