Getting the most from a gap year

  • “When you’re about eight it’s every horsey girl’s dream to ride horses all day. Obviously life’s not quite like that, but it’s great to be able to concentrate on horses totally.” So says Sam Cutts, who spent her gap year as a working pupil with top event rider Lucy Wiegersma and who is in favour of taking time out from academia.

    Sam, who is now studying veterinary science at Cambridge, decided that she needed a break before she began her six-year degree course. The gap year allowed her to move up to advanced level in eventing.

    “Without the break I wouldn’t have been able to make the step to advanced. I may have been dangerous,” admits Sam. “Lucy sent me off to walk advanced courses by myself and then we’d walk them together. I realised how many silly mistakes I would have made on my own.”

    And if your parents don’t think simply reaching a higher level of competition is a good enough reason for taking a gap year, perhaps they will understand if you explain it may help you to confirm what career you really want to follow.

    A gap year allowed Alex Postolowsky to represent Britain at the Young Rider Europeans last summer. During her gap year, Alex decided not to go to her planned university, Liverpool, to read geology and physical geography, but to re-route nearer home to Lincoln to study equine science.

    “If I had gone to Liverpool I wouldn’t have been able to carry on with the horses I had,” she explains. “A gap year is a good way to check what you want to do. A lot of people think they want to be event riders, but when they’re riding nine horses a day they change their minds. I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.”

    Faith Cook also found her gap year a good time for decision-making. She spent the time eventing from home while working on Kitty Boggis’ event yard. She started the year with three horses and high hopes for the Young Rider team, but her plans went awry when her top horse, Nagor De La Roche, was injured. Faith is now studying real estate management at Oxford Brookes.

    “The year was successful, as I realised I needed something to fall back on. I decided definitely to go to university,” she explains.

    Even if you have no intention of being a professional rider, a gap year can have its benefits, as Sarah Jenkins, who was a working pupil with Leslie Law and is now working at Horse & Hound after completing a degree in sociology at LSE, points out.

    Sarah says: “Even if you’re going for a non-horsey job, you can really pad out what you did, especially if you worked for someone well known — everyone is obsessed with celebrities. If you groomed at three-days abroad you can say you transported valuable horses across the world, which requires organisation and taking responsibility.”

    Ten top tips for a horsey gap year

    1. “If you’re going to be a pupil at a big yard, make sure you find people you like and go somewhere which is going to be fun.”

    2. “Be prepared to work hard — some people forget about the ‘working’ part of being a working pupil. You get out what you put in.”

    3. “As a pupil you need support from your parents or to have earned money before you go, because you are spending on food, going out, entries, etc, and you’re not earning.” [Working pupil arrangements vary financially, but you are unlikely to earn more than £50 ‘pocket money’ a week, plus livery and accommodation, and some pupils even pay for the privilege!]

    4. “Try to go somewhere you get a lot of lessons. It’s easy to fall into the ‘lots of tips, but no proper lessons’ trap when you’re a working pupil.”

    5. “Don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to get back into studying once you go to university as you’ve got used to being outside all the time.”

    6. “Research your gap year well. If you want to go abroad, talk to the foreign riders here in the UK.”

    7. “Getting experience from different disciplines can be useful. I’ve just started work on a racing yard which is very interesting.”

    8. “Be realistic — if you think you’re going to have a gap year and will end up schooling Shear L’Eau that’s not going to happen, but you may get to do fitness work or school youngsters belonging to a well-known rider.”

    9. “You might get more out of being a working pupil if you have a horse at a higher level than if you have a youngster who’s not doing much.”

    10.“Try to get a sponsor. All the people I wrote to were great and even if they couldn’t help they made suggestions of other companies to approach. If you have a part-time job, make sure it is flexible and fits around your riding.”

  • This careers feature was first published in the February issue of Eventing magazine
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