Is Being a Working Student for You?

By TPH Blog Editor SARAH WELK BAYNUM

A bead of sweat threatened to roll into my eyes as I set down the saddle I pulled from the equally sweaty horses back.

“This is definitely the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life,” I remembered thinking. It was far from the first time that thought had crossed my mind during my time as a working student.

Not that I was a stranger to hard work.

I grew up “that barn rat kid” who would do absolutely anything to be at the barn, with the horses, and riding anything my trainer handed me the reins to. I worked off my horse’s board, additional lessons, and any chance to ride I could every weekend and most weekdays in the summer as a teenager.

But there I was, early twenties and swearing that this was the hardest I had ever worked. Period.

I had spent the first two months of my working student internship in the cold months of November and December in Chicago at their northern farm.

Then, we headed to Ocala where I traded winter coats for sweating in the humid mid-day sun as I performed my daily not-so-glamourous working student duties of stall cleaning, turnout, medicating and feeding horses, tacking and untacking them for the trainer and riders, and a laundry list of endless cleaning tasks.

But in addition to those tasks, I was also riding about five horses a day (many of which were green project sale horses) and getting frequent training as a by-product on many of those horses I rode for them. My experience catch riding and riding project horse in my earlier years had been accelerated in a matter of just a few months, and I still had a few months to go at this point before my time as a working student was over.

When we attended HITS Ocala, whether I was showing one of the project horses or if I was acting as a show groom for the other riders, I learned things I simply wouldn’t have experienced back home.

However, my favorite part of being a working student was that my own horse was with me. The training and show experience we were getting together was what my childhood dreams were made of. I had always wanted to spend a winter riding and showing in Ocala—even if I had to work long, hard hours every day in order to do it.

Not every working student position offers this, but it’s a huge perk when they do. I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived as a working student without my best friend (my horse) at the end of the barn aisle.

By the time my internship as a working student was over, I went home a different person. I was offered a job as a barn a manger and show groom almost immediately once I returned home as well.

Being a working student had made me mentally and physically stronger, more responsible, and created a life-long work ethic. It also comes as no surprise it made me an even better rider.

Maybe you’re in that place of life just like I was when I made the decision to take the plunge and be a working student.

I was fresh out of college (where I studied Equine Business and Facility Managment) wanting to explore career options, and build my resume and skills both in and out of the saddle.

I had also always wanted to spend a winter in Florida, so this was the way that seemed perfect for accomplishing both.

I remember seeing other working students before I became one myself, and I’m not going to lie, it looked way more glamorous than it actually was when I became one myself.

Does that mean if I had the chance I would go back and not be a working student? Absolutely not—I would do it all over again if given the chance.

Would I recommend others become working students? Defintley.

But is being a working student for everyone? I don’t think so.

I think you need to understand the kind of dedication it will take. There are days you will want to quit because you’re tired, or you had a bad ride and now you have three more horses to ride, or the person you’re a working student for tells you that you did something wrong and you have to accept it, learn, and move on.

When making the decision to become a working student, you need to keep in mind the most important thing about being a working student: it’s hard work.

But that hard work will truly pay off in so many ways, both as a horse person and as a human being in general. It tests your patience, your work ethic, your knowledge, your problem-solving skills, and your abilities when working with horses and people.

When I look back on my career and where I am today, a pivotal moment was my time as a working student—it’s also one of the biggest reasons I’m the person I am today.

So, is being a working student for you?

That’s a question only you can answer.

Because at the end of the day, you’ll be the one putting in the hard work. However, you’ll also be the one who comes out the other side having learned more about what you are capable of than you could have ever anticipated.