When I Was an Apprentice

I wish I had a better taste in my mouth about the word apprentice.

I did an apprenticeship once.

Moved all the way to Vermont to do it (I’m from Illinois…).

The apprenticeship was at a horse farm, and on paper (or over the phone), it looked brilliant.

We were going to be working with Friesian horses, which are the big black horses that you see knights riding.

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We would do a lot of work mucking stalls and feeding and whatnot, but it would be in exchange for at least weekly lessons in dressage and driving. Sounded like a great trade to me.

The apprentices had lodging there on the farm, and we were given a weekly stipend to cover food, so we weren’t going broke doing the job.

When I first got there, it was the start of foaling/breeding season.

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We weren’t able to have many lessons, because we were so busy working with the babies, but that was ok.

We also learned a lot about artificial insemination during this time (the only kind of breeding they did on that particular farm, and let me tell you, the conversations we had over dinner were not fit for normal company. Talking about AI, collecting the stallion, sperm, lube, etc, etc, felt perfectly fine to us, after learning about it all day.

Of course, once the foals started coming, we added talk of what their poop looked like, and if it seemed like healthy foal poop to our chats. It’s a good thing we always ate at the farm. We’d have been kicked out of restaurants.

All of this sounds pretty good (at least for someone who loves horses and has a strong stomach.

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I was quite fond of the horses, and enjoyed my time to start with.

But the promised lessons never came about.

Each day, we were given task after task, until there simply was not time for a lesson.

And then we were told that it was our fault that we couldn’t have a lesson.

The instructor was willing to stay late so we could have lessons, or work around our schedule, but we seldom had enough time that she could work anything in.

But we were still expected to ride in the shows when tour buses came, even though we seldom had riding practice during the week.

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Eventually, it came to the point where we were being used more as slave labour than anything. We worked, barely getting any time free, even when the summer temps hit record highs.

And we were still barely given any of the lessons we’d been promised.

We were given one driving lesson, and I was told that I was good enough that I could take the smallest stallion Talke out for a drive whenever I wanted to, because he needed work.

But I wasn’t taught anything more about driving, so I was always a little concerned that I was doing things wrong.

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But I did enjoy driving.

Finally, it grew so bad that none of us were enjoying our time at the farm.

We grew fairly close as a group, as you do with those with whom you go through a crappy experience. But we were all in agreement that our time there was being wasted.

I spoke with the new trainer, a somewhat brusque man who had been a bit of a jerk at first. After I snapped back at him though, in response to an undeserved scolding, he chilled, and we actually got along well.

He told me that the apprenticeship was one that I should continue in if I wanted to learn to run a breeding farm one day, but if that wasn’t my intent, I should go somewhere else. He did try to convince me to stay, however, because he thought I was a good worker, and good with the horses.

This was great to hear from a professional trainer, and if it was only the lack of lessons, I may have stayed longer.

But the owner of the farm was a bit of a creeper, and got worse the longer we were there. His wife obviously didn’t like the apprentices (after finding out that a year later, he was sued for inappropriate conduct with another apprentice, I think that she had reason to not like all of the young women working with her husband…).

Conditions were getting worse and worse at the farm, and I was beginning to understand why apprentices seldom stayed for the time they’d committed to.

So, with a hurricane fast approaching, and the fear that I would be trapped at the farm for an extended time if I was there when the bad weather hit, I took off.

I did give them notice that I would be leaving…I do these things right.

I missed the horses for a long time, and sometimes I wish that I could go back. But in the long run, cutting ties with them was the best choice in the matter.

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It looked like such a great opportunity, and I ended up hating my time there so much. I was miserable when I came home, but was comforted by the fact that my Mom had visited, and seen the craziness, and that so many people had the same opinion of the place and owners that I had.

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Now though, I can look back at the good of the time there. Like when the trainer and the other apprentices all sang Happy Birthday (totally off-key) to me when we had a rare lesson on my birthday, or playing with the foals, or riding Rindert, one of the horses I really got on well with, or driving Talke.

There were good times, even though it ultimately didn’t work out.

But I don’t think I’ll probably do another apprenticeship…

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One thought on “When I Was an Apprentice

  1. Those horses are absolutely gorgeous.

    How devastating though, that what sounded like an amazing opportunity turned out to be the complete opposite. Good on you for sticking it out as long as you did though and looking back at the good times!

    Liked by 1 person

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