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Wanting to be a horse trainer... Q&A

Over the years I've had many people approach me regarding "how do you become a horse trainer?"  Below is a Q& A of the most recent interview...

Hello Sam,

My name is Jerah im 15 years old and I want to be a horse trainer/ breaker when im a older. I want to know which courses and subjects I will need to take. My apologies if im wasting you time but I have a maths assignment called maths in the workplace, where I have to choose a career that I would like to do when I'm older and research it. One of the questions is to interview someone. I would interview the people at my riding school but I wanted to talk to a professional.

1. Q:  What do you do in your job?

A:  First and foremost there are many versions of “what I do” for a living. There are people who work as trainers underneath someone else, there are people who are hired by a facility to offer lessons or training, and then there are independent operators like me who own, run, and work ALL aspects of operating a farm and offering training, lessons and clinics. Depending on what your situation is will affect the lifestyle (hours of work necessary to keep your facility going,) pay (are you having to pay someone else to use their facility,) risk factors (do you have to continue to generate clients or do other people find them for you,) financial planning/income (the cost of running your facility versus having someone responsible for all of the overhead,) etc.

I personally have to take care of every aspect of both running a facility and offering instruction. This includes hours of maintenance on fences, weekly mowing and weed wacking, maintaining pastures and the horse trails in the woods, painting jumps, etc. I have to work in the office answering phones, dealing with clients planning/scheduling lessons and training, online maintenance for the website/blog and emails that help promote my business, keep up the book keeping, paying bills, etc. I also do all of the training, instruction and clinics. I also do all of the feeding and maintaining of both my own horses and those that are in training.

9. Q:  On average, how long are your working hours?

A:  My work schedule is not a 9-5 job. This is a lifestyle that I chose to participate in which means I’m on the “clock” 24/7. There is never a time when I can “disappear” and be done with work. There are pros and cons to working this way. Financially- it’s a lot of work for little pay. All of the hours of maintenance there is no pay for. All of the office work there is no pay for. But in this day and age- finding someone quality to work for you is an ongoing issue for all of us small business owners. You have to look at the cost of hiring someone who will only do a mediocre job that you’ll probably have to “redo” yourself and it’s not worth paying someone else so when it still requires you to do the actual work or fix what someone else wrecked.

AS for working with the horses, I specialize in rehabbing problem horses. People come to me based on my reputation and the quality of instruction and training that I offer. This means I can’t just have someone else handle the horses without having the same mentality as I do when I work with them. I have had many working students over the years but this too is a frustration because you offer a lot of time, energy and effort and then people think they are then “educated” and want to go and work on their own. So you’ve invested your time in someone who then leaves and there is no “return” for you.

The horse industry is not like having a “regular” job. Horses are a “luxury” sport and therefore potential client’s preferences, desires and demands are what affect your job. There are thousands of trainers who offer instruction or training in numerous aspects of the industry whether it’s by breed, discipline, level of riding, etc. Depending on where you are in the world also affects what you do. In the United States, anyone can hang a sign up advertising that they are a trainer. In other parts of the world schooling, testing and structured “levels” must be passed before one can work as a professional. Again, for my answers to you, I will answer based on the fact that I teach here in the US now.

7. Q:  Do you own and compete on your own horses?

A:  I spent years competing, but that is a completely different “world.” When you open the magazines and see the glossy pictures of the world class riders, the only thing those trainers focus on is competing. Even the horses they take in for training are handled, tacked up, warmed up and cooled down by someone else. Riding is an incredibly demanding lifestyle because even if you win a competition, you must continually keep proving that you can win. So there is usually a “team” of people behind the trainer showing a horse. Those trainers do nothing but ride.
For me riding for the recognition of the competitive world was not enough. When I was living and working in Europe I got fed up with the drugging, politics of the industry, abuse of the animals and financial strains that caused trainers to make bad decisions for the well being of the horse. So when I chose to open my own facility, it was with the priority of the horse’s well being in mind. Eight years ago I opened The Equestrian Center, LLC based in northern Idaho which remains open from April through October. Then in the winter I move my operation to Arizona where I teach out of someone else’s facility. In past years I’ve brought approximately ten horses back and forth- all of the horses are “projects” that I re-educate and then sell eventually. But because of the current economy I’ve had to downsize my herd to two horses.

3. Q:  How do you define financial literacy?(mangement of money) Do you think it is an important skill to learn?

A:  Whenever you have no boss or “job security” you must plan ahead for the here and now, for the short term and the long term future, and still leave room for the unknown. Having an initial “strategy” (with backup or alternatives in case things don’t work out as ideally as you hope) and set realistic financial goals as far as what you need to run your business versus what you would like to have must be defined. Assessing the costs required to run your business versus several options of income (based on economical times, popularity of your services, weather, location of your facility, etc.) will all affect how and what you choose to spend money on. The biggest concern with this industry is that no one HAS to have riding lessons or training in their life, it is a luxury. This means you will NEVER have a guarantee that you have earned “x” amount of money until it is in your hand. This in turn affects your decision making in the type of financial “risks” and commitments you may make in business decisions and futuristic planning. Too many people make business based decisions by being “hopeful” that they will earn “x” amount of money and therefore over commit themselves to too much debt and cannot get out of it if the money does not come in as planned.
Currently the horse industry is experiencing the largest depression it’s ever known in the US. Between general economic hardship, the slaughter laws which have completely devalued horses, exorbitant fuel prices and the increase on the demand in hay, people have to choose between their mortgage payment or horse training- guess which wins? Competitions at all levels have had a huge drop in participation which affects trainers, farriers, sponsors, and others whose business are affected by the horse industry.
2. Q:  What maths do you use everyday within your job?

A:  According to your business plan and strategy will affect how you choose to spend money. It costs a lot of money to maintain anything to do with horses and one must have a budget and “plan” for the daily, weekly and monthly maintenance of their situation. Basic math and daily updating of the books will keep you aware of where you are financially which will then affect how you choose to spend money and make financial decisions.

4. Q:  What courses did you need to take in school to get qualifications?

A:  As I said, here in the US anyone can be a trainer, which has caused a lot of problems for unsuspecting horse owners who get involved with inexperienced “trainers.” You’ll open any horse magazine and get the impression that you need to attend an equine related college in order to work in the industry, but the truth of the matter is you need real life quality experience versus theoretical classroom learning. In the past I had hired people who had graduated from so called horse programs from universities throughout the US and have not been impressed. The more hands on, real life, and varied exposure you have in the horse world the better rounded your education will be which will make you a better trainer. Now obviously if you are looking to focus on a certain aspect of the industry you’d want to be a working student or apprentice under someone who is successful in that area of focus or discipline.
Honestly in terms of education from a university, having a business degree would be most helpful, because you will be running a business and you’ll be selling your product, which will be you.
My personal background includes everything from working at race tracks, hunter/jumper barns, Dressage facilities, apprenticing under Gold Medal Olympians in Three Day Eventing, working on ranches with cowboys and focusing on starting colts, etc. I’ve worked with all breeds of horses, all levels riders, all disciplines, etc. The more varied you are in your exposure and experience the more you have to offer the public as a trainer.

5. Q:  What year level of maths did you complete at school?

A:  In University I completed Calculus II. But that sort of math has been irrelevant in my lifestyle. To me it’s not about the difficulty of the math, rather it’s about understanding what the numbers represent and making sure you can create an appropriate “formula” that is realistic for your business.

6. Q:  Do you use calculators in your job? Which ones? (Basic, Scientific or Graphics)

A:  No I was drilled at a time when you had to be fluent in running numbers either in your head or by long hand.

8. Q:  How old do you think people should start working?

A:  The more experience the better. I left home at 13 to train and compete but that was extreme. You can never get enough experience with the horses and you can never learn enough, even for us professionals, this is an ongoing education process- every horse and student has something to teach YOU.

Q:  If you could also write a breif discription of what I willl need to be able to do to become ahorse trainer, that would be great :)
A:  I think I’ve answered this above, but if you need more information let me know.

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