In the equine world, the phrase “working student” refers to a horse crazy person who is willing to be worked to the bone in exchange for lessons and rides with a professional from anywhere to six months to several years.
“I want to be a working student” is a phrase I have often heard in the barn on a daily basis. Students from ages 10 and up have this dream of one day being a working student and an eventual professional with their own students. People have romanticized this idea of what a working student is that by the time they get to their first day, they are shocked by the intensity of day one. It is a romantic idea, cleaning stalls for a few days then taking lessons for free, but it is not reality. Working students have some of the most grueling jobs of the industry depending on who you are working for. The bigger the name, the more intense the work. This position is all about earning your rides and showing that you have what it takes to cut it in the equine world. Make no mistakes, equestrians are cut throat and the minute you show that you cannot handle the work, you are out.
Aly Arnold ’16 was a working student under Barbara Burnett, a previous dressage instructor at Wilson, and enjoyed everything about the experience. Don’t be fooled though, not everything is glamorous in the barn. As a working student, most work for lessons, not money.
“You don’t get paid a lot, most working student positions… I got paid nothing a week, I got lessons.” Arnold says she was able to pick up a job to support herself, but most places do not allow for their students to work outside of the barn.
Despite the lack of funding from the job, Arnold stated she would do it all over again if she could “I took away a lot, I got so much more horse experience and knowledge, my riding improved immensely, train, everything.” Some of the duties included taking care of the horses, maintenance around the farm, helping with project horses, and helping with the overall upkeep with the farm.
Arnold says the work was grueling but worth it. “There’s so much you can gain, even the good and the bad, you take what you can from it. You learn what you want to do and what you don’t want to do as a horse person.”
Being a working student is a lot of work, it is not all ponies and riding, it is grueling with long days and longer nights. There will be times where you have to be up at the crack of dawn and go to sleep an hour before you have to be back at the barn. As romantic as the job sounds it is not easy, but it is a way to discover if you are truly ready for the horse world. As writer Eiren Crawford said in her working student article for Horse Junkies United, “Being a working student can open doors, it can crush you, or it can do both.”
So if being a working student is in your future, do your research. Find out what the job entails, how will you afford to live while working, and most of all if you are tough enough.
To read Crawford’s article about her experiences, click here.
To see eventers looking for students, click here.