Working Student

I’m in desperate need of advice. I’ve had this plan to take a gap year and find a job as a working student for years. I’m a senior now and I’ve deferred a year from school to follow through with this plan. But now it seems like everybody is trying to talk me out of it and a career with horses in general. I get it, it’s not easy.

On to the gritty stuff: what’s reasonable to expect with a working student position? Is it stupid to expect riding time on my horse or others? I understand fully that the majority of my time would probably be chores—I’m willing to put in the work. I want to find somebody that will allow me to bring my horse and take lessons with them; extra rides would be a perk. But of course, I’m not one of those riders with real natural talent. I’ve put in work for years and years and I’m driven, but I will never be the best. I want to work with horses either riding or managing/grooming, and I want to find a job where I can learn a ton about it.
I’ve had so many people tell me different things. My trainer told me that her first job out of college was really only doing stalls, even though she was working for somebody she’d known for her whole life. I don’t want that. I’m willing to do stalls, but I also want time to learn. I want to watch lessons and learn from observing, but I’d love to find somebody that can also teach me.
I’ve also learned so much about how many trainers will really just use their working students as workers and not students. How can I ensure that I find somebody that will be good for me and my horse? I’ve been so lucky to be with a great barn since I started riding; I’ve ridden with them for over ten years and worked for them for almost five years. I’m used to the best of care and people in a relatively good mental state. However, I understand that this isn’t the case in many many barns.
I’ve been warned about a lot of drug use and just bad mental health in trainers and employees in general at so many of the top barns; I don’t want that. But how do I avoid it??
I’m really just having some anxiety about the fact that even knowing all of this, I still want to be in this industry. So I guess what I’m wondering is, have any of you been through this? What did you do or who did you work for? Bonus if anybody has any ideas of people looking for working students who will give me some opportunities (no, I don’t expect to be showing random horses or riding a billion a day [not that I’d be opposed], but I want somebody to give me a chance).
Thank you for reading all of this, and I hope that somebody can give me some peace of mind on this.

Adding on that if anybody does know of people looking for somebody like me, I’m willing to travel anywhere on the east coast if housing is provided, but I’m located in New England.

I don’t have an answer to any of your questions but I would recommend checking out the thread on the dressage forum titled “Where are the working students” (it is fairly recent). A lot of people have voiced their experiences as a working student and while I’m by no means suggesting it to you to dissuade you, but I think it’s a good thread to get an idea of what the state of the working student position is right now and the realities of it. Also a lot of good advice on what is a good WS program versus a not so good one.


Theres been several threads on this every year ( except the last couple) so a search can pull up many, many comments. Truth is the Working Student gig where you ride much at all is disappearing in favor of regular (low) paid barn help. Lots of reasons, liability, safe sport, living mostly at the shows instead of the home barn, no time to bring somebody along and teach them how they want the barn work and grooming done let alone ride client and/or sale horses.

If you want, why not just get a groom job? Though requiring housing may be an issue.

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Worth looking into:

I can’t give you advice on how to find a good working student gig–I think the best ones are often found through your or your trainer’s personal network. But other posters might have better ideas about that.

But I do have one thought about the general dilemma you face. I actually think a working student job before college is a great way to help evaluate whether you really do want to work in the industry. I did a working student gig during a college summer. And while it was an incredibly educational experience where I learned lessons about both riding and care that I continue to use decades later, it also made me realize that a career in horse sports was not for me. I considered that to be a really valuable lesson too, because I now have zero regrets about pursuing a career outside of the industry. And knowing that at 19 helped me plan my education and my future ambitions accordingly.

I would focus on finding the best possible opportunity, and let the experience help you decide whether it’s the sort of thing you want to do long-term. Due as much diligence as possible about the people and the nature of the job, and make sure you are offered specific commitments about riding, lessons, showing, days off–whatever you care about. Not all working student jobs are created equal, and you definitely want to be sure you are accepting one where you have opportunities to learn about the aspects of care or riding that interest you. If you are miserable or feel exploited, you can always quit and find another job. One small silver lining about a working student’s meager salary is that there are plenty of other jobs you can get for comparable money if you find yourself needing to finish out the year.


A good working student position will have a balance of both horse chores and learning/ride time.

However, it can be hard to find those positions anymore. One of the drawbacks of safesport was it kind of nailed the coffin shut on working student positions.

I’d really suggest getting a grooming job down at one of the major circuits. It’s what I did and I learned so, so much just from being around the show. For me there was no ride time, but I know that other grooms did hack out the horses. And some people will ask their grooms to show sales horses if there’s just too many; but don’t count on it.
Because you are down at the circuit they usually will offer a housing situation, but even if they don’t it’s usually pretty easy to find shared housing with other grooms.
Depending on which one you go to you should be able to bring your own horse, just don’t expect time to show them. At WEF it’s unlikely you will find board for less than 1500-2000 a month anywhere close. At Ocala and Aiken you should be able to find reasonable board not too far away. Im not sure on Gulfport or WEC Ohio.

You also should be able to save up a nice little savings from it; not only is it usually salary, but you also may get tipped too.

You could start up in TIEC or one of the more local circuits (Saugerties, Vermont) in the summer and then head down south in December/January. Depending on who you worked for in the summer you may have to find a new position when you head south, but you should by this point have a good feel of what kind of grooming position you want and have a nice reference to use when you head south.

Lauren Sprieser just did an interview on the Noelle Floyd podcast that I thought was very interesting and has some good perspective on working student positions. Of course she can’t help you find a position but I think it’s worth a listen.

As a jaded and skeptical middle-aged sort, I think a defined job which outlines pay, benefits, hours, etc would be a safer situation than a working student, which is more open to overuse or abuse of said student. Came across this on a fb page; I think this sort of situation offers more protection for the employee than a working student:

:rotating_light: Now Hiring Traveling Show Groom :rotating_light:

Looking for a self-motivated, team player to join our international show team as a full time groom at Hermitage Farm Combined Driving! We are a top quality organization with a fun team culture!

:boom:No driving experience required - we’re more than happy to teach you all you need to know!
:boom:Work alongside 5 time World Championship driver Jacob Arnold and 4 time National Champion Steve Wilson!
:boom:Work with some of the top Trainers, Veterinarians, Physiotherapists and Farriers in the World.
:boom:This is a great opportunity for a hardworking individual to develop life long skills needed at the top level of competition in America and Europe!

Daily Activities include:
Grooming at local, national & international driving competitions
Show Preparations
Horse grooming/tacking
Stall cleaning

Home Base: Hermitage Farm, Goshen KY.
Winter Base: Grand Oaks Resort, Lady Lake FL.
Summer Base: Valkenswaard, the Netherlands (In World Championship years)

5 day work week (with the exception of show weeks) + overtime after 40 hours
401k, Health, Vision, Dental benifits with PTO
On-site housing included in single family homes
Can consider horses and pets

Jacob Arnold - Trainer


Yes show grooms are just overall a better situation than working student positions. Mainly because you have more legal protections, unlike with working student positions which are much like internships; some are good, most take advantage of you.

I was a seasonal show groom, but I do know others who stay with their barn year round. Some pay exceptionally well too; it’s not unheard of for the experienced grooms to make over 6 figures a year.

Also, I forgot to say OP, if you aren’t set on wanting to be at a h/j barn the thoroughbred breeding industry always needs workers. A good friend of mine did it for a breeding season and while it was exhausting she was given really nice housing and a vehicle to use. The people who were there for more than one season were given their own private homes too. It can be a sweet deal if you don’t mind the difficult work during the January-April time period.

Hermitage is beautiful, I grew up a few miles away… it has always been maintained …black board fences (gates were always red) and barns with red roofs… pastures of bluegrass on a limestone outcropping just as around Lexington.


While I never, ever made close to 6 figures grooming, it was a far better proposition than any of my WS gigs.

I posted this on OP’s other thread; current trainer should be connecting OP.


This is an excellent point. I did a gap year - I didn’t do a WS position - I did a paid position that was basically just working, but I had time to ride my own horse and occasionally some other horses. And it fully solidified to me that I absolutely did not want to be a horse pro. I went on to college, got my degree and have been an AA ever since.

While obviously this would not be the case for everyone - I think a gap year is a option that is not utilized in the US the way it could be for HS grads that have little direction after HS.

I’d probably have like my year better if I’d gotten a groom job, but I just did not have the connections or direction (or the internet for that matter) to help me navigate it.

I did two working student positions after college. I found both by brainstorming/researching riders and barns I would be interested in working for and sending them unsolicited emails with my resume. It was much harder to find a position for WEF. I wasn’t anything impressive - showed local rated shows up to 3’6” jumpers, but certainly wasn’t sending an A circuit/medal finals resume. I worked for a GP rider for 3 months until they went to FL, and then a top eq trainer for WEF. Then ended up getting hired to barn manage for the first after WEF ended.

They were great experiences. I rode anywhere from 2 (at home on a normal day with clients around) to 10+ (a Wednesday at WEF when clients were not down yet), did some grooming at shows, a lot of barn chores, etc. I had housing and stipend provided for both. I worked very very long hours, but no longer than the asst trainers or grooms.

That said, many people had far worse experiences. I would not have been allowed to bring a horse and expect to be trained on it. I did get instruction when ridding (more so as a working student, and it always took a back seat to anything else that needed to get done). I had one day off a week but knew others who got none. My biggest regret is not advocating for myself more. I wish I had spoken up more about getting to do certain things (more lessons/riding instruction). Because I think if I had, it was have been received fine. I just was a 21 year old intimidated by this environment and riding horses of a caliber I had never sat on before.

Ultimately after a year I knew I didn’t want to do it forever. I wanted my own horse and to get back in the show ring, and I felt a different career would give me a more stable path to that. I left and went to law school, and now have my own nice green baby to bring along.

I have never for a second regretted taking that year though. I would have regretted not doing it and would have always wondered. I think a gap year is a great way to try it out. A year after college worked well for me, but that was because I ended up going to law school. If I then tried to go directly into a career it may have been harder to explain a gap after college riding horses. Good luck.


Thank you, hearing this from somebody else is definitely reassuring. It’s honestly terrifying to actually be making real-life decisions!


This is also interesting to hear! I definitely don’t need to bring my horse, but I know that some WS programs are more flexible than others on this. I could lease him out, but at the same time I’d love for him to be with me. I’m interested on how you found those positions? Was it through your trainer or did you put yourself out there more?\

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Would you feel like letting me know where this is? Pretty curious, now!

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Thank you! I’m definitely not set on H/J for this year. Honestly, it would probably be smart for me to branch out a bit - makes a more rounded horseperson, right? This is a great idea, thank you!


Thanks! I know what I’m looking for is pretty hard to come by at this point, it’s frustrating! I might honestly look at a grooming job. I definitely don’t need to bring my horse (in fact I bet my parents would LOVE to lease him out as soon as possible for the $$), and for the right position the learning would probably be worth it.


Both ways you will learn a bunch. I have felt that if you become a working student at a good facility, you will learn more of the riding and training side. Show grooms learn more of how the business actually works, actually runs, and sees more of the tricks of showing; I felt it was invaluable to me.

In any case; ask how much stall mucking will be required of you and stick to your guns if they start making you do considerably more of that then they said. While pretty much any position with horses will require some shoveling poop, you should not be doing that for the majority of the day. Any barn worth working at has dedicated workers for stall mucking, water bucket filling, etc.** Helping out once in a while is one thing; spending all day mucking stalls is another.

** And usually these guys are extremely coveted and will be paid more than you. It’s not uncommon for them to receive the best housing, cars, etc because the barn literally cannot run without them. I know guys who receive free use of large homes, free use of very nice vehicles, and competitive salary pay and have been with their barn/trainer for decades. So don’t let them put you into a stall mucking position; you are getting paid less than everyone else to do the same heavy work.

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