Access to inexpensive—sometimes unpaid—barn help is often the biggest benefit of having working students at an equine facility. Since working students have previous horse experience, it’s an opportunity for stables to find knowledgeable help for a nominal cost.
“Many places see students as free help,” said Annbrit Hodgins, owner and manager of Oakstone Stables. “But when you fully embrace what they bring to experience you can benefit in so many other ways.”
Hodgins has hosted working students at her Cooperstown, New York, stable the last three years. She strives to hire a mix of local and international students for 12- to 16-week stays. The typical working student she has is 19-22 years old. Even though they come from varied equine backgrounds and riding abilities, from beginner to advanced, she embraces what each one of them brings to the barn.
“They each have so much to offer,” Hodgins said. “I can see what they are learning at equine colleges in the U.S. and see what management techniques are being used overseas.”
But in Hodgins’s opinion, the benefits are more extensive than inexpensive labor and insights. It’s about encouraging the next generation of equestrian professionals and providing opportunities to make lasting international friendships.
“Some have told me that other barns have so many working students they don’t even know each one’s name. That puts people off the industry,” she said. “I hold weekly team building activities, feed them a few times a week and make them feel like part of the staff.”
For Hodgins who is originally from Europe, the biggest benefit she gains is providing connections that eventually lead to travel abroad.
“The students form strong friendships, and it gives them an opportunity to travel,” she said. “U.S. students don’t travel abroad nearly as much because it’s so expensive. They become such close friends that they end up going to visit.”
As a bonus, she’s found that through the process, having working students has created a steady supply of candidates. Although Hodgins uses online job boards such as Yard and Groom and advertises positions with colleges, she’s found that hosting working students has created a pipeline for applicants. Former students have referred classmates, while others have returned for a second trip.
“I feel like I am able to give them something valuable through the working student experience,” she said.