I feel like the role of working student can mean a lot of things. In some cases you ride, in others you chase school horses, sometimes you teach, sometimes you run the office. It’s one of many grey spaces of a job in the equestrian world. My time as a working student really began when I was 13, I was desperate to spend more time at the barn so I agreed to come help tack up lesson horses on Saturdays.
I was there rain or shine. Snow or blistering heat. One day a week turned into two, into three…Later that year, I was introduced to my heart horse, partially (in my opinion) because I had proved that I was in it for the long run. After that my role slowly expanded to more, and more riding. First it was just a very long hack where I would attempt to wear down one particularly jazzed up school pony before his beginner got there. Then it was an adult beginner who often didn’t make it out there-his gelding needed a quick ride. A mare who needed exactly 11 minutes of trotting for her rehab…and more just kept working out in my favor.
The teenage me thrived on every second at the barn or in the saddle, and it only go better and better. My trainers would shout out instructions as he walked by the ring, or give me mini lessons while I was hacking out horse 1 or horse 2. I learned to water an arena without covering myself in mud. I knew every way to wrap a horses leg. I was a horse show pro. I could tack up a hot-headed jumper mare in the pitch black morning and toss my trainer aboard without thinking twice, all while still holding onto the other horse he’d just gotten off of.
Eventually I found myself riding 2 sometimes 3 horses a day, and often doing jump schools on both client and sale horses. I rarely got tossed off, but racked up an impressive list of other injuries.
I never complained. I never really remember hurting or being sore. I remember the obsessive love. And the pride that came with knowing and riding almost every horse in the barn, from Prix jumpers to Arabian ponies. While far from being our best rider, I was scrappy and devoted. That counts for a lot at the end of the day.
I would split my day into parts.
- Arrive/water horses.
- Muck stalls.
- Feed horses.
- Turn out horses.
- Check arena.
- Check water.
- Ride #1.
- Ride #2/3 (one of which would usually be the one I was leasing)
- Check stalls and toss more hay.
- Prep lesson equipment.
This was all done usually by mid-day. Usually done in tandem with trainer, barn manager, or barn staff. It was still a lot of work for a 15 year old girl, but I thrived on it. And my riding improved in ways I can’t even describe.
When I graduated high school I remember being terrified of leaving for college, but not because of leaving friends; because I knew that my time as a working student was over. In the career I wanted, I doubted I would ever be that deeply involved in a show facility again. And I was right. Now, years removed, I realize that it’s okay, because I took all that I could from those years and those skills continue to help me daily. I would not be the person or the rider I am today without those opportunities and experiences. And I’m eternally grateful.