[Training Tuesday] Ever Considered To Be A Working Student?

Just recently I saw an ad on Facebook where a up and coming Dressage rider from Germany was looking for a working student. Especially in summer, there are plenty of opportunities. But what is a working student position and what do you have to consider when looking for one?

A working student typically is "..a young adult who aspires to become a professional rider or trainer. An established rider or trainer often takes on a working student for help with their barn and horses. In exchange, workingstudents usually receive riding lessons from the trainer or rider". http://blog.classic-equine.com/2015/03/what-is-a-working-student-in-the-horse-industry/

Back then, in the Netherlands

I never ever heard of such positions (and that was maybe good so) before I went on my first working student position in 2012. If you quickly do the maths you will realize that I was not a young adult anymore at that time nor was I aspiring to become a professional rider by that time as I already had a standard full time office job!

Daily work routine...

But when I read about the possibility to work for an Olympic Rider in Denmark, I did not hesitate to apply - although I had no idea what the so called working student position was all about. Call it intuition, call it gut feeling, call it stupidity: I wanted to spend my vacation in a barn in Denmark mucking stables in exchange for riding lessons. Riding lessons which I normally could not afford in that frequency and in that quality. Learning how professionals work, what a professional barn looks like, how the horses are trained, working with so many different types of horses at different ages and with different level of training. All that was worth the hard work I had to put in each and every day. So when you feel like that could work for you to, here is some advice on how to become a working student.

What a nice place to work!
What are the responsibilities of a working student?
Mucking, sweeping, grooming are on the list as well as hand walking, lunging and hopefully eventually riding. 

Me riding in Denmark

I was extremely lucky both times I was working student. First, in Denmark, I was only there for two weeks but still they allowed me to ride horses. Same was true for my second stay the year after in the Netherlands where I even had the chance to work for a month. Especially in the Netherlands I did learn how to work a horse in hand, how to lunge a horse the classical way and how to freework horses. Both stables had the international flair and work ethic in common: for somebody only used to smaller barns in the rural area, that was kind of a cultural shock! Fixed feeding times, fixed working routines, all the professionalism when it comes to feeding, riding, tack cleaning and even tack storing made me wonder how normal people in normal barns could even survive. All that I learned was helpful for my future equestrian life: from lunging Hafl on the cavesson to putting a bridle nice and neatly into the tack room: there is not a single thing I want to miss.

THAT is how a tack room needs to look like!
Of course, you must be aware that the work they ask you for is physically tough but doable. Even for me, after a few days I did not feel the blisters anymore..

Where to find open positions?
I strongly rely on my network. With tons of likes on FB pages of celeb riders, you will always be able to see whenever Helen Langehanenberg is looking for somebody to help at her barn. Apart from that, there is also one site I found extremely helpful: www.yardsandgrooms.com. There, I found my second position.

How long will I have to stay?
That strongly depends on the employer. I made the experience that no matter how nice the guys are, no matter how neat the stables or the horses - in the horse industry, you have to move. That is due to the fact that every trainer has his own routines, tips and tricks and as being a dressage rider is a life long learning experience, you will always have to look for more and more input. Input that you can add to your toolbox for future projects, i.e. when you want to become a professional rider yourself or a trainer, or both (which is also very common). And the more methods, the more approaches you see, the higher the likelihood that you see real good riding and really learn from the best. 

What not to expect?
Do not expect to be pampered. They will take care of you for sure but it is a tough job and nobody will do it for you. If you only want to ride horses, a working student position might not be it for you. If you expect regular working hours, you should also back up from becoming a working student. Mares foaling, horses colicking do not care about late nights or weekends. Further, if they require you to travel, your vacation planning might be only second priority as show season is very likely in and during summer.

How can I make sure that it is not going to be a nightmare experience?
Google is your friend! I also found blog posts on the barns or pictures taken from people visiting. Of course, you will only see how well you and your employer fit together when you are there - at least I did not have a regular job interview - I just flew over to work.... I had tons of luck with the two stables I chose and I am pretty aware that not all of the stables offering working student positions are that nice. But sometimes in life you just have to be brave and most likely, you will be rewarded!

Oh yes, I was more than lucky!

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