Work Harder And Smarter

Aug 22, 2013 - 4:24 AM
Hard work and great brains have led Molly and Allison (and working-student-in-training Kristin) to the rides - and ribbons - on great horses. Photo by Jeff Counterman.

It’s hiring time again at Sprieser Sporthorse—in addition to a replacement for my sadly departing Molly (who’s off to work in the Real World—what a doofus!), I’m adding stalls to my barn (more on that later), and that would necessitate the hiring of a whole ‘nother person. I’ve blogged on this subject before, but I learn something about the process with each new hire, and about what things are important to me, and what things aren’t.

When I began this process, I assumed that my best staff would come from lower- or working-class backgrounds, that the ones who’d had to scrimp and save, or beg-borrow-and-steal their way onto rides would be more willing than those who’d come from more privileged lifestyles. This has absolutely not been the case—my best employees have come from all walks of life, as have my worst.

But those amazing employees do have much in common, even though they cover all possible financial brackets. Here are a few of those things:

Above all else, the most important quality a barn employee must have is a work ethic. I’ve been a working student, too. I know the hours are long, and the pay stinks. But I also know that this is a job that involves caring for animals, and that animals do not get sick on a schedule, do not clean up after themselves, and are not light on equipment. There is always, Always, ALWAYS something that needs to be done. My staff very rarely holds still, for which they are much beloved. 

They also aren’t dumb. This is not to say that they’ve all had master’s degrees—in fact, some of them barely graduated from college. All of them have had at least some sort of post-high school education, though, which I think has a lot to do with the times (working students tend to be in their late teens to early 30s, and for those generations, College Is The New High School), but also has a lot to do with the fact that they’re hard-working sorts who are willing to suffer through annoying things like Calculus 101 or Cleaning The Drain In The Wash Stall in order to get better opportunities, like a job with benefits or the rides on nice horses. 

(A note on colleges—all but one of my best employees studied something other than equine science. They all studied business, or English, or something else ranging from the very specific to the really vague. In general, I’m unimpressed with equine science programs and the horsemen they produce. I’ve met some killer riders and workers, all from Serious Places like Centenary, Lake Erie and Findlay, but even those programs produce duds. And the less-serious programs, like the one-who-shall-remain-nameless in West Virginia, have yet to convince me that they’re worth the paper the certificate of completion’s printed on.)

Because being a working student, particularly at a bustling barn like ours with lots of clients, is about much more than taking care of horses. It’s about taking care of people, being able to engage in a conversation, about being fun to work with and be around. And it’s about being able to think critically, problem solve, know when to act independently and when to talk to The Boss. Worldly people are interesting, and think better, than those who’ve lived sheltered, insulated lives. I like my staff to have lived a little bit.

A good employee, in any line of work, is high-energy, high-responsibility and capable of thinking. If you want to be hired—to work in a barn, to work on Wall Street, or anything in between—believe me in this: never stop moving, ask questions, man up and smile. You’ll make yourself invaluable. You’ll make your own luck. And that’s where opportunities come from.

(And if you think you’re the kind of person I’m looking for, shoot me an email.)


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