BY AMANDA TERBRUSCH
When you think of the words “working student” you probably think of aspiring professionals, junior riders looking to work their way onto the ‘A’ circuit, or even young teenagers willing to spend their weekends at the barn in order to earn some saddle time in exchange. But when I think of the word “working student,” it’s a mix of all of those things and so much more.
I’ve been considered a working student since I was 14 years-old when I started working pony birthday parties and summer pony camp in exchange for group lessons. Riding was never really in the budget for my family growing up, which is something I struggled greatly to understand at the time. So any opportunity to work towards some saddle time was a no-brainer for me—especially since I would’ve rather spent my weekend days at the barn than anywhere else.
I kept this trend going through high school, taking every opportunity I could to get in the saddle. From flatting lesson ponies after school to riding a friend’s horse when they were on vacation, I never said no. This worked for me, and I didn’t ever realize that there was any other way to earn my time in the saddle. I did what I was comfortable with.
After starting to compete in IHSA in college, I had a totally new hunger to horse show and a brand new wealth of knowledge about what kind of opportunities were out there for me. I landed my first real working student position at 19, doing barn chores and exercising horses in exchange for lessons. Through this experience, I got to ride some of the nicest horses I’ve ever ridden, and learned that while this industry may be tough it also had a lot to teach me. This opportunity extended for almost exactly two years during my winter and summer breaks from college, and really helped me to become a more capable rider. While I didn’t get to horse show, I really learned how to flat anything I was given the opportunity to sit on—a skill I pride myself in.
Going into my senior year of college, my opportunities fizzled out at my current position and I knew I had to find myself somewhere to go for my last ever college winter break, aka: my last opportunity to be a working student before I entered adulthood, and would need big girl job (to help me afford my own horse one day, of course).
I ended up finding a wonderful opportunity close to home, and I committed myself to learning and becoming the best rider I could while I still had the opportunity to work for it. I began working for the best trainers I have ever had, who valued my time, cared about my riding, and were dedicated to seeing me succeed. I had never felt more confident or more appreciated than I did in this position, I learned more than I thought was possible in 5 weeks time. I realized that no working student position is worth your time and efforts without the right team standing alongside you.
When COVID-19 came onto the scene in March, I was welcomed home early from my last semester of college to an extensive quarantine while finishing school and having my mom, a nurse, caring for COVID patients temporarily. After Corona settled slightly and I graduated college (virtually), I was left with no plan and no job. My barn family welcomed me back to my working student job with open arms. There was an added bonus, the opportunity to do something I’ve always dreamed of, spend my summer on the Horse Show Circuit.
Being a working student after college was never really something that I considered, mainly because being a professional was not something that I was looking to do. I have always pictured having a corporate job, making enough money to have my own horse, and getting the show career I always wanted… but amateur-style.
This summer was challenging, and tiring. It came with a learning curve, as I had never done the whole week-long horse show thing, but I continued to hold my head up as high as I could amongst the stress. I put myself out there for any and all opportunities, and enjoyed every single second. This wasn’t my forever job after all, and I knew that I would miss it once it was over (and I do).
I built a relationship with, and got to learn so much from the most perfect little gelding. He took care of me, challenged me, and taught me to be proud of my progress as opposed to upset about the color of my ribbon (or lack of). Although the show season didn’t compare to a typical summer, I got to compete with him at two different ‘A’ rated week long horse shows, which is one of the most exciting things I have gotten to do in my riding career. We did primarily hunters, but got to dabble in the jumper ring a couple of times, which inspired and fuelled my new found interest in being a jumper rider someday. I am so grateful to have been able to learn from him.
Leaving behind my position to start working in Marketing and Sales (equine related, of course) was definitely challenging. I miss being at the barn everyday, and having so many opportunities to ride. My working student positions didn’t help me achieve my lifelong dream of getting qualified for an equitation final, or teach me everything I need to know to be a top professional rider. But that is okay. They gave me opportunities and an abundance of knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Being a working student through college and into my adult life taught me to be patient, and to be trusting of those with more experience. It taught me how to be a better horseman, and how to always put the well-being of the horses first. It taught me how to be a good client, and independent horse owner in the future. To not get my hopes up too high all the time, and smile through my disappointment. Ask questions if I don’t understand, and that it’s worth asking because the worst thing they can say is no. That some of the best laughs and memories come after early mornings and long days. But most importantly, it taught me that there may always be someone with more in the bank than me, so all I can do is work hard for the things I want most, and to celebrate all of my little victories.
I took away more valuable life lessons from my working student positions than any other job I’ve ever had, and while I’m looking forward to finally being someone’s client someday soon, I am so grateful to have had the experience to work alongside some of the best people, and spend so much time in the saddle while I had the chance.
Amanda is a recent college graduate who is currently working in Sales and Marketing in the Equine Industry. She was the captain of her college IHSA team at the University of New Hampshire, and has been a working student for the past 6 years. Adult life has not left her as much time to ride, but she is looking forward to getting back to the barn and in the show ring as soon as time allows!