Working Student Wanted: How To Get Hired Or Not

Mar 11, 2011 - 4:49 AM
Photo by Sara Lieser.

After a year and a half of wonderful, faithful service, my beloved working student Nicole sustained a nasty injury that’s preventing her from continuing to work for me.

My heart breaks, 1.) Because I don’t like it when bad things happen to good people—she’ll be fine, but she’s in for a long and unpleasant-sounding road to recovery, and 2.) Because Nicole really “got” me, anticipated my needs before I needed them, has a killer memory that always came in handy and really spoke the system at my farm. I am so grateful that Lindsey—who is equally talented, ambitious and ever-sunshiney—got to work alongside Nicole for institutional memory’s sake.

Nicole’s departure means that I’m on the hunt for a new working student. I HATE HATE HATE this process, and mostly because I feel like so many people out there have no idea what it takes to be a working student, or how to present oneself when applying for such a job. Just because it’s a horsey job doesn’t mean the standards are any lower than working at Chase Bank, or Dewey, Chetham and Howe, Esquires. So below is my list of things that will help you get a job like the one I’m offering, as well as a few things that will prevent you from getting hired.

To get hired:

1. Get a “grown up” email. ain’t gonna cut it. Go get It’s free, and it’s one step towards reassuring your potential boss that you are not mentally 12 years old.

2. Read.

Sometimes Help Wanted ads are very short and don’t tell you much about the job. It’s sometimes because the person placing the ad is lazy, but it could also just as likely be a limit by the ad hosts on how many characters you can use.

Whatever the length, read the whole thing. Does it say email for more information? Then email. Don’t call. Does it say send a résumé and two references? Then send a résumé and two references. Does it say “work includes mucking,” and you don’t want to do any mucking? Then don’t bother applying. And if you want to know something that’s NOT in the ad, ask.

3. Don’t be a know-it-all.

Of course I want someone knowledgeable. But every trainer out there has their own way of doing things, and I don’t just mean the big stuff. Carol didn’t use a currycomb on Much Ado, because he was sensitive-skinned and didn’t like it. So I didn’t use one either. Pam likes the tails combed clean of shavings; in my barn I don’t care.

Ask about every little detail, even if it seems stupid. If a horse poops in the aisle, do you take it directly out to the spreader, or do you put it in a bucket somewhere? Do you pick the horse’s feet out in the stall or in the aisle? Do polo wraps only get used once, or do you use them again if they’re not too dirty? We use a funky bedding; what’s the best strategy in cleaning a stall with this stuff in it? So on, so on.

4. Do be a self-starter.

Nothing makes my heart go pitter-pat like hearing, “What can I do?” Every barn has a list of tasks that don’t have a place in the normal schedule. If the normal, day-to-day stuff is under control—horses fed, turned in or out, groomed, ridden, whatever; stalls done, tack clean, aisle swept—find a special project. Label shelves. Clean the spare tack. Scrub the wash stall. Find something to do that looks like it could use doing.

5. Be on time!!!!!!

I have a rule against multiple exclamation points, but I hate lateness so much that I’m whipping ‘em out. If I say 6, I mean 6. Not 6:10. Certainly not 7. And because we live in the real world, and sometimes stupid things happen like your car won’t start or there’s a herd of cattle in the road (it’s happened!), if you are running late, call or text someone to let them know.

And now, to not get hired:

1. Whine.

The world is out to get you, huh? Your last boss didn’t understand you. Your last job was beneath you. The horses are difficult, or messy, or smelly or clumsy. Rich clients don’t appreciate you. Your life is oh-so-hard.

Guess what? I could not possibly care less.

Put your big girl panties on and get over it. Work is hard. Life ain’t fair. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. I want to hire someone who rolls with the punches, who can take what life gives and make it work. When Nicole had to leave, Lindsey found herself all alone in the barn… so she rolled up her sleeves and got it done.

That doesn’t mean that you should ever, EVER work for someone who treats you like crap, who doesn’t make good on her promises, who makes you put in 20-hour days, etc. But I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to be you. It’s unprofessional, not to mention irritating.

And oh by the way, badmouthing your previous boss, or trainer, or whatever? No-go. Because how do I know that you won’t go spewing unjustified venom about me to someone else down the line?

2. Be a wimp.

Wimpiness and whininess are kindred spirits, and often go hand-in-hand. Guess what, gang? Caring for horses is a hard, dirty, physical job. They poop and pee all over the place. They’re 1200 pounds of toddler. They sweat, bite, drool, kick, slurp and roll in the mud. The things they eat come in big, heavy packages. They have no regard for your plans. And they have terrible, awful timing when it comes to getting dirty and/or sick. This is a labor of love, emphasis on LABOR.

At some point in your working student life, you’re going to fall in the mud, get bucked off into a puddle, break a nail, and get horse poop in your hair. Cowgirl up and move on.

3. Lie.

If you didn’t get something done, you didn’t get it done. Stuff happens. Other things come up. Sometimes you just plain forget. Life goes on.

But don’t you ever, EVER tell me you did something you didn’t. My business works because I trust my people 100 percent, and so I can go away for a weekend to teach a clinic and make enough money to pay them. Betraying that trust isn’t just a bad thing to do, it’s a bad thing for the business, which means it’s a bad thing for your paycheck.

If you can do, and not do, all of the above things, drop me an email at And if you’re looking for a barn manager, someone who at the moment can’t lift her left arm above her head but is the sharpest whip you’ve ever cracked, email me about Nicole. You’d be lucky to have her—I know I was. 


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