The Ultimate Working Student Guide – Sponsored by MD Barnmaster
- By Sable Giesler – Jul 3, 2018
You apply for a Working Student (WS) position with the rider who you have idolized for years and you get the job. You have fantasies about exercising their top horses and travelling with them to big events to help groom… But in reality, a WS mucks stalls, tacks up horses, washes horses, blankets horses, turns horses out, sets jumps, and performs various other unglamorous tasks.
Nonetheless, being a WS is an opportunity that will teach you how top riders train and manage their entire operations. If you take on the job of being someone’s WS, you surely want to succeed because future opportunities could result. Many top riders got to where they are today by working for other people to gain experience and credibility. People say there is no such thing as perfect but you can be the exception with these tips.
1. Genuine care for the horses – The horses are the most critical component to any successful riding operation because without horses there would obviously be no riders. Taking good care of the horses is everyone’s number one priority. If you are told to tack up a horse and something does not look quite right, point it out to whoever is in charge. If you see a horse running around its field like a lunatic, walk out to the field and bring it in before it hurts itself. Do not be one of those people that will take shortcuts and turn a blind eye to problems to escape extra work. If you treat the horses like gold, you will be golden.
2. Get to know the horses – Memorize their breeding, age, medical history, schedules and norms. It is critical that you are able to tell when there is something “off” about them so you can react accordingly. If something was to go wrong with a horse and you were the only one around to talk to the vet, it would be imperative for you to know the details. They are in your charge and you need to treat them like they were children you are babysitting.
3. Respect clients as much as your boss does – Your boss works for his/her clients and this means that you do too. An ill-mannered WS is bad for a rider’s business. Remember that students, boarders, owners, horse buyers, ship-in lessons and anyone who pays your boss money is a client. Be polite, helpful, and friendly. Go the extra mile to ensure that the clients at the barn are more than content.
4. Be early, not on time – With horses, you have to expect the unexpected. Therefore, you should always allow yourself time to deal with the unforeseen. It will not kill you to get up 20 minutes earlier to load the horses for a show or make sure a sales horse is ready to be shown to a buyer. Being a little bit early will go a long way and your boss will make life a little less stressful for you.
5. Make friends with other Working Students – Make friends with other WS and barn employees from other barns. Socializing is fun, plus the networking could pay off in the future. Perhaps at a show, something might get forgotten, well you can head over to another rider’s trailer and ask to borrow what you need because you have connections. Not to mention, you can always share tips and learn from others to help you do a better job. Knowing the people from other barns will also be beneficial if you are unhappy working where you are or you just want a change of scenery.
6. Keep relationships professional – Is there a cute boy or girl working at the barn? Eye candy is always nice, but do not chase after them like a love struck teenager. Barns are a workplace and you should act professional about your relations with other workers. At the very least, do not be flirting on the job, save it for after hours.
8. Look classy – You do not have to dress in Ralph Lauren polo shirts and wear $200 breeches, but make sure you look presentable. Always wear a decent polo shirt (you can get them at Walmart for like $5.00), respectable pants/breeches/shorts and try to keep your boots clean. It is important that you give your boss’s clients a good impression of you because you’re part of your boss’s business. You probably aspire to have your own business some day and the horse world is small; make sure everyone who sees you on the job thinks you look like a professional.
9. Do not pretend to know something when you are unsure – If someone asks you to do something and you are not 110% sure you know how, ask. Attempting something you are not confident about could result in a disaster. There really are no stupid questions in the horse world and you are a WS to learn.
10. Pay attention to how things are done – You will not always need to ask questions to figure things out if you learn through observation. Pay attention to your surroundings; watch how the head groom does things and follow suit. When you are working at someone else’s barn, you do things their way. It does not matter if you do not see the point in why something is done a certain way, just do it like that. There is likely a reason behind it that you are not aware of and if you are that curious about it, you can ask politely. Keep your eyes open to the way things are done, you will learn quicker and everyone will appreciate it.
11. Make notes to keep your facts straight – Never trust yourself to remember everything, be proactive and take notes. Use your phone or have a notebook, whatever works for you. At busy barns, there are a lot of horses, people, competitions and plans that you will have to keep straight. It is not your boss’s job to make sure you remember what they tell you; it is your job to keep yourself organized. Taking notes is never a waste of time, you will be grateful that you do this on more than one occasion.
12. Socializing on your cell phone is not okay – When you are on the job it is not acceptable to be texting your friends, lovers, parents, etc. unless it is an emergency. Checking your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram is never an emergency. Obviously, you should have your phone on hand because there could be an emergency or your boss may communicate with you this way. But do not text people when you should be working. People who play around on their phones at jobs outside the horse world get fired.
13. Just keep smiling – You might be dying of exhaustion but keep smiling. Everyone at a barn is working his or her guts out and you will not be an exception. So what if the other WS is complaining nonstop? Be better than them by having a better attitude. The more likable you are in this business, the more success will come your way. Being miserable is a choice, laugh off the tough times and push through. Remember, you are on your way to living the dream!