By Jordan Kelly
Everyone paints a pretty picture of how their first working student position will be: sunshine, happy days filled with riding horses, an occasional stall cleaning, coffee and laughs with your trainer, lessons whenever you feel like, showing every weekend…
The truth? There’s rain, there’s a lot of stalls to muck out, and the most contact you have with a saddle is when you’re tacking up horses for your trainer everyday. This is the real life of a working student. *DUN DUN DUN*
Expectation: Riding six horses a day for your trainer.
Reality: Tacking up six horses a day for your trainer.
You may think you get to waltz into a barn and immediately have the ride on the trainer’s and clients’ horses. This is your friendly reminder that this does not happen overnight, unless you have magically become Caitlin Silliman. You work your way up. This means grooming and tacking horses, having them ready immediately for your trainer, and then taking the previous horse and untacking, cooling off, and putting him back in his stall/field. On the plus side, you figure out grooming tricks very quickly!
Expectation: Kicking your feet up during a leisurely lunch break.
Reality: Eating two Cheez-Its and a Coke while cleaning ALL THE TACK.
You have 17 stalls between two different barns, those previously mentioned six horses to groom/tack up (as well as having to keep their tack in pristine shape), making sure any clients who come by are happy, and keeping the barn just as clean as the tack. If you’re hungry, you better learn to multitask.
Expectation: Working 9-5 Monday through Friday.
Reality: Working sun up to sun down and getting texts to do “quick” favors at 11 p.m.
Your “time off” is actually just hiding in your apartment pretending you’re not on the farm, but answering 20 texts an hour with different clients wanting answers to questions your trainer does not have time for. You’re never truly “off the clock” if you live on the property. Any time you hear a horse move wrong, you’re dashing out of bed to make sure someone isn’t cast in a stall.
Expectation: Riding your horse every day.
Reality: Barely having time and/or energy to make sure all four legs are still attached.
Once you’re done making sure all people and their horses are happy, you’ll totally have time to ride your own….right? Truth is, if you get a ride in before the sun is down, there were probably some pigs flying by the arena. If you’re really motivated, I hope you have an indoor arena with lights. If not, welp your horse gets another day off.
Expectation: Your trainer becoming your best friend and/or second mother.
Reality: They’re your boss & drill sergeant.
Sure, you’ll go to barn dinners together and share a laugh while swapping horses, but the minute you step out of line you’re quickly reminded you are a dirty rubber boot from Walmart and he/she is a Gucci belt. Know and love boundaries.
Expectation: Horses are wonderful and you love them all the time.
Reality: Horses make and break your heart.
All jokes aside, horses are not always sunshine and daisies. Some days, you’ll have amazing breakthrough rides and love everything. Others, your horse will completely destroy your favorite bridle, or be suddenly lame, or their owner decides to end your lease. Not everything goes as planned.
Goals you made years in advance may suddenly be stomped on by reality. Don’t forget you are no less of a great working student or rider in general because you have a bad day here and there!
Expectation: Learning everything you can.
Reality: Realizing you’ll never learn everything but you’re still learning more than you could ever fathom.
The wonderful thing about becoming a working student is if you do it well, it opens up so many doors for the future. Everyone you meet becomes a source. They all have different methods, tricks, and ways to go about their daily lives that can open your mind. While you may not be going 1* right away like you would hope, at least you’re moving up the levels with a boss that has your best interest and goals at heart. Someday your day will come, as long as you work hard and persevere!
You are always a student in this sport. The learning truly never ends. Take a deep breath every once in awhile and absorb what you’re doing. At least you’re not stuck in an office.