Careers With Animals: Horse Trainer

Daily exercise.
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Horse trainers are responsible for training horses to perform specific behaviors in response to a rider’s cues.

Duties

Horse trainers are responsible for riding horses and training them to perform desired movements and behaviors. A trainer’s duties may vary, but, in general, they are responsible for planning training exercises, breaking horses to saddle and bridle, desensitizing horses to unfamiliar sights and sounds, utilizing various training aids and specialized tack when appropriate, treating minor injuries, and consulting with veterinarians when more advanced care is needed.

Trainers may also compete with horses in training at shows to help the horses gain experience and to qualify them for awards or other recognition that will increase their value. If traveling to events, trainers usually trailer the horses and assist with their show ring preparation.

While a large portion of a horse trainer’s duties will involve the trainer riding the horse, the horse’s owner may also be involved with some riding activities. This is especially common towards the end of the horse’s training process, as the trainer will want to teach the owner how to maintain the progress that has been made.

Trainers may also be responsible for scheduling routine services such as farrier and veterinary appointments while the horse is under their supervision. Depending on staffing at their facility, the trainer may also be responsible for feeding, mucking out stalls, and other general horsemanship tasks.

It is not uncommon for trainers to work five to seven days a week, though often they will often only spend a few hours training each day. The majority of a trainer’s day is spent outdoors in changing weather conditions and temperatures, though some trainers benefit from the use of a covered arena at their location.

Travel may be required to transport horses to shows or other events.

Career Options

Horse trainers may either be self-employed or work on staff at a training center, riding stable or similar equestrian complex. Most specialize by working with one style of riding that is their particular area of expertise (such as reining, saddle seat, hunter/jumper, dressage, or driving). An additional specialty area, racehorse training, focuses on preparing Thoroughbreds or other racing breeds for competition at the track.

Some horse trainers have other responsibilities, acting as riding instructors or barn managers in addition to their primary training activities. If trainers have multiple roles at their facility they can expect to earn higher end salaries due to the additional responsibilities.

Training & Licensing

No formal degree is required to become a horse trainer, but most trainers have significant practical experience working with horses before pursuing this career on a full-time basis. Many trainers work their way up in the industry, starting out as grooms, riders, or assistant trainers. An apprenticeship with a well known professional enhances a candidate’s skills and reputation, so this should be pursued whenever possible.

There are quite a few schools that offer certification in horsemanship and training. Well-known programs include the Lyons Legacy trainer program and the Parelli natural horse training program.

A degree in equine business is always a plus, as trainers are running their own small businesses. A good working knowledge of computerized billing and record keeping programs would also be beneficial.

Salary

Horse trainers may bill owners for each individual ride or at a weekly or monthly rate per horse.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separate out salary data for the specific career category of horse trainers, but the mean average salary for the general category of all animal trainers was $30,510 per year ($14.67 per hour) in the most recent salary survey conducted in May of 2010. The highest 10 percent of all animal trainers earned more than $53,580 ($25.76 per hour) each year.

Major equine employment agency Equistaff.com reported an average salary for horse trainers of $40,115 in December of 2012. Two-thirds of trainers received additional perks in addition to salary. Commonly reported perks included free housing, medical or dental insurance, use of a farm vehicle, and overtime pay. It is also not uncommon for horse trainers to receive free board for a personal horse.

Job Outlook

Horse trainers with many successful “graduates” competing in the show or performance arenas tend to have a steady stream of clients approaching them for training services. New entrants to the field who have apprenticed with well-known trainers or programs will have an increased chance of success, as they will be able to advertise that prestigious affiliation and possibly get a few referrals from their mentor.