It’s an opportunity to build a team from the ground up. However, finding the right mix of personalities, making the best use of each indivdual’s strength, and coming together with a singular focus poses its own series of challenges.
Professional horseman Sarah Davis is in the process of assembling what she believes will be a group of individuals who will make a significant contribution to the success at Lara Anderson’s and Daniel Brown’s Full Gallop Farm.
However, there are a number of variables in the equation when looking for those individuals who will possess the attributes and character to fill out the roster of working students.
It’s finding those special students whose objective is to have have a career in the equine industry.
“The hardest part about picking a working student and a team member is having all the personalities work together,” said Davis. “Just like any job, everyone has to be able to bring something to the table. I guess it’s having the right person in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time, and delegating authority out to the right person. It’s training the people and the horses. It’s time consuming.”
Full Gallop will have a roster of six working students after the first of the year, but already has a strong nucleus composed of Amanda Wilson, Samantha Funk and Katrina Grant.
The working students are there for one reason, and that’s to learn, and Davis’ role is to be a teacher and mentor. However, Davis is also charged with the responsibility of running a professional barn, and is subjected to a great deal of pressure to produce optimal results, to grow the professional reputation of the barn, her name as a trainer, while advancing to the upper levels of the sport of eventing.
But, Davis can’t do it alone, and that’s where having a strong team becomes a critical component.
“If you really want to be good at this, your team has to be the best team,” she said.
The working students have different levels of experience, strengths and weaknesses, and Davis has to be able to evaluate each individual, and assess where they’ll be able to fit best within the program. Davis believes it will take her three years to assemble her core group.
“You have people that come in that are sometimes as green as the horses we have here,” said Davis. “The hard part about it is that you have to keep the education going. You have to make sure you’re riding the horses that are good for them. You have to make sure what they do with the sale and competition horses is beneficial.”
There are challenges and issues that periodically have to be addressed, and it’s Davis’ role to evaluate those situations.
The students are eager to learn, and some aren’t fortunate enough to have a horse of their own, where they’ve formed a strong bond with that horse, one they’ve been riding for years, but want to find a horse they can ride, learn from and move up the levels.
Many working students have their own horse, one they’re paying for at home, and are incredibly committed as they work to pay for their horse, their living expenses and their lessons, said Davis.
“All that they want to do is to be able to go to the shows, and to be able to afford to do that,” said Davis.
“When you look at a working student position, you don’t get paid. Their payment is the education they’re going to receive, the lessons they get for free, the experience of going to the events, of grooming for someone and learning the ropes.”
Working students who don’t have their own horses, often face the dilemma of losing that particular ride, if it’s another person’s horse, to the individual who owns the horse, to another professional operating out of the same barn, or if it’s a sale barn to a prospective buyer. It can be frustrating for the rider, but it does provide the working student with the opportunity to learn a number of different things whether it’s the chance to ride a number of different horses, improving their knowledge of the different phases composing the sport, or how to present a horse for sale.
Each working student is different and has a story to tell, said Davis. Full Gallop Farm has a waiting list of 30 working students.
Wilson has asserted herself as a leader, has experience in that role, and Davis has been delegating a great deal of responsibility to her. Wilson is the most skilled as a horseman of the three working students at this time.
“Lara has always wanted a team, she wanted working students, and a main rider to run the team,” said Davis. “It takes a rare individual to wear all the different hats and be comfortable with that, and have enough energy to do it all. It’s a hard thing to balance, but the key is to get the right working students.”
Grant may very well be the most incredibly detail-oriented person Davis has ever met, and the professional described the working student as an extremely proud person, someone who’s going to give an optimal effort every time, cares deeply about her work, and wants to do things correctly.
“She’s really driven,” said Davis. “She wants to be a professional groom one day. She has the perfect personality for it.”
The professional can draw from her own personal experiences as Davis was also a one time working student, a professional groom, and has worked with Olympic riders at the top level of the sport of eventing.
“I know what it takes to set up the situation and how to keep it going.” said Davis. “We have a team now, and it should be good for the next year, so I’m excited.”
Working students don’t get paid, and unless their parents are incredibly wealthy and are willing to pay for all their expenses, they’ll have to get a job. The position is labor intensive, and it takes a great deal of commitment, said Davis.
“It’s hard for the girls to be able to balance this and a job, where they can actually get better, and not get themselves so burned out. so they can stay longer than a year,” said Davis.
It takes time for the personalities on the team to mesh, mistakes are going to be made because the individuals don’t know each other, but over time the team starts to gel, improve and become great, said Davis.
In the past, Davis would get working students who would stay only a few months, then leave, making it difficult to build any continuity and consistency.
“I’m trying to find girls who are as green as grass, hungry and want to learn, and aren’t here because it’s something to do for the next couple of months,” said Davis. “I want working students who want a career in horses. It has to be incredibly motivating, something that they’re passionate about, to do this every morning, and not get paid for it other than the lessons they’re receiving and the knowledge they acquire.”