Guest writer Erin Verscheure served as a working student and admits the job wasn’t easy, but the rewards she reaped and experience she gained were well worth it.
A working student has a dirty job. There is glamour to it, but often it is covered in horse hair, used towels, and hoof polish. Becoming a working student is one of my many recommendations and tips to those individuals (like me) who are waiting to declare themselves professionals in their respective horse industries until after college. There is nothing wrong with garnering knowledge outside of the saddle, as it will only give you strength when searching for a potential barn at which to work. Unfortunately, it can be easy to break amateur status while you attempt to maintain your riding skills with showing and expanding your networking opportunities so always refer back to the USEF rulebook if you are unsure of your position as an amateur.
One of the ways I survived being an amateur was by being a working student. I spent two summers being a working student, and one of those I showed a green horse that needed miles in the baby greens. I paid the show fees with my working student wages. I will admit that being a working student is hard. However, it is easily comparable to the role of a professional who still does night check and cleans stalls for his or her clients at horse shows, if that keeps it in perspective. There is a lot of traveling involved, usually covered by your own finances. I was easily gone every weekend of the summer, whether working at a horse show or doing both showing and working student duties. That summer was one of the best summers of my life; I learned and experienced so much. I was always exhausted and surviving solely on greasy show food, but at the end of the day I was always excited to begin the next.
You will get to the show before everyone else and leave after everyone else. Your mornings will begin before the sun bothers to rise and will involve horses bucking and attempt to drag you across crowded lunging rings. You will clean stalls of horses that want nothing to do with being at the show and make every frequent attempts to get out of dodge. You will constantly be picking these stalls, constantly rinsing legs, and often nicking yourself while taking out braids. If a fun Grand Prix is going on, you will most likely be the one left behind waiting for a shavings shipment.
It’s the moments that you receive a ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ that really matter. Some clients may give you tips, words of encouragement, and mostly all will give you their friendship.
The horse world is a small place; everyone knows everyone. Finding success as a working student will often lead to success as a professional, as you will have other professionals that approve of your work ethic and skills. The working student experience is vast, and the skills you receive are too numerous to count. At the end of your summer you will easily be an experienced braider, fantastic wrapper, and overall, a more competent and reliable horseperson. Those long lunging mornings saw beautiful sunrises. Each victory the client and their horse partner experienced will also become your own. The barn becomes more of a team through the eyes of the working student, and your role is necessary in order to get everyone where and when they need to be.
The working student works hard. The feeling of exhaustion will become all too familiar, as will the constant itching from sweaty and hairy show clothes that you have worn for far too long. You will no longer be able to count how many braids you have done or piles of manure you have shoveled. Tack trunks become the next best thing to sleeping bags, and you will name the golf cart because it saves you from walking a mile to the show rings and back. These instances are humorous, as they should be, and you can survive them and be stronger because of it. At the end of the day all that matters is the experience you gained, and the friendships you made. If I survived, so can you!