Working student opportunities? Advice? (dressage)

Discussion in 'Horse Training' started by ottb742, Dec 30, 2017.

  1. ottb742

    ottb742 Registered

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    I am a recent college graduate (equine degree) looking to further my dressage education. I have been a full-time working student for 3 years now, currently riding at 3rd level, and looking to move on from my current trainer and take my riding to the next step. Becoming an assistant trainer/trainer is the long term goal, but for now I really need to get started on showing and obtaining scores towards my medals. I do not have a horse of my own so the position I go for must have horses I can ride, and hopefully show.

    I am very fortunate that I am at a point in life where I can really go anywhere, the sky's the limit! I am a very hard-working, responsible, dedicated individual who truly wants to make dressage my life's work. I'm looking for advice, and/or recommendations if you have them. Thank you in advance!
     
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  2. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    The reality is that most of these positions don't provide a lot of opportunities to compete, whether you have your own horse or not. You're a working student, basically, you're there to learn, and there's a lot of work. And in general, the pay isn't very much(some pay nothing...). If it's a bigger more well-heeled operation you might have a dormitory type room or a trailer to live in, and you might get meals at some places.

    At the biggest stables, these positions are very competitive. You would be one of a dozen or more young folks, and there would be several head and assistant head riders. You pretty much wrestle with the other riders for opportunities, instruction, and opportunities to compete. It's not easy to get those opportunities, and it's not for the thin-skinned person, you have to be very tough and optimistic.

    If you are at a really big internationally famous barn, you might never once get a lesson from the top trainer at that barn. My friend was at one top dressage barn, one of the top 2-3 in the world, he never had one lesson from the top trainer in nearly a year. There WERE no formal lessons, in fact, you just watched - when you had a moment away from your other work. And there generally are no question and answer sessions. That's not to say the assistant trainer wouldn't be incredibly good or that you wouldn't learn a lot - you would. But the format is usually very, very different from what people expect.

    Yes....some places you might get actual lessons. But be prepared that may not be the case. Or...you might not get those lessons quite as often as you thought.

    You'll have to get used to each different barn, too. It's very unlikely the next barn will do things the way the last barn did. I recall at one barn the WS spent hours 'squaring' the muck heap (it had to be PERFECT). At another one the youngsters were first backed on the concrete aisle floor ('they don't DARE act up there!') . EVERYONE has their own way of doing things. You have to be flexible.

    AND THE WORK! I've seen people come running home after 3 or even 2 weeks at these positions. They just physically could not take the work. It's a young person's game! Clean 21 stalls to perfection, groom a dozen horses, maybe RIDE 12-16 horses, sweep a lot of huge barn aisles, and...a lot of non-horsey work is possible too. You may find yourself babysitting kids or trimming shrubs, too, lol.

    And...be up from 5 am to 11 pm, working all the time, moving quickly. Very few days off.

    So....are you up for it? Then aim high!

    How high to aim? It depends. How are you scoring at third level and which shows are you going to? What can you train a horse to do? Did you show at third level on a youngster you trained? Have you backed a lot of youngsters? Any really top class youngsters? Brought any horses up the levels? How far?

    If you haven't done the above, you can still get a position (some trainers want people with less experience so they will be more flexible/teachable) at a lower type barn - maybe some wealthy American who has a few horses and employs a good trainer. Lower professional dressage trainers in the US(those that compete locally or regionally and aren't 'on the map' nationally or internationally), don't always own a stable, but they often have many clients and need a working student, especially one that can get on and buck out youngsters. That type of arrangement can be very different from the top barns. You might be the only working student there, you might get a small salary, and perhaps no accommodations or perhaps a small apt at the farm and you work in exchange for lessons.

    If you are a really strong rider and ride really well and have backed really athletic youngsters successfully, and you can handle a very full day of stall cleaning, sweeping and driving a tractor, go for the top people. Keep watching www.eurodressage.com and other sites for ads for people looking for a rider. Bernadette Brune(Germany) is looking for a young horse rider right now.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
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  3. ottb742

    ottb742 Registered

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  4. Garfield70

    Garfield70 Senior Member

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    I'm afraid that slc is fairly realistic about these things.

    Because it's labour intensive, the horse business is very much about exploiting someone for cheap labour. The interesting positions go to people who are already fairly good. The industry produces already enough of those, who are mostly children or relatives of people who are good and grow up in the sport.

    If you were fluent in German the thing I would recommend is applying for an apprenticeship in one of the state studs. They offer apprenticeship of reasonable quality under controlled conditions (non exploitative).

    But other than that, the good positions mainly go to people with personal connections or who are already good.

    If you do what you are planning, make a contract with the trainer how much riding time and lessons per week you get for how much work.
     
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  5. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    For some people, yes, these positions are about exploitation. I was at a barn where I saw that happen. The working students didn't get their lessons. End of sentence. They did a fair amount of work (the trainer was too lazy to really get them organized and doing more), and they were lucky if they got 1-2 lessons in a month. But most of them quit fairly soon, too. After a month.

    But in fact, that person was really a 'small time' professional who never broke through or made a decent income off of horses, because he was incredibly lazy, for one, and because he ran things like a hobby. Well, it was a business when he wanted to get paid, it was a hobby when it came to him working. He'd show up at 10:30 am, ride each of his FEI horses for 20 minutes, and then go off to lunch for 2 hours...it was a miracle if he taught two lessons the whole afternoon, he'd knock off work by quarter to five, lol.

    It was rare when I saw him actually putting in a full day's work...mostly what he did was just lie a lot. 'Oh yeah, I worked that horse today...he was great! We worked on....' It was all bull.

    His 'training' was basically about longeing the snot out of all the 'in training' horses the day before the owner showed up to 'see how they were progressing' and write him another check. I am sorry to say that we do have some trainers like that in America.

    They make money short term, but most are found out pretty quick. They do not prosper long term. If you find yourself working for someone like that, GET OUT. They are not going to be helping you in your career, no matter how hard you work. That is exploitation. I am GLAD I saw that. I really am. I know how to identify that type within 30 seconds now, LOL. And they do NOT do well long term. And they never break through. Financially or otherwise.

    But in countries like Germany and France, the positions at various top class dressage and showjumping barns are a part of a formal education in horses. People have to work for a period of time in the industry to get their final certification. The barns have a formal arrangement with the licensing organization.

    But you work very hard in those positions too.

    SOME trainers bring that model here, after getting educated over there. Jerry Schwartz, for example, who worked for Herbert Rehbein. He has upwards of 20 horses in training at his barn when I was there, they ALL got worked on a very set schedule, and he just WORKED, quietly, steadily. He had TWO working students who he kept on the run all day. They tacked and warmed up the horses and cooled them down, he rode. He just got on one after the other without a break for hours. His wife took care of many other aspects of the business, he rode. Rode beautifully, quietly, gently...it was incredible to watch.

    You're usually working for people who work hard, too. Example? Peter Kjellerup came to our area to teach a clinic. It was 12-18 degrees in the indoor arena the whole day. He started teaching at six thirty am. He rode most of the horses that were in the clinic. He never stood still. He was a very, very passionate involved teacher. He worked until 12 pm, stopped for 10 min to go to the bathroom and grab a sandwich, then was back teaching at 12:15 and taught til 7:30 pm. Then he stayed up til 11 talking to people(it's very important in this business to be friendly and good with people), handling business calls, got up the next day at 5 and did it all again. He left late on Sunday, and he got up at 5 am to start working at his own place.

    Of course....he was also co-founder of a 'b' business(green, environmentally responsible), called DANSKO.....(they make clog shoes, sales were $100 million in 2008....). And really, being a success in the top echelons of the horse business really is about being a businessperson - hard working, being good with people AND knowing how to run a business.

    And that really is how so many barns in Germany and Holland are. They have farm land. They're harvesting crops. They grow straw for bedding, they grow their own hay (or haylage), they have surplus to sell, they have sheep nibbling every little corner of grass, everything is as neat as a pin and there is a fleet of employees running every which way 24/7.

    It's a BUSINESS. In general, the working students work very hard, it's very organized, and horses are treated extraordinarily well and the standards of care are very high.

    Example, I went around with an agent in Holland and we stopped at one barn, and she said, with absolute disgust, 'Oh my God, this barn smells like they use one set of brushes on more than one horse...OH MY GOD.'

    Back to Kjellerup....had a fabulous facility here(Phil Dutton's now, I think). And he came from a very humble background. As people were very fond of saying he was a BAKER in Denmark, lol. He worked his way up.

    So...in Europe, being a horse trainer is seen as a very, very hardworking job. Being a working student is really about weeding out people who can't handle working like that.

    There are not any positions out there where you DON'T work very hard. You're getting knowledge that can lead to a VERY LUCRATIVE career. VERY.

    And that's how it's looked at. You're getting an education that translates into you making money in the future. You don't just ride and show, obviously, you sell horses, train horses, do clinics.....

    In other words, it's as if you're paying for college.

    As for the 'interesting positions go to relatives', OH YEAH, I've seen what happens to relatives, LOL. The big time trainers aren't exactly merciful to their relatives or even their own children, lol. Paid $1000 a month or less, working 16 hrs a day, 7 days a week, no days off(that's $2 an hour...), riding 14-16 horses (no, 16 a day is work, not fun).

     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
  6. Garfield70

    Garfield70 Senior Member

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    Definitely not everything there is quality.

    And the good barns require you to ride almost at the level your licensing tests are because the customers wouldn't want apprentices on their horses otherwise, so there would be nothing for you to ride.
     
  7. Garfield70

    Garfield70 Senior Member

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    The reputable trainers are working hard too. You have to take into account that unless you are very high end, your body will not agree with this strain of long hours out in every weather, and riding horses with a screw loose that nobody else wants to swing a leg over indefinitely.
    And, it maybe depends a bit on your personality, I found a marjority of the people in the business as well as clients you are confronted with so tedious. Really, people I wouldn't want to have in my life, you have to be able to cope with this, and with how the horses are often not treated in a way you agree with. You have to be able to switch off your feelings or grow callouses there to some extent. You really want that?
     
  8. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    It doesn't really have to be like that with everyone.

    For one thing, even the most small-time pros I know get rid of ALL the customers they don't like!

    For another, once you get to be in-demand, once you have that FN or those national or international show wins, you tell people how to take care of the horses and what goals are appropriate - if they don't go along with that, out they go.

    I have never seen anyone, even a young dressage junior, have to misuse a horse against their own better judgement because a customer insisted.

    I've seen plenty of them tell a customer to go to hail, though!

    Most of them realize that's part of their job too! To keep people grounded in reality.

    There are a few who aren't like that, but they choose that life. They aren't forced into it, unless greed is force...

    But yes, if a person gives into it there are many pressures - the pressure to prove you're better than others, to make more money and to get on the team and do what the team staff says......

     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
  9. Garfield70

    Garfield70 Senior Member

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    Yeah, because we see no more rollkur and young horses totally rushed through training to show them young, and professionals keeping show horses in shape with everything it takes to keep it rideable for totally inept customers.

    Just go and watch warmup arenas at all levels....
     
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  10. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    You're accusing me of stating something I never stated. I NEVER said there aren't bad people in this business.

    OF COURSE there are still bad people in the industry!

    What I said is that the youngsters are not forced to be that way, it is very obvious that people succeed without abusing horses, the people who do these things, they are that way because they CHOOSE to be that way. They give in.

    I've been around people like that, so obviously, I know they exist. But they do not have to be like that, no one forces them to do that. They get greedy.

    And I've watched people change and start allowing that greed to run them. It's not pretty. But there is absolutely NO REASON everyone has to be like that just because they are paid to train. I've also seen people who ARE NOT that way!
     

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