Essential Skills for Working with Horses

Stable hand grooms a white horse
Stable hand grooms a white horse. Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

There are many equine career paths that may be of interest to career seekers such as riding instructor, groom, veterinarian, farm manager, trainer, and countless more.  There are also several key skills that all horse industry professionals should possess.  Here are eight of the most critical skills and abilities for those hoping to find work in the equine industry:

Basic Horse Handling Skills

All equine professionals should be comfortable working around horses in a hands-on capacity.

  Basic skills should include haltering, leading, picking out hooves, bathing, blanketing, wrapping legs, and cooling horses out after a workout.  It is highly beneficial if the worker has gained diverse experience working with horses of different ages and breeds.  Basic handling skills are the foundation for all interactions with horses and these skills abilities can only be developed over time.

Knowledge of Proper Grooming Techniques

Grooming is a very important part of equine care and maintenance.  All equestrians should be familiar with the different grooming equipment used on horses (including the curry comb, mane comb, soft bristle brush, firm bristle brush, hoof pick, and sweat scraper).  It is also beneficial for equestrians to be able to operate body clippers to trim excess hair, especially if they are working in the showing industry where careful grooming is highly valued.  Proper grooming keeps a horse’s coat healthy, and the close observation of the horse during the grooming process can lead to early detection of potential health issues.

Recognition of Health Issues

Horses have a particular knack for injuring themselves on a frequent basis, and it is fairly common for equine professionals to see a variety of cuts, abrasions, leg injuries, and colic cases (colic is an event of severe abdominal pain that often requires veterinary treatment).

  Those working with horses should be able to judge the severity of an injury, deciding whether a vet should be called or if the injury can be handled by the farm staff.  Staff members should also be able to detect small changes in each horse’s behavior or eating habits that could indicate the start of a problem.

Administration of Basic Health Treatments

Individuals working in the horse industry should be able to apply leg wraps, treat small wounds, give oral medications, and complete other basic health care tasks without assistance.  Those working specifically in equine health career paths (such as equine veterinary technicians) should be able to give injections, collect blood, and perform more advanced medical treatments.

Recognition of Behavioral Signals

Horses give many signals that can telegraph their impending behavior.  Handlers should always pay careful attention to the horse’s ears.  The position of the ears can indicate aggression (when flattened or “pinned back” against the head and neck), fixed interest or fear (when pricked sharply forward), and distraction (when swiveling back and forth).  Other areas of the body that can hint at behavioral changes include teeth, legs, and the positioning of the head and neck.

Knowledge of Conformation and Anatomy

Equine professionals should have a basic knowledge of equine anatomy and what a well-conformed horse looks like.  At the most general level, a groom should know the basic points of a horse, focusing especially on the legs and hooves (areas that frequently require wrapping or other special attention).

Familiarity With Basic Riding and Training Techniques

While some equine careers do not require any riding or training ability, it is still important that workers in the equine industry have a general knowledge and appreciation of riding and training techniques.  Those seeking riding-intensive positions (such as dude ranch wrangler) should have exceptionally strong riding skills.  Those seeking trainer positions should have knowledge of positive conditioning techniques, equine behavior, and industry performance standards.

Ability to Communicate With Other Industry Professionals

All equine workers should have the ability to communicate clearly with others in the equine industry (such as veterinarians, grooms, and trainers) to ensure that the needs of the horses are met in a timely and efficient manner.  The coordination of equine care should always be a priority for all industry workers.