Horse Job Spotlight: Horse Trainer

There are few horse jobs more well-known than that of the horse trainer. These are the professionals who get horses ready for everything from basic riding to high-level competition, and collectively they possess the most equine knowledge with regard to riding and horsemanship.

If you want to become a horse trainer, you’ll have stiff competition. This is one of the most coveted—and therefore the most saturated—horse jobs in the world. However, if you can offer your clients honest, reliable training services for a reasonable price, you’ll be able to find work. Guaranteed.

Horse Trainer Schedules

This is one of those coveted horse jobs in which the professional is free to set his or her own schedule, within reason. You might have set hours if you work for someone who requires it, but more often you’ll have the freedom to work when you want as long as you get the job done.

Horse trainers must work during daylight hours, for the most part, and may be able to find full-time work. This doesn’t mean you’ll be on a horse’s back for eight hours each day, but it does mean you’ll be working with and around horses for most of those hours. In addition to riding, you’ve got to attend to administrative tasks (e.g., billing, marketing, communicating with clients) as well as chores around the barn.

The precise schedule of a horse trainer depends on the services he or she offers. Some horse trainers will bathe, groom, and medicate their charges in addition to working with them under saddle. This is particularly common if you’re working with babies who need ground training as well as the rest of it.

Horse Trainer Workplace

As is true with many horse jobs, horse training puts the professional in the barn (and outlying areas). The weather is often an issue (hot in summer, cold in winter, wet all year ’round), which is why horse trainers should try to work at a facility that offers an indoor (or at least covered ) arena.

Some horse trainers work in elaborate equestrian facilities, while others train from humbler venues. It depends largely on the type of training the professional is performing. If you’re working with high-dollar show horses, you workplace is likely to be fancier than if you are breaking two-year-olds for auction.

For the most part, horse training involves an agreeable workplace with plenty of people around. It is typically not lonely work, and there are always colleagues around to help if you have questions or if you need to brainstorm on a problem.

Horse Trainer Experience, Education, and Training

There are no specific credentials required of horse trainers. There are plenty of trainers out there with no professional education or certifications who make great livings in their careers, but education certainly doesn’t hurt your chances of success.

A traditional college education is advisable, particularly if you’d like to eventually work for yourself. Classes in business administration, economics, equine science, veterinary science, anatomy, and marketing are all beneficial for horse trainers.

If you are going to take classes, seminars, workshops, or clinics with a professional horse trainer in order to advance your education or career, be cautious. Many of these programs cost thousands of dollars and yield nothing of value, so make sure you know the person who will be delivering the class.

Horse Trainer Responsibilities & Duties

At its core, a horse trainer’s job is to work directly with horses to achieve desired results. However, some horse trainers must attend to other duties on the job that are related to their core purpose.

These might include:

Scheduling and overseeing appointments with veterinarians and farriers
Grooming and/or bathing horses in training
Educating clients about training techniques
Collecting money from clients
Scheduling visits from clients and/or colleagues
Teaching riding lessons
Cleaning stalls, feeding, turning out, and other tasks related to the barn

Every horse training job is different, and it is important to ask prospective employers what will be expected of you. It is equally important to be honest about your skills and education so you aren’t asked to perform a task with which you aren’t familiar.

Horse Trainer Skills

Horse trainers must be kind, efficient, and committed to their work. They should be comfortable working with both people and horses in stressful situations.

One of the main skill sets that many horse trainers lack is the ability to set and assign reasonable goals. As you get more experience under your belt, you’ll get a better feel for reasonable expectations for both horses and clients, but it is extremely important never to overpromise.

Because horse trainers often set their own schedules and work on their own, they must be capable of efficient time management and self-supervision. They should be well-versed in safety procedures when it comes to working with young and unpredictable horses, and they must be willing to follow safety precautions at all times.

If you want to be a horse trainer, you should be physically fit and capable of engaging in hard labor for extended periods of time.

Horse Trainer Employment Prospects

As long as there are people who ride horses, there will be a need for horse trainers. In times of economic peril, horse trainers have more difficulty finding work because people are less likely to spend money on luxuries like horse training. However, this doesn’t mean that the work is fruitless.

It is a good idea for horse trainers to find a steady job and stick with it. Building a loyal client base is paramount, so horse trainers who move around a lot or get bored easily will have difficulty establishing a profitable business. It is much easier to stay in one place and allow your reputation to blossom.

Horse Trainer Earnings

The earning potential for horse trainers is limitless, provided the trainer is good at his job and capable of employing sound business practices. That said, most horse trainers aren’t living in million-dollar houses. The work is hard and often doesn’t pay as well as it should.

This, again, is why staying in one place and nurturing your reputation is important. As demand for your services increases, you can increase your prices accordingly. Horse trainers that are high in demand can make perfectly reasonable livings.

Most horse trainers, offering their services on a monthly basis, can expect to earn between $200 and $2,000 per month, per horse. As you can see there is a wide disparity between low- and high-earning horse trainers, so keep working toward developing a reputation.

Keep in mind that, if you’re working for someone else, you will probably not get to keep everything you earn. You might earn a salary directly from your employer if you are classified as an employee, or you might have to pay a grounds fee if you are an independent contractor.

A Horror Story (And a Warning)

Many young equestrian professionals would do anything to work with horses. They’re willing to “pay their dues” mucking stalls, cleaning tack, and attending to any other task if it might help them accomplish their goals down the road.

This is a great attitude, one of hard work and perseverance, but it can also get you in trouble.

I was one of those young equestrian professionals

Straight out of school, I landed a job teaching riding lessons at a local stable, but it didn’t work out. The owner’s methods were much different from mine, and eventually I moved on. Frustrated by my lack of prospects, I took to the Internet, searching for another job—it didn’t matter where. I just wanted to continue working with horses.

I found such a job within a few days of initiating my search. It was for a riding instruction and horse training position in a little town called Cave City, Kentucky.

Physically, I wasn’t ready to go back to horse training. I have osteoporosis, and it was stupid to think I could jump back in the saddle, working with babies and problem horses. But this was my chance, and I was willing to risk physical injury to achieve my dreams. Plus, my future boss’s description of the property and facilities dazzled me.

So I jumped on it

My boyfriend (who is now my husband) and I packed up my Ford Explorer with all the possessions we could fit, and we drove fourteen hours to Cave City, Kentucky. The owners of the farm sent us sufficient cash to cover gas and food on our trip, but we hardly had any other money between us.

We left at 2 a.m. and arrived at about 4 p.m. on an August afternoon. During the last few minutes of our trek up I-65, I suffered my first panic attack. I couldn’t breathe and I felt like the Explorer was closing in on me. Right then, I felt we’d made the wrong choice.

But we’d come too far to back out then.

We’d been told that, in addition to our salary, we would be provided with a house on the property. We were told that the facilities included a round pen, an arena, and a host of other amenities. All the pictures we’d seen of the farm were absolutely gorgeous.

And pictures can be deceiving

The farm was located in a “holler” between two ridges, just outside town. As we drove down into it, I felt my heart sticking in my throat.

Dozens upon dozens of dirty, haggard horses watched our arrival from tiny paddocks surrounded by eight-foot chain link fences. They stood in soggy mud that, in some places, came up to the middle of their cannon bones, and much of their pasture space was littered with planks of old rotted wood, chunks of unidentifiable metal, and lengths of PVC pipe. Most of the animals wore halters, which could easily snag on the chain link fencing, and I saw more than a few unhealed lacerations (not to mention scars).

The farm consisted of two parcels of property divided by a public road. Of the hundred acres my new boss had boasted, only four or five were usable; the rest were covered with woods that cascaded down from the ridges on both sides.

Our “house” was a broken-down shack at the center of the property.

There was, indeed, a round pen, but it sat on unlevel sand at the center of one of the aforementioned paddocks. I never asked, but I assume that the occupied paddock was supposed to double as an “arena,” never mind that it was uneven as well and not covered with sand.

So there we were

Stuck in Tiny Town, Kentucky (a dry county, by the way), with no money and no resources, and we had no choice but to make the best of our situation.

There was no “riding instruction” job. It turned out that none of the horses on the farm had been trained at all—most wouldn’t even lead. The owners wanted me to train all 80+ head so they could be used in a trail riding business for Cave City tourists. None of this had been mentioned to me during our earlier conversations.

A Tragedy

On our third day at the farm, I noticed one of the colts was lame. He was maybe three months old, and he was pastured in a muck-filled paddock at the edge of the property with his mother. My boss called the vet, who at first could find nothing wrong with the colt.

I suggested perhaps the vet should look at the colt’s feet. He was, after all, standing in mud, manure, and urine all day long, so it wasn’t too far a leap to suggest he suffered from thrush. Since the colt had never been handled, he put up quite a fuss when the vet tried to examine the bottoms of his hooves, and the colt wound up on the ground.

With a broken shoulder.

The colt had to be euthanized, and the vet suggested the animal’s body be left in the pasture overnight so the mare could “come to grips” with her loss. Next morning, my husband (then boyfriend), had to drag the poor colt’s stiff carcass out of that cesspool and bury it.

Talk about a rude introduction to the horse world.

Getting out

Looking back, we should have called the authorities. They probably wouldn’t have done anything about it because the horses were being fed, but they were living in deplorable conditions. My husband and I lasted a few months before we were able to put together enough money to go home.

During those months there, we worked with horses who had hardly experienced human contact, and we did our best to improve things—though we didn’t make much of an impact. Our main jobs were to get up in the morning and feed, then to feed in the afternoon, and I refused to ride horses when there wasn’t a safe place. My boss wanted me to ride on the road that ran through the farm.

The horses ate from communal buckets, which means some of them didn’t eat at all, and day before we left, my husband saw our boss try to pull a mare out of her paddock with a rope and his pick-up truck. It was a terrifying (and illuminating) experience, and part of the reason I started Riding Instructor University.

You Just Never Know

If you don’t have the capital to start your own horse business, you’re probably looking for gainful employment in the horse industry. This is fine, but you have to be careful.

Before you take a job (particularly one that requires relocation):

Request references from current/past employees and/or clients.
Visit the property and conduct your own in-person investigation.
Verify memberships to professional organizations.
Ask about farm policies, practices, and philosophies.
Look them up via the Better Business Bureau.
Get an employment contract in writing.

Trust me, you don’t want to wind up in the situation described above.

7 Ways to Spruce Up the Barn

No one wants to look at overgrown lawns, out-of-control bushes, peeling paint, or broken fencing. Neglecting the aesthetic aspects of your barn will turn away prospective clients and give current clients a reason to look elsewhere.

If you need to spruce up the barn, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars. Following are seven easy ways to give your horse business a facelift without going into debt.

1- Mow and/or re-sod. And I’m not just talking about the pastures where the horses graze. Focus on giving the grounds around your barn a healthy lawn, as this will give the impression that you care about the little things. Then, once it looks nice, commit yourself to mowing, fertilizing, and watering on a regular basis to maintain the appeal.

2- Paint everything. The barn, the fences, the railings, the shed—give every exposed piece of wood a new life with a fresh coat of paint. Use durable materials that will last, and ask for volunteers among your clients so you don’t have to pay workers for the help.

3- Plant flowers. Most barns have bushes and trees, but flowers add an extra pop of color that can make a distinct difference in how your barn looks upon approach. Find flowers that are native to your area and that don’t require much upkeep to stay alive.

4- Buy a sign. This is one area where I recommend spending some money. Have a professional sign made for your barn that gives the name, contact information, services offered, and a pleasing graphic. Make sure it’s large enough to be noticed and put it in a visible location.

5- Clear the cobwebs. Clumps of dirt, dust, cobwebs, and other matter can build up around the barn, and it makes everything look dingy. Take a trusty broom and sweep from the top down, then go back over metal parts with a cleaning solution. Do this once every six months at least to cut down on the debris.

6- Establish uniformity. Purchase identical tack boxes to put in front of all the stalls rather than letting your clients bring their own. Create name plaques for all the horses and hang them on the same place in front of every stall. Install blanket racks, halter hooks, and other hardware on the stalls. Uniformity is pleasing to the eye.

7- Hide the clutter. And finally, get rid of the clutter that makes your barn look trashy and uninviting. Store, give away, or throw out broken equipment, and store working equipment in sheds or carports. Pick up halters, lead ropes, trash, and other equipment and find a place to store it all. Build cabinets for supplies. When things aren’t lying around in plain view, the whole barn looks better.

I’m not saying these tips will make your barn look new, but they will show you care. Keep up with the appearance of your barn, and your clients will have more confidence in your ability to provide for them and their horses.

Lightning Safety For Horse And Rider

Lightning safety rules apply to all outdoor enthusiasts, not just horseback riders. If you are caught outside during a lightning storm, there are steps you can take to keep your horse and yourself safer. But understand that these recommendations will improve your safety, not guarantee it.

1. Before you start out, know the weather forecast. If there is a high chance of thunderstorms, stay home.
2. Know the weather patterns of the area. In mountainous areas, thunderstorms typically develop in the early afternoon, so plan to ride early in the day and be home by noon.
3. If practical, carry a portable Weather Radio.

If you are caught in the open without access to a fully enclosed shelter and lightning is occurring within 5 miles, stop riding. Do not try to outrun the storm on flat, open ground.

1. If you’re on high ground, get off your horse and head for low ground. Don’t go into stream beds for the lowest area; the lower one-third of sloping land or hills is best.
2. Tie your horse to a bush, not a tree. Move at least 50′ away. Do not seek shelter under tall isolated trees.
3. Remove and/or stay away from metal objects such as fences, poles and backpacks. Metal is an excellent conductor.
4. Crouch on your haunches. Make as little contact with the ground as possible. This is known as the lightning safe position.
5. Stay at least 15 feet apart from other members of your group so the lightning won’t travel between you if hit.

If you’re caught at a show or campsite and your trailer and tow vehicle are available, take these steps:

1. Put your horses inside and put the ramp up. Be sure the safety chains are not touching the ground.
2. Get in the tow vehicle.

Be very sure that nothing is touching the tow vehicle or trailer. Common conductors are metal chairs, lead ropes and buckets. The only thing touching the ground should be the tires, which insulate the vehicles.
Other lightning safety tips:

Do not seek shelter under partially enclosed buildings.
Stay away from water.

The 30/30 rule: To estimate the distance between you and the lightning, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder. Thirty seconds or less means you’re within the danger zone (one mile for every five seconds). Wait until there is a thirty minute interval between flash and bang before venturing out.

How To Take A Horse Respiratory Rate

The average horse respiratory rate of an adult equine at rest is 8-15 breaths per minute. An increased respiration rate may indicate fever or pain. It can also increase due to exercise or hot, humid weather.

What You Will Need:

Watch with a second hand or stopwatch Stethoscope for method 2.

Method 1:

1. Watch or feel your horse’s ribcage/belly for one minute.
2. Count one inhale and one exhale as one breath.
3. If you are having trouble seeing the ribcage move, you can place your hand in front of your horse’s nostril to feel the exhale.

Method 2:

If you have a stethoscope, you can use it to take the respiration rate. This can be helpful for hearing mucus or obstructions in the windpipe.

1. Place the bell of the sethoscope in the center of your horse’s throat, 6 to 8 inches below his throatlatch.
2. Listen to the air rush by as he inhales and exhales.
3. Count the number of breaths in a 15-second period and multiply by 4 for breaths-per-minute. Watch abdomen for stressful breathing.

Rapid breathing at rest requires veterinary attention.

Other tips:

Respiration rate should never exceed the pulse rate.
A horse should spend equal time inhaling and exhaling.

How To Spot Equine Dehydration

Equine dehydration is more common in the summer, but it can happen at other times of the year, too. Intense activity in hot, humid weather is the most common cause, but an inactive horse in a hot, poorly ventilated stall or without access to sufficient water (think frozen water buckets!) can become dehydrated, too.

There are several ways to tell if a horse is dehydrated:

1. The pinch test: Pull out a pinch of skin on your horse’s neck or shoulder. Notice how quickly it springs back. If it springs right back into place, he’s not very dehydrated. If he is moderately dehydrated, the skin will stay elevated a few seconds after you pull it out. The more dehydrated your horse is, the longer the skin will stay elevated.

2. Check his gums and mucous membranes inside the nose and mouth. Dry, red mucous membranes in the nose and mouth are a sign of dehydration. Also look for dark red gums.

3. Check your horse’s eyes. Are they dull and glazed? Are the eyelids wrinkled?

4. Perform a capillary refill test: Press your finger into your horse’s gum just above his front teeth. The spot will turn white. Normal color should return within one to four seconds. In a stressed and dehydrated horse, the spot will stay pale and bloodless longer. The more dehydrated the horse, the slower the capillary refill time.

5. Other signs include thick, lathered sweat, shallow panting and an increased temperature (over 102F) that doesn’t decrease after exertion. Take your horse’s temperature safely with these tips.

If you suspect that your horse is dehydrated, take the following steps.

1. If dehydration is heat related, move the horse into the shade. Cool him with a fan if possible.
2. Moderate dehydration can be reversed by allowing your horse unlimited access to water and electrolyte supplementation.
3. Severe and dangerous dehydration can best be reversed by giving electrolyte fluid intravenously. Contact your vet if your horse is severely dehydrated.

Complications of severe equine dehydration can include exertional tying up, impaction colic and thumps, all of which require immediate veterinary attention. Keep your horse in good shape and pay attention to the signs and symptoms of equine dehydration, no matter what the season.

How To Pull Horseshoes

Learn to pull horseshoes for your horse’s safety. A loose horse shoe needs to be removed. If you’ve noticed that a shoe is wiggling or clinking when your horse takes a step, you’ll need to remove it. Don’t worry…with the right tools and technique, you can do it!

If your horse is showing signs of lameness, call your vet. Your horse could be injured.

If the shoe is askew, pull it. Here’s what you’ll need:

Gloves to protect your hands
Shoe puller, hammer and clinch cutter
Hoof boot or slipper

1. Lay out your tools where you can reach them, but your horse can’t step on them.
2. Put your horse on cross ties or have a helper hold him.
3. Straighten the nail ends. This will let you pull the nail through the hoof without damage. To do this, put the narrow blade of the clinch cutter against the bend in the clinch. Bend them open or cut them off.
4. Pick up your horse’s hoof. Pull the nail heads out with the shoe puller. Remove the nails that you can (some won’t cooperate) and discard them safely.
5. Loosen the shoe heels. Slip the shoe puller’s jaws between the shoe and the hoof’s heel. Push the tool inward, towards the center of the sole. This is important — prying outward can cause damage to the hoof wall!
6. After you’ve loosened both heels, pry the toe loose, using the same inward push.
7. Repeat this inward prying wherever there are nails then remove the shoe.
8. Put on a hoof boot or make a hoof slipper.
9. To make a hoof slipper, center a wad of padding over the sole. Wrap the edges up around the hoof wall. Hold it in place with an elastic bandage then cover it with duct tape.
10. Confine your horse in a well bedded stall or grassy paddock. Make an appointment with the farrier.

How To Listen To Horse Gut Sounds

Listen to horse gut sounds — there’s information in those gurgling sounds coming from your horse’s intestines and stomach. Dramatically increased or decreased gut sounds can indicate colic, so listen to your horse’s belly…it might be telling you something!

Practice checking gut sounds when your horse is healthy. That way, you’ll know what’s normal for your horse.

1. Have an assistant hold your horse on a lead rope or tie her in cross ties.
2. Place a stethoscope or your ear against your horse’s belly in front of her flanks.
2. Listen 3 to 5 minutes for a complete cycle of sounds. You should hear two to four quiet gurgles per minute and a loud grumble every three to four minutes.
3. Repeat this procedure on the opposite side. Each side of the horse will have distinct gut sounds.
4. Listen for an increase or decrease in frequency and intensity of gut sounds; this may indicate a problem. Increased gut sounds can mean your horse is suffering from spasmodic or gas colic. A decrease or complete lack of gut sounds can indicate an impaction colic.
5. Call your veterinarian if changes in gut sounds are accompanied by symptoms such as distress, pain, diarrhea, fever or loss of appetite.

Get familiar with your horse’s gut sounds. Learn to recognize any differences or changes so you can spot a dangerous horse colic in its early stages. Early action can improve the outcome of colic.

How To Increase Equine Water Consumption

The best way to combat horse dehydration is to increase equine water consumption.

During hot, humid weather, your horse may not drink enough water to prevent dehydration. Hard work in hot, humid conditions will lead to fluid loss, but even an idle horse in a hot, unventilated stall is at risk.

Here’s how to drive your horse to drink.

1. Make sure he has enough water. An idle horse needs a minimum of ten gallons of water a day and an active horse may need up to 25 gallons.
2. Be sure your horse’s water is clean and easy to access. Leaves, bugs and slime won’t encourage your horse.
3. Soak his hay before feeding. One wet-down flake of hay can absorb 1-2 gallons of water. Well-soaked hay can make a real impact on his fluid consumption.
4. Offer fresh grass, watery bran mash and moisture rich treats such as carrots, apples or watermelon. Juicy and delicious!
5. Allow your horse access to a clean salt block. A bit of natural salt will increase equine water consumption.
6. Combine 1 teaspoon salt with 2 tablespoons of applesauce. Put it in a syringe or deworming tube and shoot it in his mouth. This salty-sweet combo will stimulate thirst.
7. Try squirting 1 tablespoon of corn syrup into his mouth. It will coat his tongue and compel her to drink.
8. If his water is very cold, try adding some warm water to the bucket.
9. Some horses don’t like “different” water. If you’re going on the road with your horse, try to add a little apple juice, sugar beet water or apple cider vinegar to the water a few days prior to travel. When you add it to the “new” water at your destination, it may help to disguise the flavor.
10. Exercise! A 15-minute walk or a light ride will stimulate thirst. Check with your vet before exercising if he is recovering from horse dehydration.

Moderate dehydration can be reversed by allowing the horse unlimited access to water and electrolyte supplementation.

Severe and dangerous dehydration can best be reversed by giving electrolyte fluid intravenously. Contact your vet if your horse is severely dehydrated.

How To Determine Horse Weight

It’s important to know an approximate horse weight so that you can administer the right dose of medication, estimate food and water needs and monitor your horse’s overall condition throughout her life.

You can use a commercial weight tape, but we’ve found this method to be a bit more accurate.

You’ll need:

• A tailor’s measuring tape. These are available from fabric stores or in the notions section of many stores
• A rigid tape measure or wooden folding ruler at least 6′ long
• A calculator (Unless you’re a math whiz. We’re not.)
• Paper & pen

1. Measure (in inches) the circumference of your horse at her girth. Run the tape measure behind her elbows and straight over her withers. Record this measurement.
Girth: ______

2. Using the rigid tape measure or folding ruler, measure (again in inches) your horse’s torso. Measure from the point of her shoulder to the point of her hip. Write this down, too.
Length: ______

Now for the math part.
Multiply girth x girth
Multiply that number by length
Divide that number by 330. That’s your horse’s body weight.

For example, if your horse has a girth measurement of 71 and a length of 64, your calculation would look like this:

Step 1: 71 x 71 = 5,041 (girth x girth)
Step 2: 5,041 x 64 = 322,624 [(girth x girth) x length]
Step 3: 322,624/330 = 977 pounds [(girth x girth) x length]/330
It looks more math-y than it really is. With a calculator, it’s very easy.