Career change -> corporate America to working student?

Has anyone on here quit a corporate job to go be a working student, groom, rider, etc? Young adult here, working in corporate America for 4 years now post college, with the initial plan of making money + riding in my off-hours time and it’s… not working. Even with a good salary it feels too expensive to own a horse and not really enough time outside of work/commuting to ride a lot or compete. Figured life is pretty flexible in your 20s and it could be a good time to just send it. Any success stories here, or not so success stories, just anyone that’s done this?

Updated to add context:
-don’t own horse currently, have always had horses but no longer do due to job / lack of time / cost of board to income ratio
-no pets / kids / major “tie downs”
-renting apartment and can leave anytime
-no college loans / debt

Updated again…
Probably more of a gap - year(s) / pause from traditional work situation than full career change? Poor wording on my part. Although who knows really what happens with life

Do you have enough money saved up to live on for six months or so comfortably, plus enough for a few months more while you look for another job if things don’t work out or you get hurt?

For me being a working student wasn’t an option once I had to make student loan payments and pay for my own health insurance (never mind car insurance/cell phone/ cat and horse expenses), but your situation may be different.

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Gosh, I totally feel you on this on so many levels. The burn out is real!
If I could go back and do it, I would. Look at your finances and plan for the worst- can you handle a major vet bill, a major medical bill, a car maintenance bill or anything else that may wipe your savings clean? What’s your recourse plan if something like that does happen? That’s what stopped me from going- I had financial no safety net so any major financial blip would be felt tremendously.

Hindsight 20/20, I would find a working student career in a location that I would have enjoyed living in, for a person who valued me and also a position that allowed me to find other ways to make money either on or off property.

Another thought- a company change to a different schedule?

Last year I was at a barn 20 min from work. I would ride from 7:45 AM, be out the door by 8:30 and then work from 9-5. It worked well and allowed me to still have my evenings.

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I’m curious why you think being a working student or groom will result in having more money and more time. I think in most cases it will be the opposite. You will be around horses more and possibly ride more, and you may have a great/fun experience, but you will probably not have a lot of free time and you will likely come out of it worse off financially (and frankly, this is probably not a good economic time for that).

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I’d encourage you to maybe look into other more flexible career options instead of just throwing in the towel. Being a WS is really tough on many fronts, and unless you want to ultimately pursue a career in horses (which will not give you more money or time!) it will leave you worse off career-wise afterwards.

I always wanted to make horses my career and after having several trainers advise against it, I tried it for myself right after college…they were right. It’s a really hard way to make a living and still get enjoyment out of the whole process. Instead I started building my career, in addition to working side jobs to help afford riding, and it has paid off in spades over time. Now I have a super flexible work schedule (fully remote), extremely nice horse and can afford to take lessons and show as I please. It definitely took hard work and sacrifice during my 20’s, but it is possible.

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If you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life, go for it.

But the attrition rate with horse careers is crazy high for a reason. You certainly aren’t going to have any more “free time” as a working student and there is little to no money. Also, if you decide you want to return to the corporate world, time spent working in horses is generally perceived as a huge gap in your resume, though it’s higher responsibility than nearly anything else!

Now is a good time in the sense that there are plenty of jobs to be had.

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Thanks for all the responses!!! It’s been super helpful so far to read your advice.

I’d like to clarify I’m not looking to go into horses to have more free time or make more money- just that the “grind” in my normal desk job leaves me with not much time to ride now (what I called free time) and it costs a lot to ride (hence the money comment). I know working in the horse industry won’t give me more free time or money… but I will be doing the thing I miss doing most!

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I had a friend that left corporate to do a ws position for 3 years. She spent 1 yr in Belgium at a show jumper barn. She thought it was totally worth it. She did end up back in corporate but with a better (meaning time off and work culture wise) job.

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I’d go for it. I’d go to Europe, for more bang-for-your-buck youth/horse/overseas experience. Send us a postcard :grinning:

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I have been thinking about it for a while. I’m similar age and work history but have a WFH job so slight difference there. My considerations are as follows.

The only way *I * would do it (or suggest anyone else do it) is if I could meet the following criteria:

  • Have enough savings to be comfortable being completely jobless for 6+ months. This includes enough to pay all loans, living costs (including health insurance - even in my mid 20s I already have friends bankrupted by medical care costs), and any costs for my animals (I have 2 ponies, 2 cats and a dog so they are a big concern). This may be semi negated by being able to live with parents or family in an emergency. The savings should NOT be your “Ill live off of my WS wage + the emergency fund while I work” as I’ve known many to do. That can be done too but should be a separate amount.
  • Have an emergency credit card with a high limit for person or animal emergencies that will be trickier to pay with less money coming in. See my note about having 5 dependent animals lol. I recommend a care credit card to any animal owner.
  • Find a job that is guaranteed 5-6 days a week, with set (ish) hours. I’ve done these jobs lots before and cannot handle the 7 days a week all hours of the day BS. It would also need to be no stalls and guaranteed lessons or riding. Ideally, riding everyday with weekly or twice weekly lessons. And paid, like a semi reasonable wage paid.

Would I recommend it to you? Nope. I have stuck it out with my corp job because there is no horse job that I’ve seen that makes any sense vs a corp job. When you consider: PTO, dental, vision, medical, 401K match, base pay + bonuses, and what I call fringe benefits like free food or discounts through B2B partners at a corp job for 40hrs / week VS a couple hundred bucks a week for closer to 70-100hrs/ week with maybe a free lesson or free board thrown in. It just doesn’t math.

What I DO recommend - look for a different job! Find a remote position if commuting is taking up your time and always be interviewing. Not only because interviewing well is an important skill, but also because companies don’t reward loyalty and you may find better (or much better) pay for similar work. I have had 3 “big girl” jobs since college and double my income at the second and 1.5x increase most recently. I still don’t make “enough” - enough to feel like horse costs are a non issue that is - but I have set the floor for my pay much higher and have secured a WFH job which gave me 1.5-2.5 hours of commute time back.

You may also want to look at other boarding options depending on which is the bigger motivator - time or money. I moved my horse closer to work at my second job even though it cost more because the time was more important.

It’s a tricky dance, that is forsure and everyone will have different paths. My long term goal is to make enough to “retire” or “semiretire” (meaning working the corp job part time) from the corp world and do pony things for money but have lots of financial goals to hit first so am plugging away at the higher paying corp job for now.

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As I’m sitting in bed with a migraine typing on COTH after my corp. job. Just be patient.
Or, before you jump ship, sit down with what you really want to do. Is it be in the barn, teach kiddos, just being around the horses all day? Or, to compete at a higher-level, or compete regularly? Neither are wrong.

I did the WS in college, really wanted/had the plans to go pro after I graduated and took the semi-paid riding job after college. It did not bring in enough to compete at the FEI-level and I did not have the contacts or funds from family to buy horses. Now, maybe I could get lucky and convince a future client I hadn’t met yet to buy me a horse, those are 1/1000 and you’re depending on someone else to make your dream come true. To me, I couldn’t have it all: social life, upper-level horses, and full-time barn. I had to drop two. And admittedly, not everyone has to do that. That was the hardest decision to face and swallow, but once I sat down and said ok what does this look like for me, it was easier to progress and put blinders on to how it worked for everyone else.

So, I went corp. Rode mornings/evenings, was dumped a few times because I chose the barn at night or was a little tight on funds. But, I was able to scrape by and compete while I moved up in my career. I was never going to be the 25 or 28 yo 5**** rider, but will I be at 33/35? Let’s hope so, I’m funding my first international horse-shopping trip this weekend!

My hunch was that while the progress for my upper-level goals would be slower than the rider with initially more means who rode full-time, the progress could be made consistent enough that I could catch up a few years later.

And as of right now, it seems to be panning out. I make 155% more than my first corp. job 7 years ago, have good benefits, PTO, and I have a few clients. I’m so grateful that I stuck it out because I’m getting to go buy my dream horse now, and having that corp job in my 20s allowed me to barely, but enough to scrape by with my little OTTB mare to some big events.

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I forgot to echo the timing part. Not your personal timing but the timing of the market. Disclaimer that I am not an economist or such, however, there is growing concern (certainty?) of a recession which is difficult on many industries, but especially small businesses such as the farm the potential WS is at (general). High interest rates make it a bad time for large purchases which are not always avoidable. I myself have totaled a car at the worst possible time and when you need a vehicle to get to and from work (corp or WS) you gotta do what you gotta do. Difference is corp will likely pay more to make the car payments and may even have an employee assistance program to defray emergent costs, such as a rental til insurance pays out on totaled car.

Ultimately, it is a matter or risk and individual risk tolerance. My own personal risk tolerance wouldn’t let me do it unless it was structured like a corp job (employment contract with specified hours and benefits) and even then, recession threat makes me nervous.

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I would add, if you have zero formal-training. And I mean, if you haven’t worked consistently in your junior years with a very good professional, try to fund a 6-month working student stint. (And fund, because it cost me 20k to go work 6-mo. I convinced a family to sponsor me for it, in rent, board, meals) I thought I knew how to ride but didn’t. And I think if I hadn’t gotten that base of education in my 6-month working student stint I wouldn’t have been able to progress successfully or safely.

So go, not because by being a working student you become a pro. But, if you need the education. The WS didn’t teach me how to run a business/make money from clients, but I learned how to ride.

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Are you responsible for running a household? Are you established where you are living? Is there a significant other to factor in consideration? Just a few questions that came up that I thought might be worth mentioning.

Updated post to add context- good call!

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I mean… the timing to do this probably won’t get better, and the corporate world will always be there.

I spent about 3 years in my mid-20s doing horses full-time after several years of saying I never wanted to do horses full time. The timing and opportunity were both right, I lived frugally in a very LCOL area, and I had an excellent boss who’d balanced a career with going pro for most of her adulthood. My attitude during that time was that I wanted to keep doing “the horse thing” as long as it was fun enough to feel worthwhile. In that time, my riding became substantially better, I got opportunities to take horses to clinics/shows/foxhunts that would never have been possible with what I could afford growing up or could have afforded at that stage of a typical career, and I got an honest taste of what a career with horses might entail. I would say that the whole time I worked there, I was open to the idea of staying pro, but I never saw a place for me in that world long-term. I could sense when the work became less “fun,” and went back to the career I had briefly started before taking the horse job, in a similarly entry-level position but with worlds better compensation, work-life balance, benefits, etc. I now live and work in a very horsey area (not the same place I lived while FT with horses), and thanks to the skills and personal connections I gained during the last few years with horses, I am able to half lease a very nice horse at a great facility in a way that’s affordable for my current financial situation and non-horsey goals.

Considerations that made my time in the horse world worthwhile:

  • I didn’t have my own horse (so much cheaper that way!) BUT at my “local shows and developing horses” barn there was always at least one horse for me to ride, and often 2-3 if I wanted
  • My arrangement included very livable housing, some groceries, a stipend, 1-2 days off/week, lessons, and a horse in the trailer almost every time we went somewhere (I paid for any entry or stall fees, but never for any shipping - and we typically had to travel 2-4 hours to shows/hunts, so that was incredibly valuable)
  • The clients, trainers, and family at my barn were just fun, mostly low-maintenance people that were a blast to ride with, or do things off-farm with.
    -The barn was in a very LCOL area where most non-barn hobbies involved being outside, and were free. I was able to be on state-subsidized insurance during this time, drove an old family vehicle that required minimal insurance payments, didn’t have any pets of my own, and was lucky enough to stay healthy. When I left the barn, my savings had actually grown slightly.

One last point. I had a blast during my 3 years in the horse world, but when I left (on very good terms), I was ready for the horses to be just a significant passion, not 90% of my life. Now, my “cushy” job has more meaning, because I know that the horsey alternative isn’t something that I personally want; I also treasure my time in the barn again in a way that I couldn’t when I spent 40+ hours a week there.

Life is too short for “what if.” From the context you’ve added, it sounds like you’re still at a point in your life that you can feasibly walk away for a year or so. That probably won’t get easier than right now, and who knows what your body, dreams, etc. will be like in the future. Also, it sounds like you’re old and wise enough to find yourself a good situation, and to get out before too long if you end up in the wrong place. I vote go for it! And let us know how it goes!

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Adding to my post above:

You will get a lot of negativity about this idea. But it’s for a reason: for 95% of us, our time as a working student sent us running from the professional horse world because it sucks. My personal experience was though I went to college, I went straight into horses after. I had already been doing the WS thing as well as paid positions since high school and throughout college. I hung on in the horse world until my mid-twenties, then I was so burnt to a crisp that I decided I would rather slug it out 9-5 and keep my own horse(s) than continue to kill myself caring for other people’s horses.

But I also think that’s a lesson you have to learn for yourself.

So if it’s something you really feel like you need to do in your life, DO IT!

But if it’s something that just sounds more idyllic than the office grind, remember that it’s a really sh*tty job. Even people who have completely positive experiences will tell you it’s incredibly demanding.

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Are you planning this as a permanent career change, or just thinking of taking a “gap year” of sorts? If the latter I’d say go for it, if you have a decent savings cushion and no major obligations. Also depends on your career field and how easy you think it would be to get another job when you wanted to, since as others have noted the economy is not heading in a great direction right now.

If you’re talking about a full career change, I would caution against it if your only driver is to get more riding time. The working ammy situation is really hard at first but it does get better, and it’s really a pretty sweet deal once you have it established. I took 5 years off from riding after college because I couldn’t afford it and didn’t have the time. I used those years to build my career, get my financial life in order, and explore some other hobbies, travel, etc. I’m in my late twenties now and the work/ride balance is really starting to come together, and it’s awesome. I have the cash to pursue my riding, I’m established enough in my career that I can make time to ride during the week, and I don’t have to worry as much about the big picture issues like retirement and health insurance. I like knowing that I can make the totally illogical decision to spend time and money on horses because it won’t compromise my future security.

Have you considered finding ways to get horse time without the full commitment of riding? I volunteered with an equine nonprofit during my 5 years off and it was great. I still got my horse fix and kept my identity as a horse person intact even though I wasn’t riding, if that makes sense, but the time commitments were much less than even just taking weekly lessons. You could see if there’s a rescue or therapeutic riding center near you that you could volunteer at for a few hours on the weekend.

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I’m wfh in corporate America, what prevents you from riding with no animals or dependents?

Money? Look at your budget, try to take a lesson a week, then make it two lessons. Negotiate time with your boss as long as it doesn’t impact your work.

If you plan on being a working student, you should plan on committing at least a year imho. By the time you get started learning, the gig will be up.

If you’re looking at a gap year or two, absolutely do it! Its the perfect time of your life to head overseas if you have no kids or horses to hold you back. There’s so much you can do with horses that isn’t slogging it out as an unpaid working student in a show barn. Stud farms, livery grooms, low level riding instructor (lots of random places around the world looking for these), trekking guide, even something like childcare for a horsey place where you get to horse with the kids but the slog part isn’t part of your job.
Its very normal for NZers in their twenties to head overseas for a couple of years, often the UK because there are favourable visa arrangements for us there and it’s handy to Europe for long weekends. Often people will do a couple of months travel, settle somewhere for a while with a job that pays the bills, and then whenever they can get time off travel a bit more. Then before they come home blow whatever money is left on a few months more travelling. Then come home and settle down and get stuck in to life/career/family etc.
Sometimes you end up in a shit situation, but as long as you have enough of a buffer that you can leave and live for a few weeks until you get another job you’ll be fine. If you’re just looking for casual horse work it won’t take you months to find it somewhere like the UK.

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