“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn, and you will.” — Vernon Howard
Becoming a working student has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life thus far. I have learned far more from grooming, tacking, hacking and packing than I could ever learn from a textbook. Taking physical work and turning it into knowledge is what being a working student is all about. Working, helping, learning, and growing.
The list of things that I have learned so far in my time as a working student could go on for days. Everything from riding techniques and green horse handling to the most efficient way to clean water buckets and pack for a three-day. Beyond that, though, comes the learning about mental strategies, navigating dicey situations, and more. This list is just five important things that I have learned so far.
1. Change and/or failure are the only things that promote growth.
Whether it is just a small failure or a large one, a small change or a large one, you must fail or change at some point in order to succeed, to grow, and to learn. If you are not getting the results that you want, be it in riding, working, etc., change something. Try something new, adjust your thinking. Even if you try something that doesn’t work, you are still expanding your learning. As for failure, everyone makes mistakes at some point or another. Whether it is a big mistake or a small one, mistakes and failures help you learn, and grow.
2. Work ethic can make up for a lack of talent.
This one took me quite a bit of time to realize. I always thought that trainers and coaches wanted top level riders or horse people to work for them. However, what I have come to learn is that a strong work ethic is far more important than what level you ride. Professional trainers/riders are hardworking and motivated, and they want hardworking, motivated people to assist them. Most of the time, if you’re willing to work, they’re willing to teach. Not everyone is born talented, but anyone can be a hard worker. An ordinary rider with a strong work ethic is (in my experience) going to be far more valuable than a talented rider with no drive.
3. You are always learning.
There is no such thing as knowing everything in this industry. Especially as a working student. You are there to learn. Even if you think you know something, there is almost always another way to do it that may be better, faster, or more correct. You can learn more than you ever thought you could just by asking questions and engaging in conversations.
4. Flexibility is key.
Flexibility is one of the most important skills to have, I have found. Whether it’s a sudden phone call telling you to tack up a different horse from the one you’ve already tacked up, or when the truck won’t start the morning of a horse show, being flexible and willing to adjust your plan is vital. Often this means being able to stay calm in what can be a stressful and/or fast paced situation. Taking direction and running with it on your own even when you feel frazzled is what will make you invaluable to your program. Better yet, not getting frazzled in these situations will save you a lot of stress. However, this can take time and conditioning to be able to do on a regular basis depending on your personality type. I have found that the best thing to do is go into situations with a solid plan, but be ready and willing to change it at a moments notice.
5. You have to want it.
“Working hard for something that you don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something that you love is called passion.”
I didn’t really know how to sum up this point, but I think this quote just about does it. There will be times where you feel stressed, or overwhelmed, or tired, but at the end of the day, this has to be the stuff you live for. The tiring days, hot show weekends, long road trips. You have to want to do it in order to get things out of it. Be open minded. Be flexible. Be passionate. If you want it, you can get it.
The life skills you learn while being a working student are extremely valuable and can go a long way at the barn and beyond. The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in what you love, and what drives you. When you do that, the possibilities are endless.