I am not planning to talk about how awful or hard or unfair it is to be a working student because if I did that I think that would prove I’ve learned nothing. Being a working student is a lot of things. It is hard. It is fun. It is fulfilling. It is an amazing opportunity for growth. And it is not for everyone.
I have never been a working student prior to this experience, but I know for a fact I do not have it anywhere near as hard as some people pursuing the working student path to success. I have been blessed with an amazing opportunity to work with a trainer/rider/coach who understands the person I am and can see the potential within me, but better yet, she knows how to get all of that out of me.
As a working student I have learned more than I thought was humanly possible. This knowledge has made me realize that not only did I not know anything, but what I now know is but a drop in the vast ocean that is horse riding, training, nutrition and care.
The more I have learned, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and the endless cycle continues. Aside from sailing over a big jump, it is the most exciting and terrifying feeling I have ever known. I feel both that I am more prepared than I ever was at the start of my journey to own my own business and also that I still have so far to go.
I have had the pleasure to work with green horses, young horses, highly trained horses, a yearling, stallions, spooky horses, jumpers, hunters, eventers, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, ponies, giant horses, hot horses, dead heads, pregnant mares and everything in between. Every experience is a new one that, as my trainer says, “adds another wrench to my toolbox.”
Every experience you have makes you more able to solve problems and correct issues you will eventually be confronted with. But every horse is also an individual and will always throw something new at you. This is why it is so crucial to be a working student and watch training actually happen. To encounter as many horses as you can and learn as many things as you can so you are best equipped to be out on your own one day, when you decide to spread your wings.
A day for me is relatively straightforward: feed, water, hay, muck stalls, add shavings, tack up horses, watch them being ridden, bathe horses, fly spray, clean tack, sweep, rake and anything else that needs to get done. It isn’t crazy, It isn’t really a long list. But it is all important.
If I have learned nothing else (but believe me I have learned a lot of other things), it is that you have to take care. It’s hard to explain in two little words. It is more than that but just that at the same time. Take care of the horses. Take care of the tack. Take care of the facility. Take care that you are paying attention and that things are done right. Take care that your words and actions are above reproach.
Horses come to the barn and they are beautiful because they are horses, but when they leave the barn they are whole. Not just because they are trained but because they are taken care of. Mentally, physically, emotionally, inside and out. They are taken care of. There are no short cuts because short cuts produce results sometimes, but doing it right produces results every time.
Horses don’t come to us abused and neglected with a sob story about their past. Most of them come from barns that are nicer than my house and cost more per month. They are eating top quality feed and hay. They have saddles that fit them like a glove. Most are already happy, and yet there is a transformation.
Everything I have learned or am asked to do has a purpose. There is a reason for everything. From the way the stalls are cleaned to the layout of the entire barn, there is a reason. If you go about training horses or even caring for them by the seat of your pants I think you’ll get far enough. But if you have a plan, a routine, a schedule, a goal and a vision, you will get so much farther.
This is why being a working student is important. Seeing how a program works, or does not work, is so important. Watching horse after horse after horse go from a regular horse to a glowing, confident animal might get you thinking it’s more than just luck. The time you spend grooming, lunging, hosing, treating and cleaning all culminates into the beautiful, amazing animal that leaves when it is time.
It is never too late. You can be a working student. Find a reputable trainer and learn as much as you can. Work HARD. Do as much as you can and then a little more because there’s always a little more you can do. Have fun. If you do something wrong, it’s okay, you’re human and accidents happen. Just do it better next time. Sweat, cry, laugh and enjoy. Then the hard work doesn’t feel so much like work anymore. You’ll be in awe of what you don’t know. And if you’re not, you’re doing it all wrong.