View Full Version : In need of advice, wanting to become an upper level rider

Mar. 5, 2011, 06:05 PM
I really want to become an upper level Dressage rider. Now that I have finishied college, I am looking for working student position and have come across several that seem promising.

The problem? My horse. I have a coming four year old that I love, have had him his whole life. He has been started under saddle and has the potential do well in dressage. I have been hoping to find a position to bring him with me. However, now that I am a few weeks into searching for a job and have spoken to several different farms, I am wondering if I would be better off not taking a horse with and rather riding some of the more expereinced horses. The only problem is that I can't afford to leave my horse at home on a working student's salary which means I may have to sell him. I don't know if I could, this horse is special to me and I feel that I would regret it.

I really, really want to become an upper level rider and trainer and am willing to give up alot to do, like becoming someone'e resident barn slave for a year or more. My question is I am I better off being with out a horse as a working student?

Mar. 5, 2011, 06:32 PM
I don't have an answer to your question, but it would seem to me that you may have the opportunity to have the horse be part of your negotiations. I know of one facility that was was looking for a working student and they didn't have much "extra" to ride, but it would have been a great opportunity to get a bit of upper level riding education combined with great assistance in bringing your horse along. IMO you shouldn't decide one way or the other until you are closing in on a particular position. Only you can decide if you can part w/ him in the end.

Mar. 5, 2011, 07:17 PM
Bear with my rattling/prattling below...I still feel pretty strongly about my experiences as a WS! ;)

I've done the WS thing with a couple different people-the only people I could work for WITHOUT bringing my own horse were less well known types who had the training board/sales/young horses they didn't mind others riding. The more "big name" the trainer, the LESS interested he/she was in taking me on as a WS b/c they felt I wouldn't get as much from the position only warming up/down a horse.

After a year of dissatifying WS positions, I realized I learned more and felt more capable after riding the same horse routinely, and also found that I progressed far more quickly.

I think it depends on what YOU want from the position. *I* do not want to be a professional horse trainer-I simply wanted to learn how to ride more efficiently, develop a better position, and fill in the gaps that existed in my education. So, for me, it was more efficient for me to ride certain horses regularly and learn that way. Others who want to become dealers, trainers, or sales riders would probably prefer to NOT be limited to one horse-or a personal horse-b/c they would miss riding the others and learning to deal with each one differently.

It really depends on what you want from it and where you want to go, and if this horse can go there. The thing about WS positions is that it is easy to find one (in my opinion)...but its hard to find the *right* one.

You need to walk away feeling like you're better for the experience, that it was worth the sacrifices (whatever those may be in your circumstances).

So instead of wondering whether you should sell the horse right now, you should make a list of what YOU want from a position. That question will be answered once you take a serious self-inventory!
Where do you want to be in a year? 5 years? Aspiring pro or not?
Where does this horse appear to be headed-upper levels prospect for yourself or a good project to sell after a few months under serious program?

Be very honest with yourself about what you want from yourself, the horse, the position, the philosophy of trainer, the environment, long-term plans, etc. before starting your search. Most WS positions allow you to bring a horse, if you want him, it shouldn't be a problem except monetarily speaking.

Just my 2cents. :) Good luck.

Mar. 5, 2011, 08:39 PM
I think every working student job works a little bit differently, so shop around for options. When I was a working student, I was able to bring my horse and I got daily lessons on him in addition to riding various horses that were in training at the barn. When I first started, I rode the greener horses and the older/lower level horses (the easier horses basically, or the ones the trainer didn't want to get on) anyways. As I learned more and she got to know me and trust me, I got to ride more horses. By the time I left (I did 14 months), I had ridden almost every horse there, including upper level horses. But she did not have me regularly "training" those horses, as that would not have been fair to the customer paying for it!! She would allow me to ride them to feel a certain thing, or if one just needed to be warmed up for the owner or stuff like that. I would guess most working students do get more time on the greener/lower level horses and mostly the trainer rides the upper level/better horses herself, unless the barn has an abundance of upper level horses and the working student is an accomplished upper level rider herself. If your goal is specifically to ride upper level horses, definitely ask about that ahead of time. However, as I found, the ticket to the upper levels lies in the experience you gain from all the lower level rides... and mostly if you want an upper level horse to ride everyday, you have to buy one or make one yourself.

One of the best opportunities I had that I will forever be grateful for was a PSG horse that had significant time off due to an injury and was being brought back to work. I got to ride him every day, starting with long walks and little bits of trot, and slowly increasing the amount of work he was doing until I did end up getting to ride lateral movements on him and do some flying changes. He was a REALLY cool horse that taught me a ton, but I only got the daily ride because he was coming back from that injury. And of course, once he got going really good, the trainer's daughter took over the ride. The really fancy grand prix horse? Only the trainer rode him.... The fresh off the track horse? I got to be the crash test dummy... and I would guess that's pretty typical. So yes I got some upper level experience, but it's not like I was just handed all sorts of upper level horses to ride. Just from being around and watching though, I did learn a lot about how upper level horses are trained, which I'm hoping will be valuable knowledge for me to tap into someday when I get there with my own horse!

The experience on the various horses I rode was extremely valuable, even the lower level ones, because they all have something different to teach. The best part is the SOLID foundation we put on my own horse (who was also the only horse that I rode daily for the entire time I was there, all the rest came and went), and since leaving I have continued to move him up the levels, and I have trained a few other horses through the lower levels, so the education I got gave me the knowledge/feel to correctly recreate the work in other horses without supervision.

If I had done those same lessons on a school master type, I may have progressed more quickly up levels, but I don't think I would have had the tools to then go back to a green horse and train the same stuff. When I am ready to train my own horse through the upper levels, I will get in a serious training program again with an FEI trainer, and only then will I consider myself a real upper level rider. I'm sure it will help me to have felt some of the movements before, but through the process of training I have developed an awareness that almost seems to make the training fall into place by itself. For example, I rode flying changes a few times on various horses that knew them (literally, a few times), and I understood what happened in a change and what the aids should be... but I never had a school master to do lots of changes on. Recently I put changes on my horse, without the help of a trainer. But my horse (and I) understands a half halt, and a canter-walk, and a counter-canter, etc so it was the next natural step for us. And if we would get stuck, I could feel what was stuck and go back and fix it so we could move forward again. I credit learning to train solid, correct basics for that, not the experience I had on the upper level horses.

The other thing I learned, which may not sound profound, but I had to experience it for it to really sink in, was just how much physical strength it takes to do dressage correctly. Just to sit quietly and have a TRULY independent seat capable of making the teeniest little shifts and with just the right timing, and making aids coordinated and stronger or softer as needed... it takes a lot of strength! I'm not talking about pulling on the reins strength or anything like that either, I guess it's mostly core strength probably, but I know my whole body changed. It wasn't until I was riding multiple horses a day, and seriously working them, not just hacking them around, that I felt how much my seat improved and I suddenly had access to muscles in a whole new way, which gave me the ability to use my aids in a way I had never been able to before. This was a huge lightbulb for me. Before this change in my seat happened, I doubt I would have been able to ride upper level movements on even an "easy" upper level horse... and I wasn't a bad or unfit rider to begin with!

Before you make a decision about your horse, find out what sort of working student positions might allow you to bring him. If you will be riding the greenies anyways, you may as well bring your own along! Also, define for yourself what your goal of "being an upper level rider" really means. Your young horse may not help you if your goals involve more of the riding a school master experience (but a working student gig may not help you there either), but if you want to compete/train at those levels, learning how to do it from the bottom up will make sure you really understand your stuff and do it right. Bringing him along to a working student position would allow you to train him under the constant supervision of someone who knows how to get you up the levels. And since he's yours, you can show him and continue to ride him for as long as you want, vs other horses that you may get a chance to ride and learn from, but are not yours for the long haul. Of course there are benefits and drawbacks to doing it either way, and ultimately it comes down to what your specific goals are, how much you love your horse, and what you can swing financially. It's a lot to think about, but it's such a valuable experience however you go about it, I hope you can find a way to make it work for you!

Mar. 5, 2011, 09:06 PM
First of all, thanks for all the awesome responses:) I don't expect to get tons of rides on the really nice, really well trained horses all the time, I just don't want to always be limited to mostly lessons on my horse. I want to learn how to bring him along but I also want to be able bring along a variety of different horses as well. I guess the hardest part is going to be finding that right position.

Hampton Bay
Mar. 6, 2011, 05:16 AM
Michael Poulin in FL specifically requests that his WSs bring their own horses. You might see if he needs anyone right now. I know someone who was with him for 6 years of something, and she's a lovely rider.

Mar. 6, 2011, 07:12 AM
Hampton, Michael is looking for someone - he always is :). My trainer spent a long time with them (more than a year) and it was very beneficial for her. They place a great emphasis on seat and position, and I have found Sharon, at least, in clinics, to be very helpful.

Mar. 6, 2011, 09:50 AM
I don't see why you can't take your horse and ride others. In fact I would expect it. Check Michael Poulin for WS position. http://www.poulindressage.com/

Mar. 6, 2011, 02:05 PM
I have heard of the Poulin's but I have heard that you have to pay them on top of working for them which isn't something that I can afford.