Being a working student for a busy trainer can be a great way to learn.

Do you have time for lessons but not the money? Do you want to learn more about horses than just how to hack around the arena? Do you have aspirations to become a horse trainer?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a good candidate to be a working student. Working students provide a variety of services to trainers, and gain so much in return.

We asked trainer Lisa Scebbi, who owns Diamond Elite Equine in Norco, Calif., and specializes in dressage, western dressage and working equitation, the details of being a working student. Lisa has had several working students over the years, and is an advocate of this method of learning for serious equestrians.

Lisa Scebbi, Owner of Diamond Elite Equine


Audrey : What type of arrangements do trainers usually have with working students?

Lisa : That depends on what the trainer needs and is able to offer. Some trainers exchange barn chores and/or exercise rides for lessons. Some students are paid by the hour, the day or per horse. Sometimes it can be a mix of pay, lessons or even housing for the student. Whatever the student’s responsibilities, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page. Get it in writing.


Audrey : What are the benefits of this arrangement to the working student?

Lisa : Being a working student allows a person to experience all the ins and outs of a training barn. You receive an education in horses, along with barn and client management. Plus you improve your riding and training techniques. You may even compete on the show circuit, and have the opportunity to network with fellow equestrians. Before I was a professional trainer, I had to pay my dues as a working student. It’s all part of the equestrian circle-of-life.


Audrey : What are the benefits of this arrangement to the trainer?

Lisa : A great working student gives the trainer the gift of time—which is something we always need more of! Students can work on barn chores, and can tack and un-tack horses. Depending on the student’s skill level, she can exercise horses or even give lessons. Trainers who attend horse shows can have a working student help with stall setup, horse preparation and maintenance, braiding and banding, exercising horses and calling tests. If the student is really trustworthy, the trainer may attend the show while the student runs the home barn.


Audrey : What do you look for in a working student?

Lisa : I look for an individual with strong knowledge of horse health and behavior. They must be responsible, hardworking and teachable.  I also like my working students to be detail oriented so they can identify any emotional or physical changes in the horse, whether the horse is resting or being exercised.

Audrey : What are the pitfalls of being a working student?

Lisa: It’s a hard job with long hours. Horses need constant care, and they don’t revolve around our schedules. You will be dealing with horses, clients and weather conditions that will be ever changing. Not every working student and trainer team work out because of differences in training methods, personalities or schedules.


Audrey : What’s important to know when considering becoming a working student?

Lisa: Make sure to research the trainer ahead of time. Review the trainer’s techniques and accomplishments. If you are investing your time and effort, it has to be worth it. The relationship between the working student and the trainer needs to be symbiotic. The working students of today are the trainers of tomorrow.