Wow. O_o Reading your post was like reading my life this past 6 months.
I have almost the exact same background/story as you. I'm a sophomore in college and was majoring pre-vet since coming to school, then at the beginning of this semester I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do and that I wanted to pursue my riding/training aspirations. So I switched my major from biomedical science to equine science, thinking that would be the best idea. It kept me happy for like 3 weeks. So I started looking up riders/trainers and emailing them about working student positions.
Honestly, unless you have a lot of money (which it doesn't sound like from your post) working student is really the best way to go about pursuing professional riding goals. A lot of places will have you working off your rent/lessons and have accommodations for you on the premises. Sometimes you'll also be working off board for one horse (if you bring one) or part of board. Other places are different. I found a woman for whom I'll be working off my rent/lessons/horse's board and I'm currently on my way up there to start working. I'm lucky in that my mom supports my decision, and since she's saving some money from me not being in school while I'm a working student she can help support me if I really need it.
If you can't find a working student job that fits your criteria and can help you reach your goals then see if you can just get a job working as a groom for a good rider/trainer. While you might not be able to ride as often as you like, you'll still learn a LOT about the industry and it's still worth doing. If you work for a specific trainer for a long time you might end up being able to hack out horses for them and occasionally exercise them (MIGHT, it depends on the rider/trainer and the job details).
It's quite a daunting thing to think about because being a professional rider (for the most part) is quite a challenge and a money drain, however if it's what you really want to do then it will be worth the struggles and tears.
My suggestion to you would be to finish this next semester of school but start emailing prospective bosses ASAP. You can find a spot as soon as this summer if you put the axe to the grindstone and get all the detail worked out. If you do end up pursuing a working student job I HIGHLY suggest finding a way to go visit them for a few days if they don't directly ask you to come out for an in-person interview. You need to see if the place is a good fit for you and will be conducive to your learning and living.
EDIT: I forgot to actually answer your other questions, lol. I got into showing simply because I'm a highly competitive individual and actively sought out trainers who would help build my skills in the direction of the show ring. I've been riding for almost 14 years now and have competed previously in western pleasure, barrels, hunter/jumpers, dressage, and I finally found my passion in the world of eventing where I will be pursuing a professional career.
"Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then, always be a unicorn."
Last edited by Strange; 12-16-2010 at 11:29 PM.