How do I find a working student position with REPUTABLE trainer??
How can I find a hunter/jumper working student position for a mature junior rider with a reputable trainer in Florida? So many of these situations are more slavery positions than student positions - not that super hard work is not expected (it most certainly is and should be) but the learning aspect is so often lost...
I recommend paying for lessons at a barn that you're interested in first. Spend some time getting to know the program. You will see how things operate. Move on if they aren't professional. Move on if you don't want to learn what they have to teach.
After some time and after the trainer has had an opportunity to get to know the student, approach them about becoming a working student. I recommend the student lay it out up front about hours/days they would be available.
For me, it's just not helpful to have a kid during lesson hours after school. I'm too busy teaching to dream up things for a working student to do. At our barn, mornings are schooling hours, organization hours. This is when a working student can help us.
I find that too many working student wannabees are actually kids that can't afford to own or show a nice horse and really just want to work off those things. They want to take lessons and show on someone else's horse. And they want to pay for those things by "helping us ride" the other expensive horses. It doesn't work that way. So for me, when I get that inquiry about being a working student, I just pass. It's not worth it.
A real working student should be someone who wants to learn about the business. How are things organized? Feed charts, blanket cleaning, school horse tune-ups- they need to be helping do those things. How do shows happen? Entries, packing, set-up- they need to be doing those things. How are the horses maintained? Farrier schedule, vet appointments, lay-ups- they need to be doing those things. Schooling expensive show horses and showing? Not so much.
I second JSalem. Also, I don't know if you were looking to get the position before the show season down south, but hang around a couple of shows and see how certain barns compose themselves off property. Once people are pressured, as in a show environment, you can really start to see if they are a held together working team, or if they are all over the place, with no organization.
Working for a "reputable" trainer may not be the best way to get riding hours, etc. No matter what, it's a "slavery" thing, and for the bigger barns more so. You need to prove yourself through the slavery. The opportunities for the working student dream (hopping on the beautiful equitation horse whose rider didn't make it, getting to go to a show with a young horse, learning things about the business, helping the vet, whatever you're imagining) happen once every few weeks, if that, as a working student. They are just so important that they dominate the imagination of working student hopefuls. The key to being a good working student and getting everything you can out of it is doing all the slavery with "an attitude of gratitude" and then looking for opportunities to learn beyond that, after hours, once you've done all the things you needed to do perfectly. Some of the most valuable things I've learned as a working student have come from barn managers, very professional grooms, and assistant trainers because they are the ones on the ground looking at the work you're doing. Also, I think there is an idea of a working student as a sort of trainer's pet, which is inaccurate in my experience with big h/j barns. They have a lot of students to like, and you're a groom first and then you get to ride. That's not to say that they don't respect you for your work (provided it's worth respecting), but you will not be treated like a client in your lessons, and you also won't be given special treatment. Clients get offered the nice horses first, etc.
Hopefully you have a sense of who's who enough to start to make a list of people you might be interested in working for. Once you have this list, start sending people resumes cold. That's how I have gotten three of my four working student positions, all for reputable barns and trainers.
If you don't have enough of a resume (PM me if you want to share specifics of your resume, and I will tell you if it is comparable to what I had when I successfully got a WS job through just sending along my resume and a letter) then look for a more local trainer, work hard for them, and then look further up in the ranks.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman
I agree with Jsalem that the junior rider (or any adult for that matter) who wants to become a working student should start by taking lessons with a trainer of interest. Once that trainer gets to know the student, he/she can determine the rider's qualifications and determine how the rider might be of use to his/her program.
Jsalem was also spot on in that many people seem to want to become working students because they can't otherwise afford to compete or own a horse and want to work these things off. This is unrealistic to expect with a BNT or someone "reputable." And by this I mean a well known trainer who does WEF or Ocala, etc. as you mention wanting someone in FL.
A smaller barn that does schooling shows might be way more likely to take on an unknown junior rider without an extensive show record. I ride with a BNT and have seen many working students cycle through her program through the years. Most of them went on to take permanent positions as her assistant trainers once WEF was over and she headed back North for the summer. All of the working students owned horses and actively showed them. These were all talented riders in their own right. They were taken on because of their value (riding, long hours of packing, scheduling, making feed, etc.) to the head trainer, not because of what she felt she could offer them. The learning you speak of in comparison to "slavery" is more of a lesson situation.
However, prior to this barn I was at a much more local facility that did offer free lessons from time to time to a less experienced teenage girl who did not own her own horse and hadn't shown much in exchange for cleaning tack, helping little lesson kids groom their ponies, etc. These situations are easier to find than a working student position with a BNT in Florida unless the junior rider is highly, highly accomplished and close to turning pro.
It's not always possible to take lessons before accepting a WS gig - too far to travel, student in high school/college and doesn't have time until break, etc. I would ask them for references. It is perfectly ok to ask to speak to current or past WS's. Hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak. If they are not happy with providing you contact information, ask if they'll give your info to past WS's. If they refuse to do this, I would pass. Especially for a WS gig where you are probably unpaid, you should vet them as much as they vet you. Do your research on the place too - look them up online, find their fb page, etc.
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