As I sit here deciding how to explain my time as a working student for Sinead Halpin, I really don’t know what to write! How does one summarize the hardest/exhilarating/biggest learning curve/mentally exhausted but happiest time of my whole entire life? Wait … maybe I just explained it.
I entered my 25th year of my life as many 25 year olds do with very little idea of what I was actually doing with my life. I knew one thing, I love horses and I love competing.
I have been riding and competing since I was 5 years old. I am the only person in my family who rides and I have no idea where this obsession that has gripped my entire life came from. Everything I ever did growing up had to have an end result of me riding more. I worked two jobs while in university to help my parents pay for my addiction. Sleep has never been something I need.
Which leads me to my decision to send some emails out to riders that had inspired me over the years. Sinead was always my number 1 choice. I didn’t know much about her but what I did know I loved. I loved her connection with all of her horses that clearly showed at her competitions. I loved her team back home that seemed to always be rooting for her and supportive of one another.
I sent her the email and a few hours later I got a response. I literally had a heart attack I was so excited and SO SCARED. What is this lifetime-client doing trying to become a working student?!
A few weeks later I packed up my car and left my friends and family and partner behind and began the drive to New Jersey. I don’t actually remember that drive … I think I was in a state of shock and panic and for sure have erased that from my memory. I showed up and met Sinead’s groom and the home team and Sinead and felt almost instantly at peace. My family in New Jersey that I stayed with made me feel at home right away. Then came the work.
I want to say that I was a natural at being a working student and really good at my job when I started but that would be a blatant lie. I sucked so much. Everything I thought I knew I really didn’t know at all.
I remember the first lesson I had with Sinead. Eventually she stopped me and looked at me and actually asked me what I was doing. I didn’t know. She laughed and at that moment our relationship formed which consisted of her laughing at me and supporting me so patiently and me not knowing what I was doing but loving every second of it.
Then came the shows. The first week I was with Sinead we went to Plantation Horse Trials, where I drove SIX HOURS out of the way to the wrong Unionville. GREAT first impression … GREAT first week. But I survived, I only thought about quitting 10 million times, rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
If you think you’re going to sleep when you’re a working student I think you should put that idea out of your mind. Even when you eventually find your bed you won’t be able to sleep because you will be worried sick about all your horses back at the barn and if they are OK. I learned pretty quick about that fact at Plantation as Lynn and I stayed up all night worrying and icing and worrying and icing.
Although nothing will compare to being at Fair Hill when it was in the minus temperatures and I had food poisoning and I was running back and forth to the start box while I was vomiting in a bush. GREAT times. But we do it for the love of the sport. Even when a paramedic stuck his finger in my eye at that show and gave me pink eye I still loved it. Because our team was so amazing.
I came to Sinead wanting to become an upper level rider. Instead I became a good rider and a good horsewoman. In New Jersey one of Meg’s clients graciously allowed me to show their pony and I can honestly say it was the first time I really enjoyed competing in a long time. I didn’t even realize I had stopped loving it before. Life is funny like that. I will forever be grateful to that client for allowing me to find the love again.
When I met everyone back in North Carolina after having an existential crises and going home for a month ( Sinead is SO patient with me), I felt recharged, less like I had no idea what I was doing and was so excited!
Then came the walking. Legging the team back up was like … walk walk walk walk walk. But you can’t get a better background to walk for hours around then The Fork. I will never forget Christmas morning when five of our horses threw their shoes and I learned very quickly how to be a foot-pack master. I will miss you North Carolina.
I brought a horse down with me to North Carolina and Florida and attempted to retrain it to event. Great times. Great horse. Great experience. I think if you’re going to be a working student in order to really get something out of it you need a horse there. Even if you’re borrowing it from someone. If you’re going to do this you need to do it 100%. That’s basically the best advice I can give someone who is thinking about being a working student.
You’re going to be asked to do things that are mentally and physically exhausting as well you have to be self-motivating to be finding ways to make your barn more efficient, keep your horses healthy and just generally be on top of yourself. Whatever you’re doing though it needs to be 100% percent. No one is forcing you to be there. You have chosen this and for some reason someone has chosen to believe in you. You can’t let that go to waste.
I would never in a million years think that someone like Sinead would have offered me a working-student position let alone been one of the most supportive people I have ever met. Same with her whole barn team.
But she and they did believe in me and I accomplished things that I never thought would be possible. Like that instant gratification of being able to push the manure wheelbarrow to the top of poo-mountain with ease. Or learn how to groom PROPERLY at a long format event. Or pack a trailer (and accidentally/stress induced) pack ALL of the barns necks straps.
The point I have tried to make while writing this article is that being a working student is LIFE CHANGING. I can’t sum it up in a “how-to”/step-by-step/ this is what it is going to be like everyday, because it’s going to be different for every person and every barn you work for.
Being a working student will change you and your perspective of the sport because you’re going to be put in incredible situations you never thought you would ever be in. You’re going to learn how to be alone, be a self-starter, be responsible, and you’re going to ultimately become a better person.
I will say that choosing who and what team you work for is the most important. I have said team a lot throughout this article and that is because every good barn is a team. Take your time, do your research and get ready for the ride of your life!