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Olivia Alstad


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The Ultimate Working Pupil Startup Kit, Part 2: On the Job

Canadian young rider Olivia Alstad moved to the UK to pursue a working pupil (WP) position and has since chronicled her experience via her blog Livin’ Eventing. EN is excited to share her two-part series, “The Ultimate Working Pupil Startup Kit.” If you missed it: Part 1, An Intro to WP Life

“Here is all the information that I wish I had at 18, when I decided I wanted to try the whole ‘WP experience’ but I had no clue on what it actually meant or entailed,” she explains. “If I help even one person who is interested in pursuing this path truly understand and make a plan towards finding their dream WP position, then this article will have succeeded.” 

Keep up with Olivia’s journey via her blog; you can also subscribe to the mailing list and become a member!

Photo courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

Welcome to the second part of the #WorkingPupilKit! In part 1 of the article we talked about what a WP is and does, we then figured out if it’s a role that might be a good fit for you. We finished by going through the interview process; the end result was finding a position you want to secure. Now what?

What Is All This Nonsense About Trials?

So you’ve found the perfect position; you can’t see any flaws, it’s perfect in every way. That’s what I like to call the ‘danger zone’: if something seems too good to be true — it generally is! This is where a trial comes in handy. If you can continue to feel as positive as you did in the interview, through the day or week of a trial, you’re golden.

Your First Day, Week and Month: 3 Tips

 First day:
  1. Remember everybody’s names. Things start getting really confusing really quickly if you don’t!

  2. Don’t feel too much pressure to know and learn everything on the first day. Everybody will have some patience, trust me. (Except when you keep calling them the wrong name, see point 1!)

  3. If you get invited out for something social with your new team in the first few days: GO!

Photo courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

 First week:
  1. Set up your room to be your own little getaway; you’ll appreciate it! Fill it with pictures of your family and friends from back home until you can fill it with pics of all your new mates that you’ll make.

  2. At the end of every day write down what you’ve learned. One day you’ll want to remember that cool exercise you did and how many strides there were in that line!

  3. Try not to get too high or too low about how your first week went. Often it’s not a true test of how things will continue to go. Remember that everybody is getting to know you, and you them, and that it might take some time to get settled!

Fairy lights are a nice touch! Photo courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

First month:

  1. Embrace every job you do, and do it to the best of your ability. Even if that job seems completely unrelated to improving your skillset as a rider!

  2. Listen. Like, really listen! You are in control of the amount you absorb in your time learning from the yard and rider you’ve chosen. Even if it seems like you’re not learning anything, you might be surprised once you look back on it.

  3. Whether things are going how you envisioned them to go or not — show up everyday with a positive attitude. Say good morning, even if the favour isn’t returned! Being grateful makes a difference — count the things you are grateful for every single day!

Photo courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

The Difficult Days

Sometimes it’s -4 in March in the UK — which you were told isn’t supposed to happen! All your events are being cancelled, you’re the only one keeping the yard going because everybody is snowed in (and you live on-site), and you end up having to ride all the horses, alone, in the freezing cold. Endless poo-picking, and tacking up can start to get you down, you’ll miss your family, your friends, and you’ll realize how truly easy you had it before.

When you are missing your freedom or regular work/school schedule day after day to the point where it takes over most of your thoughts…

It’s time to access:

  • A bad day: Don’t think too much of it. Have a bath, eat some chocolate, and watch your fav film.

  • A bad week: Call your mom, or your dad, or whoever you’re lucky to have unconditional support from.

  • A bad few weeks: It’s time to take initiative and have a conversation with your rider, but keep in mind…

When you are planning to have a meeting with your mentor/rider, actually PLAN the conversation! Don’t just go for it out of the blue and stumble over your words. Ask them if they have a time that they are available to have a conversation. When going into a meeting I think it’s easiest to remember three important points that you will commit to mentioning within the conversation. Nine out of 10 times you will find that they want to work the situation out so that you’re both happy. If you are doing your share for the team, they will want to push for you to get what you want in return so everybody can benefit!

Sometimes it can feel like you’re going through a lot of s**t!!! Photo courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

Where to Go Next

So you’ve experienced a rider’s program, spent a good amount of time on a yard and feel like you’re ready to grow into a new position. Perhaps you’ve decided that a career in horses isn’t for you. Fair enough, it’s a tough industry where only the truly dedicated survive!

If you are interested in a career in horses, you’ve now had the benefit of seeing many different professionals at work: traveling groom, yard manager, saddle fitter, farrier, vet, physiotherapist and pro riders to name a few. Do some research into what interests you, network, and talk to people within that profession. There are SO many helpful people out there, who love to talk about their jobs if you approach them in the right way. Be brave, and go for it!

A Note on Financial Security

Being a WP is not a position where you’ll be saving money towards your pension every month. So, you’re going to need some help. Alternatively, you are not going to be able to have a horse, in order to cover your living expenses. Owning a horse is the piece of the equation that makes the WP experience financially frightening.

Make a plan before you move your horse into a WP position. Consider all your bills and make sure that they will all be covered. It’s simple math that either leaves you in the black or in the red, there are no if’s and’s or but’s. You will simply be able to afford it, or have to start thinking outside the box in order to afford all the costs associated. Be smart!

That’s all I’ve got for you keen future WP’s, I hope the #WorkingPupilKit helped! If you have any questions on your path to becoming a WP and want somebody to chat to about it, feel free to shoot me a message — I’m always happy to help.


The Ultimate Working Pupil Startup Kit, Part 1: An Intro to WP Life

Canadian young rider Olivia Alstad moved to the UK to pursue a working pupil (WP) position and has since chronicled her experience via her blog Livin’ Eventing. EN is excited to share her two-part series, “The Ultimate Working Pupil Startup Kit.”

“Here is all the information that I wish I had at 18, when I decided I wanted to try the whole ‘WP experience’ but I had no clue on what it actually meant or entailed,” she explains. “If I help even one person who is interested in pursuing this path truly understand and make a plan towards finding their dream WP position, then this article will have succeeded.” 

Keep up with Olivia’s journey via her blog; you can also subscribe to the mailing list and become a member!

Photos courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

Everybody starts somewhere! A working pupil (WP) position can be the base of your education and career, potentially leading you to a variety of career options in the horse industry. Whether your long-term objective is to become a trainer, a professional rider, or just a well-rounded and educated horse person, I believe that one of the best places to figure out where you fit in within the industry is by jumping into a WP position — with a plan!

Let’s begin with a seemingly simple but incredibly important question:

What Is a Working Pupil?

 The British Groom’s Organization has a clear, matter-of-fact definition of a working pupil: “In the equine industry the term ‘working pupil’ is typically associated with someone who works at a yard, lives on the premises and keeps their horse there and, in return for this, they get training. There is no legal definition of a ‘working pupil’ and this term is not a legal employment status. If you are a working pupil you are more than likely an employee.”

Right off the bat, you can see that a WP is not an employment status, and there is NO legal definition of the position. If that worries you slightly, you’re not alone. I’m not going to get into the legalities of becoming a WP in this particular article, but I wanted to give you the heads up. Doing some further research into this will help protect yourself, and whoever may be giving you an opportunity to learn. This article from Horse & Hound is a good place to start investigating.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Alstad.

As a WP you help your mentor/rider, and they help you! Here is a rough idea of the give-and-take within a WP position.

The WP helps their mentor/rider:

  • With yard and exercise work (generally six days per week)
  • Grooming at home and at competitions (when needed and often when you yourself are competing!)
  • Basically, you are an extra set of hands on the yard to help groom, be jump crew, be an exercise rider, become a master lunger, and be the navigator to events. You might even become a social media assistant, and have sleepovers with the dog!

The mentor/rider helps their working pupil:

  • Accommodate their horse on their yard
  • Teaches the student lessons on their horse or their own horses
  • Finds them suitable accommodation
  • Trucks them to competitions and offers coaching (if they aren’t competing at the same time)
  • Provides them with training opportunities, often with their own trainers (dressage/jumping lessons, cross country schooling, etc.)

Each position varies in what is offered to a WP and what a WP is expected to do in return. For example: I’ve had WP positions where I’ve had to pay reduced livery/board, and others where it is completely covered. This should be discussed and made clear before you proceed with a WP position.

Is a Working Pupil Position Right for You?

It will be a little bit of this…

…but even more of that!

The best way I’ve been told to look at your WP experience is that they are your ‘college years’ and to see it for what it is: an education. You will live and breathe horses, you will have long days and it will be tiring, but if you find the right position it will be worth it!

You should look into a WP position if:

  • You have a strong desire to learn, ride and care for horses
  • You have a positive attitude and are ready to take a WP position as seriously as you would take a college course
  • You want to learn from a rider you admire, follow their system and learn how a professional yard operates
  • You want to improve yourself and your horse’s training as well as get an opportunity to compete (and learn to be competitive)

You should not look into a WP position if:

  • You want a fun holiday where you get to do lots of riding on top horses
  • You already believe yourself to be the next Michael Jung, you just need to be discovered
  • You want a 9-5 job where you get your horse and your accommodation paid for

Rosegarth at sunset. Photo by Olivia Alstad.

 A Day in the Life of a Working Pupil

This is an example of an average day when you are not preparing for an event, going to an event or going training. These mornings can start anytime in the a.m., end anytime in the p.m. and really shake the day around! There can be many differences between yards.

Start between 6-8 a.m.: Morning chores — feed, hay, muck out, turn horses in/out, morning check/groom, blow/sweep yard.

Anytime between 8-10 a.m.: Rider arrives (might have a cup of tea and chat with the team), fills in and reviews diary/schedule.

Starting anytime from 8:30 a.m.: Start tacking up horses in rider’s preferred order & start riding/exercising horses yourself.

Anywhere from 1:30-3 p.m.: Clean all the tack, make sure all the horses are happy then take lunch break — it can be anything from a mad dash for a bite of a sandwich to a one-hour sit down meal, depends on the day!

Anywhere from 3-6 p.m.: Afternoon chores: skip out, turn horses in/out, hay, feed, sweep/blow for a 5-6 p.m. FINISH

Anytime between 8-9 p.m.: Lates/evening check — give late feeds and check that all the horses are OK (also give scratches — see video below).

Time to Make a List

If you’d rather be making lists like this, you might have come to the end of the line!

If you are still reading and are not scared off by the daunting list of chores, then you are ready to do some serious thinking about your next step! I’ve found the best place to start is by gathering your thoughts onto a list. You want to take the time to figure out what you truly need in a position. I can’t stress enough how important this part of the process is! When writing your list you will decide what you absolutely cannot go without, and what you are willing to negotiate on.

This is an example of a wants and needs list. Once you have that organized, write down a list of questions you want to ask about the position:

Where Do I Find a Working Pupil Position?

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to start the search! There are many ways to find a WP position, from word of mouth to online listings. The good news for you: people are always taking on WPs. Before you jump in and start making calls, do some research.

First, find out if the position fits in with what you need (from your list) BEFORE giving the number on the ad a ring or a message. For example: An ad will generally state wether or not it is possible to bring a horse with you. If you have a horse and the yard cannot accommodate one, it would make little sense to call-up and ask about the position!

To start your search, it is useful to ask around and make your equestrian community (pony club, local riding school, connections from your trainer) aware that you’re on the hunt for a WP position. Online listing are a fast and easy way to find what you’re looking for. It can also be helpful to make a list of people you’d really like to learn from, and check their social media pages/websites to see if they are currently looking. If they aren’t currently advertising for WPs, it’s always worth it to shoot them a message inquiring about availability in the future!

Photo by Olivia Alstad.

What to Ask

Now that you’ve found a potential position: It’s time to phone or message to inquire about it. If you are calling, have your list of questions ready and be prepared to answer all the questions they might have for you. (Example: Do you have a horse? Have you worked in eventing before?)

It’s easiest for everybody if you avoid wasting time in this process. If you don’t waste time getting to the point in a conversation or email by saying something like: “Hi, my name is Ali, I’m interested in your WP position available. I have a horse currently competing at BE100, I would need accommodation, I have my own vehicle and would like the opportunity to compete this coming season.” It saves an awful lot of time (as nice as a leisurely chatting about the recent stretch of sunny weather is!).

Ask everything from your list of questions, and keep a notepad out to write down the answers. If anywhere along the line of communication you can tell something isn’t realistically going to work, tell them right away (respectively). If it seems to be a good match, set up a time to meet for an interview. This will also give you a chance to check out their yard.

When you go for your interview, bring a notepad! Any remaining questions, and any you come up with as you tour the yard, should be written down. It might seem nerdy to bring a notepad with you but keep in mind — with all the information you have documented, you will be better able to make an informed and educated decision that seriously effects your future.

Photo by Olivia Alstad.

Now What?

After your visit to the yard you believe you’ve found the right position, and the rider is happy to have you as their WP. Awesome! …. Now what?

My next blog post: ‘The Ultimate Working Pupil Startup Kit: Part 2’ will give you a run down of where to go from a successful interview. We’ll start by talking about trials, going into your first day/week/month, the (inevitable) difficult days, and where to go from a WP position with a note about financial security.