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Working Student at 16?

Hello all! I’m looking into doing a working student position at a big sales barn or with a top rider (if I’m that lucky) when I’m 16 (currently 15 1/2). I will get my drivers license in September, so I won’t be able to do this type of position until summer of 2019. Would I be too young to do so? I want to become a top 5* jumping Grand Prix rider one day (check my other threads for more info) and I want to be able to work for ride type thing. Is it possible to get to the top and get more opportunities by doing this? I’ve already been looking at different top sale barns, to see which ones might be possible choices. I also live in Ohio, so I’ll most likely have to go 6+ hours from where I am now. Also, how much experience do most trainers want in order to bring them to the big jumpers (5+ feet)? As a side, im going to be doing some schooling shows at the barn I go to now. Note- I don’t own my own horse either. Please answer my questions.

I hate to say it but before you do anything if you haven’t read this thread read all of it and take it in.


Other than that. Start at the bottom. Work hard. Do all the muck jobs and work your way up.

Everyone wants what you want. Those who think they will just be given gorgeous horses to ride and don’t have to work for it don’t last too long.


It’s great to hear such enthusiasm and willingness to work hard. Can you tell us more about your level of experience? What kinds of classes have you shown in? Have you had any experience with young horses? Also, if you become a working student 6 hours away from home at age 16, how will you get your high school diploma?

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@HLMom I have other threads that have more about my experience and stuff. When I do this, if I’m in a good spot, I might see if I can take all of my courses online, that way I can stay with whatever barn I choose

Working students have many incarnations. At 15/16, start close to home with a personally and professionally well regarded mentor. Have you spoken with your current trainer about her recommendations or advice?


There are a ton of threads on here wherein young riders post, hoping for advice on how to make it to the Olympics, become a grand prix rider, etc. Try searching for a few of those threads because the advice is solid and applicable.

The first piece of advice is to have the right attitude. Be willing to do anything. Be thankful for all opportunities. Work hard. And when you think you are the hardest worker on the farm, work harder. Be a sponge. Listen to all instruction you are given. Use your spare time to expand you knowledge of horses. Stay fit and athletic. Work out if needed. Never talk back. Never be unkind. Never say anything negative about anyone else. If you want to go to the top, you need to be laser focused on that goal, because if you don’t someone behind you will.

Thousands of horse-crazy girls want the same thing you want. Some have their own horses to ride. Some have been showing for years. If at the age of 15 you are just embarking on schooling shows, many girls are ahead of you. You’ll need to stand out somehow. And that can be accomplished with attitude and drive. Never give up. Never be satisfied with yesterday’s accomplishments. Hunger to improve. Read some modern rags to riches stories and hone in on what makes those people successful. It was attitude, fortitude and making his/her own opportunities.


Here’s the other thread. Or another thread from the OP.


I haven’t talked to my trainer about it yet. I’m thinking of waiting until closer to the end of the year.

Great advice on the other thread. The surest way to this path is to find something you excel at, make a ton of money, and buy your own horse.

Until you have local experience jumping solidly around 3’ fences, (ideally more like 3’6") you are not going to be useful to a pro at any level as a rider.

If you can find a local sales barn that needs a rider, maybe you can get the experience you need to be useful to an upper level barn. But it’s a tough life and the odds that you’ll end up riding the big jumpers if you can’t first pay your way up to success at the big eq classes or the rated jumper classes are about a million to one these days.

You might also look at a place that has summer camps and needs a counselor.

Definitely read the Jimmy Williams thread and all the others about #metoo.


Don’t go away to a barn with the idea of finishing high school online. You will leave yourself incredibly vulnerable. There’s no advantage to pursuing this plan at 16 versus 18, and there are plenty of people with horses to learn from locally.


I just want to say one thing – if you want people’s help you have to help them help you. Make it as easy as possible for them to help you.

For example - expecting people to go and look through your other threads to work out your experience level. Why not post a brief (one paragraph) summary of your experience? Or, at a minimum, the links to your other threads.

Anyway, carry on and good luck.


You need to start lower and work your way up not try to start with a GP rider/barn. There aren’t very many top level show jumping barns anywhere and they don’t take minor working students if any at all. They have paid staff. Or give rides to the Junior Jumpers who can already ride close to a GP course.

But lower level barns closer to you often do. Even if you can drive next year, you will still need written parental approval for many things. Even the lower level barns tend to go with people they already know who have been in their program. You need to start with your own trainer and learn to network.

Its great to have a high goal but it’s not great to ignore the many, many small steps you have to take one at a time to earn your way up to that top level. You get frustrated because you aren’t getting anywhere when you should be devoting that energy to each and every small step.

And, yeah, read that JW thread. Young girls desperate for saddle time and a break into the upper levels are prime targets to be bullied at best, sexually manipulated at worst.

Its always been going on, just now become acceptable to talk about it. There’s no free lunch as they say and many of these situations sounded wonderful, too good to be true. Whatever you do, be sure your parents help you try to find a place where you don’t have to live with strangers at 16.


I say this with all kindness: these are very hard dreams to have. They always were, but maybe more than ever these days.

work hard, try hard, become a good rider and a good horseman. That I promise you you can achieve and it really is its own reward.


Equestrian.abby, you have started more than one discussion that asks basically the same thing: How can I get to the top of this sport? It is, as others have noted, the exact same question pretty much every horse-loving girl your age asks.

It seems to me that you are getting way ahead of yourself. Instead of worrying about getting to WEF or being a working student for some BNT as soon as you turn 16, you need to focus your efforts and energies on being the best you can be in the spot you’re in right now. Until you’re the best at whatever level you’re at right now, you can’t hope to move up to the next level, or the level above that or the level above that…

You need to figure out how to get as much saddle time and horse care experience as you can in your current situation. Be the hardest working, most knowledgeable barn rat they have at the stable where you currently ride. That’s how you get the good reputation you need to maybe get a spot at a bigger stable that shows at a higher level and has better horses.


First, become the BEST rider you can, with the horses available to you.

Grab every volunteer opportunity you get, even if is is emptying the muck buckets.

I have a friend from high school who now runs a big H/J “A” show barn, and regularly takes a group of 20 or so horses to WEF.

As a teenager, she had an aged (no one knew how aged) 14h 3" “Morgan Cross” (and 6 inches of that was withers). When she got him he could do 2 things: jig and gallop. Nothing in between.

She (we) had regular Pony Club lessons, but nothing beyond that. She trained him to be a well trained horse

A couple of years later, in an equitation class, the judge asked for a canter figure 8, with a change of lead through the walk. They did it foot perfect, and won the class. I was standing on the rail, and a rider next to me said “I could do that too if I had a “push button horse” like that.”

The truth was that, by then, he WAS a “push button horse”. But she had “installed” all the buttons.

She got her Pony Club B with the highest score that had been awarded.

After high school (and she graduated a year early), much to her parents distress, she decided to be a groom for a local jumper rider. For several years, she did not ride AT ALL. She was just a groom. After that she sometimes got to warm up the horses before the trainer rode, and cool them down afterwards.

Then she spent several years as a barn manager for several show barns, and started teaching a few lessons on the side.

It wasn’t until she was probably 10 years out of high school that she got to ride, train and show some decent horses. She, and her husband (a groom) and a colleague formed a partnership and started a training business. But still her primary role was as the barn manager. And then the business grew.

She would not have her current success without her riding talent. But it is as much dependent on her determination and willingness to work hard at the not-fun parts.


This is a great story, and it reminds me of my friend from high school who went pro, competed show jumping, ran her own lesson barn, and is now retired from horses altogether (she retired the year before I returned to riding, unfortunately).

We both had backyard grade horses that we bombed around the suburbs on. Hers was older than mine, and only did one lead, but she really improved him and kept him to the end of his life. I went off to college, she went on to proper riding lessons in a better part of town.

The advice here to become the best you can be at the stage you are at, is spot-on. You are not going to get more opportunities if you move to a place where everyone is riding at a more advanced level than you.

Think about if you wanted to become a doctor. The advice would be to graduate high school with excellent grades, take a BSc with lots or organic chemistry courses, get top grades, and then apply to medical school. If you said: I’m 16, I want to be a doctor, so I’m going to go hang around a hospital and hope they let me operate on some patients, we’d all say: not going to happen.


This x1,000,000. There is so much more to riding and becoming a horseman than what you see at the top of the sport.


Another good source of stories of top horse professionals and how they got to where they are is Denny Emerson’s How Good Riders Get Good. It’s a fantastic read and gives you a good sense of what it takes.


Being a working student at 16 is a do-able thing - but do it close to home and with good people. In order to know who the good people are as you move onward and upward, you need to start with good people now. If you don’t know if you are with good people now, figure that out asap. If you are with good people and have the right attributes (great attitude, hard worker, a sponge for learning, some level of talent), you will have opportunities, but they will come in small steps.

Also, do not buy into the crap advice that finding your passion and following it is the secret to happiness in life. Having genuine interests and some passions in your life certainly contribute to happiness but if everyone lived their passion, the economy would collapse because not everyone can be a professional athlete or an astronaut or a movie star.


Yep…I really wanted to be an astronaut or at least have a career at NASA, but math and I were never the best of friends, so…

I got over it. :slight_smile:

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