Passion. Dedication. Success. 




Working Students Podcast for USDF

Posted by Kimberly Bench on January 3, 2016 at 10:05 AM

About a month ago, the senior education director from USDF contacted me about doing a segment for USDF.orgs official podcast ( They asked me if I would elaborate on my article that published in the October issue of USDF Connections Magazine about Working Students. Below are some of the notes I made in preparation for the interview that we recorded earlier today. (The interview will be posted in the next few weeks).

USDF: Why explore the option of becoming a working student?

Kimberly Bench: For individuals interested in a career in horses, there are a lot of skills and experience you just can’t get from a book or in a classroom. There is a lot to learn about the “business end” of running a training facility – everything from how to properly wrap a horse for work to what to do in a medical emergency.

USDF: What are the Advantages of being/ having a working student?

KB: Being a working student will give you the level of detail and breadth of experience that cannot be duplicated in a classroom or book and it will give you a very realistic idea of what a career in horses ACTUALLY feels like.

Having an WS can mean having an extra set of hands around and can make things run smoothly – AFTER they are trained. Keep in mind that sometimes doing things ourselves is actually easier than trying to show someone how to do something while still keeping up with our schedule. There IS a big time investment involved for the trainer as well. For me, I love seeing these [WS’s] grow and mature into young professionals. I have a WS right now who started lessons with me when she was a little kid and now is a senior in college. Nowadays she helps with some of the training horses and subs lessons from time to time when I’m out of town for clinics, shows, etc.

USDF: What is the typical day in the life of a working student?

KB: This will vary greatly based on what trainer you work for. Here at Benchmark Dressage, we customize our programs to fit both the needs of the WS as well as our needs at the facility. One of our current WS’s is still in HS and grooms for us about 5 hours each morning before leaving to work on school (she does a hybrid homeschool program). She lives with us 4 days per week and then goes home on the weekends.

We’ve had other working students who are just with us on the weekends, after school or on summer break. Depending on the interests and experience of the WS, they may assist with the training end of things such as grooming, tacking, lunging, etc or the barn management side which may include feeding, turn out, stall cleaning, etc. Typically, we want to see a level of commitment and hard work before we “promote” a WS to a groom position so they usually start out as a basic stable hand at first – both so we can see if they have a great work ethic and also because we truly believe knowing the ‘back side’ of the business is vital.

USDF: What is the Importance of clear communication of expectations from both sides?

KB: This is perhaps the biggest problem on both sides. I see 2 things that happen frequently: 1 is that trainers who were used and abused during their own WS days feel the need to almost “haze” their WS’s. I’ve heard horror stories from kids who are coming over from WS programs other barns. The most common complaint I hear is that they were promised a lot of things that were never delivered – mostly riding and lesson opportunities. I think as professionals we only harm ourselves and the industry by giving these kids bad experiences. If we want to attract good, hard-working kids we needs to treat them fairly and honor our end of the deal.

THAT SAID - It gets very frustrating when 90% of the kids that come to you seeking a WS position have NO sense of work ethic. They expect to have MY job handed to them on a silver platter after 2 months of mediocre work performance. Sorry kids, but those of us who have worked our way to these positions have been at it for MANY years to get here. I promise you, we cleaned stalls and scrubbed troughs for more than 60 days to get here (often without pay or great riding opportunities on the way)

At Benchmark we make sure that the WS’s who work hard and show initiative get opportunities. If you work hard for me, I will work hard for you, too. This may include getting a training horse to work with, a show or clinic opportunity, a chance to teach or perhaps just a great reference to a job you want after you’ve left our program. When I was a kid I made a promise to myself that if I “made it” in this business I would do everything I could to give back to the kids who were willing to work for it. I didn’t have those advantages growing up.

USDF: Is being a WS a stepping-stone to a professional career?

KB: I think everyone who wants to pursue a career in this horse business should take a WS position for at least a year. Find a barn or trainer who is in the industry you want to work – i.e. if you want to do High Performance Dressage get into a barn where you will be exposed to that world. (Note: you may have to work yourself up to that – no one hires a green horn to help with their world class horses!)

I get asked a lot about an Equine related college degree. I think they are great as a SUPPLEMENT, but nothing compares to hands on experience at a working farm. I personally have a business degree and I think that has helped me immensely. You HAVE to know how to deal with people as well as manage inventory, keep the books, etc.

USDF: Where/how do you start the search?

KB: Again, get yourself a good education! You need to be able to present yourself professionally and also need to know how to run a business. BE IN THE BARN! I cannot emphasize that enough. You MUST spend time in the barn and in the saddle. Take lessons; go watch your trainer teach after school, audit clinics, hang around the shed rows at shows. Pick up a broom and sweep even if you don’t “work” for the barn and even if no one asked! Trust me, WE notice!

As far as finding WS student opportunities, they are out there! My peers tell me all the time that they cannot find good workers. Talk to the local trainers in the field you want to pursue. Invest some time! You may have to start out as a volunteer or a [lesson] student, but get your foot in the door so you can show us you are serious! As for places to look, check out websites like and even network on Facebook. Talk to your local GMO and local Trainers.

* * * *

For more information about the Working Student Program here at Benchmark Dressage, please contact us through our website at

Kimberly Bench

Categories: None