A few months ago I was asked to be a part of a round table discussion with a group of Equine Studies majors. We were there to give them some “real life” perspective as to what being a trainer would be like, how to proceed and essentially give advice from our point of view. In this article, I am going to explore this same topic in the hopes that it will help any aspiring professionals. There are many questions you need to ask yourself when making choices. I am going to list some questions that I hope you will ask yourself, and let that guide you. What Kind Of Person Am I? Now if this isn't a complicated question I don't know what is, but it is one worth asking. Are you an introvert? Do you prefer to be the decision maker or do you work better as a part of a team? Are you front and center in a classroom or are you in the back cringing when you have to speak in front of others? Are you a wonderful rider but balk at the idea of teaching? Do you bond quickly and deeply with the horses in your life? Are you a brave rider or more timid? Are you as happy on the ground with your horse as you are riding? Physically, can you imagine your body staying healthy and sound riding eight horses a day, five to six days a week, for the next twenty to thirty years? Can you multitask easily? Can you handle criticism, and public failure? Constant pressure? Do you want to run your own business or be a part of a larger company?
The answers to these questions will guide you as to where you will be happiest. And try not to conform your answers to what you want your career to be, instead really look into yourself and find what lifestyle will make you happiest over decades. Below are some career paths possible and some of the pressures and characteristics that are useful.
Sales Barn Rider: In this profession you must be able to ride well, ride many different types of horse and make them all look their best. If you are someone who bonds deeply and quickly with the horses in your life, this might be a difficult profession for you. You will have a chance to ride some excellent horses, but they will all leave you for their new homes. This impermanence is difficult for those who enter the horse world in order to bond and grow with your four legged partners. As well, if you are the sales rider, you might be expected to ride green and spirited horses. If you are timid and this does not appeal to you, acknowledge it. If you want to ride all sorts of different horses and are a personality that can handle seeing them leave you, sales riding might be an option.
Head/Show Groom: This profession demands hard work, multitasking and an ability to handle pressure. If you are a strong personality that can take charge, who has a meticulous eye for detail, time management and calm under pressure, then show grooming might be for you. Often times you will be in charge of others and must delegate assignments. You must be on the road, traveling often, comfortable with hauling horses and dealing with emergencies. This is a great career choice for those who quickly get tired with the same old thing every day. There are always new challenges and schedules, new horses and clients. Many times head grooms are in charge of the management of the horses at home as well.
Top Rider: In every discipline there are those who are at the top. They are the ones you see in magazines, who are representing our country and who, chances are, you idolized growing up. Most people come into the profession wanting to be like a certain top rider. But being in the spot light is not all flowers and applause. You must be comfortable with constant pressure and criticism. The more public you are, the more your actions come under scrutiny. And the disappointment if you are unable to represent well is massive. You must also be honest about your level of talent in the saddle. Do you think you have what it takes to compete against the world's best? If not, are you willing to make the sacrifices to get there? Move away from friends and family to take advantage of riding opportunities? Work yourself to the bone? Learn everything you can for years? And then after all that, will you be able to handle the fact that you might not make it to the top, because of finances, the sponsor pulling out, or just the luck of the draw? Will you understand that all those sacrifices don't entitle you to a place on the team?
Equine Physiotherapist: If you enjoy working on the ground with horses, do not want the pressure of a show environment (though they will often work on horses at shows) and want to use your skills to maximize a horse's performance then being a physiotherapist might be for you. Depending on the state, I believe there are limitations as to what you may practice (aka chiropractics, acupuncture versus acupressure etc.), but there are a huge number of option that a equine physical therapist may practice. You may choose only one, like massage for example, or you may bundle rehabilitation techniques to offer a larger spectrum of services. You may also choose to run a rehabilitation facility. These people are sensitive, able to perceive tensions in the musculature of the horse that even their owners are oblivious to. They can see how certain muscles are being overbuilt in order to compensate for underused sections and know how to resolve the problem. They enjoy working with the structure of the horse to encourage maximum health and performance.
Children's Instructor: Working with children is a tremendous responsibility, and teaching them to ride safely while maximizing their learning is an art unto itself. A great child's instructor should be patient, innovative but above all else, enjoy children! You will be there for the most important part of any person's riding career: the beginning. These children will remember you for the rest of their lives and the things you teach them will carry on to the horse people they become. Never condescend or pass off a children's instructor as being unimportant. They are building the next generation of riders and the next generation of professionals.
Show Manager: If you enjoy being in the center of a flurry of activity, have ever considered event planning as a career and are methodical and organized, then show management might be a field for you to consider. You will be firefighting last minute issues, organizing volunteers and dealing with nervous (and sometimes angry) show entrants. But you also create an event that brings happiness to many, many people. Horse shows are the pinnacle of many rider's efforts, a chance for them to prove their efforts. As you get more experienced in the field, the events you can manage get more and more prominent until you could be organizing Olympic qualifying shows.
These are a few of many, many options within the horse industry. Each facet, whether it be breeder, farrier, vet technician or judge, brings with it its own unique set of challenges and demands. The type of person you are will dictate to you where you will be happiest within the horse world. And that is not to say there will not be challenges along the way, for example if your dream is to work with military veterans and horses, but cannot be around men, well, you are going to have to overcome this challenge.
I ask all of the professionals who have read this article to ad their experiences and advice to the comments section. I have only added a few professions within the article and would love to have responses from professionals in different fields with their experiences and challenges. It would be wonderful for any young person out there to find this resource and have an overabundance of advice.