I'm thinking of becoming a working student next year, and I want to start doing some research and plan ahead. I would really like to go to a dressage barn somewhere in Germany and I was wondering what I need to know before I take the plunge and actually start applying to places. I've never been to Germany (actually, I've never been outside of North America!) what would I need as far as a work visa or equivalent? What kind of expectations do most stables have? (I have heard that most Germans are extremely hard working and expect as much or more from their staff/working students.) Anything else that anyone could tell me would be fantastic, whether it is personal experience or tips, etc. I am not afraid to work hard, I just want to be properly prepared mentally, physically and emotionally for the experience.
I was a working student in the states. HIGHLY recommend the experience (here or abroad)! In reference to karlymacrae's statement about learning "just how much you suck," don't have to go abroad for that one! Anyone worth slaving yourself out for had better be a good enough teacher with frequent enough lessons that you get that realization pretty quickly - even if you don't actually suck. The point is they should push you hard in your lessons, regardless of your current skill level. As far as the hard work part, I find it hard to believe it's going to be too different from any good legit WS position stateside. You will work 6-7 days a week from before sunup to after sundown. It's all hard work to earn your lessons. But the education and overall experience is invaluable! DO IT!!!
Germany will be an eye opener if you get to go. Germans certainly are hardworking and expect high work ouput from all of their staff. Hopefully you are good at sweeping! The sales barns I went too were spotless all the time. Another poster said expect them to push you hard in your lessons - I wouldn't expect to get formal "lessons" in Germany, although it might depend what barn you are at. Also, don't necessarily expect to ride a lot at first, you might be expected to prove yourself first. I was a working student in Germany in 1999, so things might have changed a bit.
Instead of formal lessons, if you are riding, you will likely be expected to learn by observation. Pay attention to what the senior riders are doing and try to imitate them, you will learn a lot that way. My experience was that the more senior riders would sometimes help me for 10 or so minutes once in awhile (read, 10 minutes of coaching/instruction/sometimes yelling) with one of the sales horses I was riding. If you are end up as a rider at a sales barn you may be expected to ride 7 or 8 horses a day - no grooms to help you either, so expect to be efficient with your time.
Advice I was given before I went there, and I'm sure its still true for the most part, is don't expect a lot of praise. One of the cultural differences between Germany and North America is that Germans will typically only say something to you if you are doing something wrong. If they don't say anything, you are probably doing fine Praise is not given very often.
What level are you currently riding at? I was riding at 3rd level, schooling some 4th when I went to Germany, and was considered a "good" rider at my home barn, riding 3 horses every day. When I got to my job in Germany I was definately the worst rider/least experienced there! As another poster said, expect to find out how little you really know!
It was the experience of a lifetime, but definately not for the thin-skinned! You will learn a ton though!
I'm not sure how easy it will be for you to get a riding job and a work visa without some connections. I had a connection through a German dressage clinician that I lessoned with. Would it be possible for you to find a working student position with someone in North America who has European connections? Then you could use those connections to get to Europe?
Others might have more advice on the finding the job part, I was extremely lucky in that the job was pretty much handed to me, thanks to the German clinician setting things up for me.
ace** has some excellent advice (I laughed about the sweeping).
I haven't worked in Germany but I have worked in Switzerland and the two cultures are very similar. I've had lots of horse jobs and pride myself in being a hard working person. I've always had my horses on my parent's farm so I'm very aware of the amount of work that goes into upkeep of a property. However, I was blown away by the expectations there - and I was even at a private showjumping yard! I remember I was about a month into my stay and my bosses had a "talk" with me about my work ethic. At this point I thought everything was going just dandy. Of course, as ace** already mentioned, they don't say anything until you've done something wrong. Of course, as soon as I walked away from them I burst into tears. And I remember phoning my Mom up (who is Swiss) and telling her about how terrible and useless they thought I was and she told me that's just how Swiss people are. She said I didn't need to actually do more work, I just needed to make it SEEM as if I was doing more work, being more productive and busy, by little things like walking faster, etc. This is what I did and it totally worked. I just had to act like a Swiss person.
They are very anal though. Very. They freaking love having everything swept perfectly. My barn had this huge long cobblestone (tree-lined - and this was fall) driveway that had to always be spotless. The thing I always think about when I think about that job is sweeping. Endlessly.
(PS: Good luck on your search. I, also, am leaving in Sept for a year to go do the working student thing at a couple dressage yards. You should check out England -- they have lots of great yards and things are a little more relaxed there and you'll probably get more hands-on experience than you will in Germany).