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I wrote this for a working student who is headed to FL for 6 weeks to work for a colleague of mine.  Thought it might be helpful for others out there starting out a new experience as a working student, either full time or part time… 

Introduce Yourself To Everyone – So you just arrived, you’re kind of nervous, and you don’t know anyone.  Try to introduce yourself to everyone in the barn eventually and take a good look around.  Where is the bathroom?  The tackroom?  The washstall? The feed room?

Get there early, Stay Late, Bring Lunch – You’ve been told they start feeding at 7:00 am?  Get there at 6:45.  You were told you could go home at 5:00pm?  That’s fine, if everything is done, but it’s probably not.  Plan to stay until the very end of the day, so you learn the WHOLE day.  There’s lots to do as the day wraps up.  Some barns have a clearly defined lunch break, most don’t.  Plan to bring a snack and some lunch, so you don’t pass out!

Be Observant – Just plan on feeling like you are not much help and a bit in the way for the first few days, everyone goes through that, and there’s not much you can do about it, no matter how much experience you have.  The best thing to do is to ask for a day to observe how this barn does things.  Try to really notice every little detail, from the big, obvious chores – How do they clean their stalls, how does feeding work in this barn, how do they tack up and cool out their horses, how does turn out work? And try to notice the little things as well – do they pick out horses’ feet before bringing them out of the stall or wait to do it on the crossties, do they sweep all at once or in little bits throughout the day, how do they tie up their bridles, do they pick manure out of the arena all day or just drag it at the end of the day?  And on, and on, and on…

ASK how they like things done – Even in the first couple days, you can begin to be helpful by pitching in with basic chores, but no matter how basic, make sure you ask how they do things.  Every barn has its own way, and as we all know, horse people are picky!  So you want to be helpful and clean a bunch of bridles?  Great, but how do they clean their bridles exactly?  Which soap?  How do they figure 8 them?  These can be quick questions with quick answers, and you can get right to work, but it will feel much better to ask and find out specifics than to clean 18 bridles and then be told you did it wrong.

Don’t expect to ride much at the beginning – And that’s ok!  It’s better to be observant in this area too.  Try to notice the way they work their horses from start to finish – How and where do they mount? How long do they walk before beginning the work? How do they like their horses warmed up?  Are the arena rules pretty standard, or does a rider taking a lesson (or the owner of the barn) always get right of way?  You can learn a lot by watching, and you’ll feel more confident in your first few rides when you know how they do things.

Help with the “easy” things right away – Even at a new barn that might be way bigger and fancier than what you’re used to, there are still things that you already know how to do, and every barn needs them done – stall cleaning, sweeping, rolling polos, cleaning tack, cleaning water buckets, picking out the arena, etc.  But again, just ask quickly HOW they like these things done.  These chores take up lots of time, and the other workers in the barn will be very grateful to have them done without having to ask you.

Expect to feel helpful in about 2 weeks – It takes a little while to learn the ins and outs of any barn, so don’t expect to really feel very comfortable with the whole process for 10 days – 2 weeks.  By then, you should feel like you’re able to do things without asking too many questions, you see what needs to be done and get to it BEFORE someone has to ask you, and you are comfortable knowing the names of everyone in the barn as well as all the horses and their needs.  Only at that time, should you bring up suggestions to the barn manager or trainer about how you think things might be done differently.  Give yourself at least 2 weeks to learn how THIS barn does things, even if it seems silly or totally different from the way you’ve always done it.  There’s probably a reason they do things in a certain way.  Once you know their method and have proven yourself a helpful member of the team, then it’s fine to nicely make suggestions.

Be nice to EVERYONE – When you arrive in the morning, forget how tired you are, how sore you are, and walk into the barn in a good mood.  Say hi to everyone throughout the day – including all the workers in the barn, the clients, the owner, the landscape guys, etc.  Think it’s not important for you to be sweet and friendly with the guy who comes every Tuesday to do landscaping?  Guess again, he might help pull your truck out of a ditch.  Think it’s more important to be helpful to Susie Q who owns the 6 figure GP horse than Brenda who owns the old, arthritic QH?  Brenda might be planning to buy a super star young horse that you could get to ride in a year or two.  And besides, just be nice to everyone, because it’s what you should do.  Make some cookies, and give them to EVERYONE, who doesn’t like cookies?

Chat nicely about the training – We all watch each other ride, and we are ALL trying to do our best.  If you see a client do a beautiful half pass, mention it when she comes back in the barn!  If you’re just generally impressed with a ride that the trainer had on a difficult horse, tell her!  On the other hand, if you see a rider struggling with something, it is NOT up to you to offer advice.  The clients are there to work with the trainer, not to get tips from you.  It’s great to notice things, and to come up with possible solutions in your head, but file them away for when you are teaching and someone has paid you for your advice.

Say THANK YOU! – Say thank you for every lesson you get, whether you liked it or not.  Say thank you to the other workers in the barn who helped you out or taught you how they do things.  Say thank you to the owner of the barn for allowing you to work and ride there.  Say thank you to that client for bringing you a coffee on a cold morning.  SAY THANK YOU!!