Editor’s Note: While not documented in this account, action was taken by the author to ensure the working student’s safety and well-being. 

I am not immune to the blights of the working student. For years I heard the horror stories of trainers treating young adults poorly as they dedicated 18 hours of their 24 hour day to the barn. Here lately, however, that trend seems to be changing. Trainers appear to be more welcoming and accepting of young, hardworking riders who want to fully understand the backside of a show barn. Working students are sharing more of their positive accounts and memories while working for some of the nation’s best. Is the work hard? Yes. Are the hours long? Yes. But was it worth it? Of course.

So imagine my shock as I am organizing my stuff at HITS this past week when I heard this broadcast loudly from two aisles over: “Don’t let it happen again. Got it?”

Not that I am nosey, but the tone of the man’s voice definitely caught my attention. I glanced over through the temporary stalls as the conversation continued, and I felt my gut absolutely drop for whoever was on the receiving end of the tongue-lashing.

This trainer was full-on degrading towards their new working student (I knew this because I had heard the young man mention earlier that he was excited about his first week there). I was appalled. No matter what had happened, no employee deserved to be treated in that manner. After five years in corporate HR, I am a huge advocate for employee well-being, especially in the fields of manual labor. I sat there for a minute, weighing out my options. Do I overstep my bounds and walk over to check on the working student? 

Not knowing enough about the situation and having only heard the tail-end of the conversation, I opted to wait it out and see how the remainder of the weekend went. When walking by the barn, there were no visible barn drapes for me to find out which barn or trainer this might be: just a busy barn aisle and hardworking young man bouncing between stalls to get his chores done.

The next day, I was not so surprised to hear the poor treatment continue. The trainer and another young woman belittled the working student, laughing at his expense and harping on every single thing that he did wrong. “I’m sorry,” the working student replied, “I must have misunderstood you. I thought this was what you wanted.” The trainer scoffed and rudely replied that a misunderstanding better not happen ever again. Again, I felt the fire bubbling up in my belly. Who in their right mind would think that this is okay?

I had a new plan: try to catch the young man by himself to spare him any potential humiliation or relation by confronting his trainer about his behavior. My plan fell through, however, and I failed to get a moment to catch him alone.

As I tacked up on Sunday, my heart broke for the young man when I heard the male trainer approach him and say, “Am I being too mean to you?”

The working student paused. What is he supposed to say?

The trainer continued, “because the girls told me you were crying last night.”

Let me clarify; this trainer was NOT being kind, caring, and compassionate when addressing this young man. His tone was condescending and just plain mean. I could hear the working student choke on his words as he tried to mutter, “I wasn’t crying.” My heart broke with every second that passed. The trainer laughed and walked away, leaving his working student alone without trying to discuss the blatantly obvious issues in their working relationship. 

So to that kind, sweet working student who I helped pony a frazzled young horse across the busy crossing at HITS, I hope you read this. I hope you know that no matter what you might have done wrong, you don’t deserve to be treated like that. You don’t deserve to be laughed at, mocked, and ridiculed to the point of tears. You don’t deserve to dedicate your time to a trainer who does not appreciate all of the wonderful things that make you who you are. And you don’t have to work in an environment like that one. There are so many options out there. There are so many other trainers who will help guide you, teach you, and mold you into a better rider. This is not your only option. 

You deserve so much more. 

And to the trainer who spoke to you so poorly, I hope you read this as well. I hope you know that you will never gain respect in the industry for being so hurtful to your staff. I hope you know that SafeSport exists because of people like you, people who treat their barn help with disrespect. And I hope you know that people are watching and listening, taking note of who you really are. Businesses are built on respect and integrity, both of which I feel you 100% lack. I hope this is a wake-up call to you, and that you learn to appreciate all that your team does for you. I hope you learn to control your anger and address issues with a positive leadership mentality. 

I hope you ask yourself this: What gives you the right to treat any person in such a manner?

Sure, mistakes will happen. Frustrations will rise. Misunderstandings will happen. 

But you should NEVER treat your working students like they are anything less than the beautiful human being that they are.