I'm especially interested in what people have to say about the terms of their working student agreements, both from the worker and employer perspectives.
As a teenager I spent summers as a working student in a dressage barn. All I remember about the details of our arrangement was that it didn't really matter because the other working students were all beautiful Swedish girls. Wild stallions couldn't have driven me away.
My more recent working student experiences have been as employer. Overall, they've been good arrangements for both sides, but it's not easy. As the boss, you want to make sure the student gets good riding time, but you don't want your young horses to pay the price. Figuring out which horses the student should ride, and what they should do on them is a constant challenge.
It's also tough playing the role of teacher and boss at the same time. As teacher I tend to be very sympathetic and like a friend. As boss I do better with more distance. In the working student arrangements on a small operation
like ours, the distance isn't really possible, so when I have to come down hard on someone to get them to go the extra mile in their work it's difficult. As much as I like to work through good old fashioned handshake agreements and just play things by ear, I've learned to put expectations down in writing. It makes conflict less personal and reduces daily anxiety on both sides.
Generally speaking, I think there's no better education than a working student arrangement. An instructor that watches you everyday can time his or her input strategically, and timing is everything. Riding with a professional
everyday forces you to raise your standards every single ride, and standards are everything else.
As working student, you have to give up a certain amount of independence though. You will feel like you are no longer in control of your horse's training, and that can be difficult. Your trainer will start to think of your horse as part of his or her responsibility, and when you disagree it's tough. But you don't stay forever. You're there to learn and to work, and at some point you graduate and move on. Sure beats college! (Sorry Moms and Dads)