Horse Care Riding Tips

You’re Hired! How to Be a Star Working Student Equestrian

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Written by Gabrielle Fournier

Being a working student equestrian is a great way to learn from experts, work with horses, and make valuable connections.

A working student equestrian position is so much more than just being a helping hand around a barn. You’ll be pushed in ways that are often not in the job description.

That said, you’ll also learn more than you thought possible, make lifetime friendships and connections, and boost your riding skills like never before.

Want to work with horses and improve your riding simultaneously? Read on to learn:

Looking back, my working student experience taught me extremely valuable life lessons at a very young age that have helped me through my own personal and professional journey.

Even if just for a summer, becoming a working student will change your perspective on life and the “horse world.”

What is a working student equestrian?

A working student equestrian is exactly what it sounds like. Students take working positions with barns, trainers, or other equestrian facilities and are given the opportunity to learn what it takes to be a successful professional in this sport “behind the scenes.”

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If you’re ready to work hard, learn daily, and go above and beyond, consider a working student equestrian position.

Working students eat, sleep, and breath horses. It is truly a lifestyle.

You are able to work side-by-side with some of the greatest horsemen and grooms in the world. Everyone is essentially your “boss,” you are a helping hand to the top trainer, barn manager, grooms, and everyone in between.

This position allows students to truly see all sides of the sport and work with all of the little pieces that go into creating the big picture.

What are employers looking for?

The most important things employers look for in working students are positive attitude, great work ethic, and strong social skills.

These characteristics are things employers cannot teach you (or any employee, for that matter).

You can learn how to body clip or prepare a horse for different show classes. But, you must bring the following essentials to the interview table:

1) Positive Attitude

It is essential that you have a positive attitude, even when things don’t go as planned. Your attitude is especially important when you’re asked to do “boring jobs” such as laundry or cleaning the bathroom. Your attention to detail and can-do attitude will set you apart.

2) Great Work Ethic

Your work ethic is critical, particularly when the days get long, the tempers get short, and your to-do list keeps growing.

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Not every task will be fun, but the best working students keep on keeping on.

You may find yourself on the road and showing your own horse, all the while grooming other horses for clients or being the “runner” for other riders.

Having mental grit is just as important as having physical grit.

3) Strong Social Skills

Social skills and respect for others is extremely important. In most circumstances, working student positions are available at client-based barns, which means that you must always have a good, positive attitude and respect for all clients at all times.

In addition to client-side skills, you need to be able to work well with working students, barn staff, riders, and trainers. No employer wants to hire people who are high drama, so maintain professionalism at all times.

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How can you prepare for the role?

Do your homework before your first day. This means finding a position with people you can learn from, with duties you can perform, and with value to both you and your future employers.

A great way to prepare for your first day is to remind yourself to keep an open mind. Be ready to mentally soak up as much new information you can.

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The best working students are proactive!

Also, remember that asking questions is a good thing. Taking matters into your own hands, however, is also a skill you need to hone (in the right situations). Take notes, too!

For example, if you’re traveling to big shows like Wellington or Tryon, you should look at a map of the show grounds ahead of time.

This way you will have an idea of which rings riders may be competing in, where the wash stalls are, and where your group may be stabled.

Once you arrive, you can be a source of useful information to those around you.

How do you land the perfect job?

Developing (and maintaining) a good reputation is the best way to get your name out there. Talk to other riders, trainers, grooms, and owners in your industry.

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Competitions are a great place to network, spread the word you’re looking for a position, and show off your skills.

Competitions are prime networking opportunities!

Tell people you respect about the type of position you’re looking for, and ask them to ask around on your behalf. Consider printing simple business cards with your contact information so key contacts can get in touch if they hear of something.

Depending on the facility, working student equestrian positions may be posted on websites and job boards.

Regardless of the position you land, strive to work your way up to the top.

You’re a student, and you’re here to learn. So virtually any opportunity that you can turn into a “perfect” job.

What’s a typical day in the life?

An example of a typical day might look something like this:

  • Wake up and be ready to start work at 7:00 am.
  • Feed the horses.
  • Turn out (i.e. tack up) the horses with appropriate attire, like boots, bell boots, fly sheets/turn out sheets, etc.
  • After the horses are out of their stalls, clean stalls, water, and organize the barn aisles.
  • After morning chores were completed, the barn manager prepares a list of lessons that are scheduled and a ride list for that day.
  • You may also be in charge of tacking and untacking horses for various riders and clients lessoning throughout the day.
  • During “down time,” switch to maintenance tasks like laundry, cleaning bathrooms, organizing the tack and feed rooms, and tidy up the viewing rooms.
  • After all of the lessons have finished and the professionals have completed their ride lists, you can ride your own horse and maybe a couple extras.
  • Around 4:30 pm, start evening chores like picking (e.g. lightly cleaning) the stalls again and feeding the horses.
  • After stalls are picked, feeding is done, and grain is prepared for the morning, head back to the tack room to clean tack used that day.
  • Between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm, your work day is complete!

When I was a working student, I worked six days per week over the summer. My senior year of high school had online classes, so I worked four full days and two half days so that I had time to complete my schoolwork.

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Once your work is done, you get to ride your OWN horse 🙂

As you can imagine, you really need to be committed to the job. It is not all about riding, as one might think.

There are other things involved from helping walk-trot kids tack up a lesson pony to caring for top equitation, hunter, and jumper horses.

Staying on top of the daily tasks and pitching in wherever needed to make the day run smoother really goes a long way.

How can you WOW your employer?

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Be early, do more, learn everything, and do it with a smile. 

  • Go the Extra Mile: Take the extra step on tasks. If the start time is 6:00 am, always be there at 5:30 am to make the day run smoother and more organized.
  • Strike a Balance: Set yourself up for success and take matters into your own hands.
  • Build and Retain Knowledge: Once you understand how the barn works, your fellow workers will really be impressed with you, as will your employer. If you have just learned how to body clip, for an example, then it is very impressive if you ask to practice this skill so you can really master it in a short amount of time.
  • Be Focused and Positive: Being focused and always working with a (genuine) smile on your face is another “wow” factor.
  • Stay Busy: Always finding something productive to do is a good way to demonstrate independence and responsibility to your employer!

What are some common rookie mistakes?

While on the job, you should be a sponge soaking up every ounce of information you witness and experience.

One of the biggest mistakes I have noticed throughout the years is working students waiting to be told what to do.

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Be proactive, make a plan, and pay attention to detail… just like you would on course!

I learned at a young age that you are expected to be independent and know (or learn) what needs to be done without being told.

In addition, I’ve seen many working students who didn’t take advantage of all their learning opportunities.

For example, if the professional that you are tacking up a horse for wants to change the horse’s tack, ask for them to explain their reasoning and commit that learning to memory.

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Top 10 Tips for working student equestrians:

  1. Always have a great attitude.
  2. Go out of your way to make sure things are done correctly.
  3. Go the extra mile on the tasks that you are assigned.
  4. Stay organized.
  5. Be polite.
  6. Be confident in what you are doing.
  7. Ask questions!
  8. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, but learn so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.
  9. Work quickly and diligently with focus.
  10. If you finish your tasks early, proactively find other tasks to do around the barn that contribute in meaningful ways.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do working students get paid?

Typically, no. It depends on the situation, but sometimes trainers can compensate a working student’s hard work with free lessons on their own horse or other benefits like that.

How is a working student different than working as a groom?

Grooms have paid positions, and their core focus areas are taking care of the horses, completing barn chores, and keeping the barn organized on and off the road.

Being a working student can sometimes involve a wider range of tasks, like riding other horses, taking lessons, and going to shows. As a working student, you are given the opportunity to see the sport for different aspects rather than just one side. You are able to work with professionals directly and understand how everything comes together.

Should I be a summer working student equestrian or year round?

Any opportunity is great. The right duration for you depends on your schedule and what you want to get out of the experience.

Usually the summer is a busier time for competitions, and barn teams are traveling a lot to different shows in different states and areas.

This allows you to decide if you would like to travel or stay at home and work with the people and horses who are not competing. (Those are definitely different positions.)

What type of gear do I need to be a working student?

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It truly depends on the job. If you can ride/hack some of horses, then definitely bring all of your riding gear. If it is a grooming job, then you can likely work in jeans, Sperrys or sneakers, and a hat (and sunscreen!).

Also, another tip is to always keep a rain jacket in your car because you never know when it is going to rain…

Can I bring my horse to work?

It depends on the barn, but usually yes. Since you are actually completing the care for your horse yourself, you can talk with the trainer and managers of that barn and see if the cost of the “care labor” can be exchanged for your work at the barn.

Work, Ride, Learn!

No matter your discipline, geography, or skill level, you can learn how to become a standout working student equestrian. You never know where an opportunity will lead, who you’ll meet, and how your personal and professional journey will be impacted by this experience.

Make the most of every moment!

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About the author

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Gabrielle Fournier

I am from Connecticut. I have been a working student since I was eight years old and have trained/worked with top trainers such as Timmy Kees, Lindsey Knight, Nikko Ritter, and Frank Madden. I am currently majoring in History with a minor in Pre-Law. I do not have any other hobbies as school and riding and competing fill up my schedule. I love being a student-athlete at Delaware State University because of the great connections and friendships I have been able to make.