So You Want To Work With Horses?
I am approached all the time from people looking for jobs or advice on how to get a job in the equestrian industry and I'm always more than happy to share my thoughts and advice on the subject. I think the reality of what it takes to succeed in our industry can often be a surprise to young equestrians coming through so I hope month's blog will help you discover how to get started in the equestrian industry.
Working with horses is AMAZING!
There are so many things to get excited about when you start out working with horses….You get to spend all day at the yard, playing with ponies, sniffing their sweet smell, riding out, maybe competing or helping out at events, watching the horses in your care developing in their work - physically growing stronger as well as your bond with them. You're not stuck behind a desk in a lego office block breathing in recycled air but rather you're out in the fresh air, being physical and get to come home completely satisfied with your day's work knowing you've made a difference and a little smug from spending the day doing what you love. (Unlike your friends who are at best indifferent about their job that was chosen purely on the basis that it pays the bills.)
You reason to yourself that you're fully aware of the downsides of working in this industry - most days are not balmy summer days, you come home cold, dirty, smelly and tired, you're paid less than your friends and you work longer hours. You know all of this but still you wouldn't trade your job for anything. Except, that isn't the half of it......
But....(and here's the honest truth) It's REALLY tough
Our industry is tough, often vicious, extremely competitive, still lacking (despite some great work to promote better practice) in wide-spead professionalism and too-often employing people on less than minimum wage. Sadly, it's just not enough to just love horses in order to survive in this industry, equally as vital is your commitment to becoming really good at what you do, whether that's as a rider, groom, photographer, coach etc. You need to (very quickly!) develop strength of character, enthusiasm, a 'can-do' and 'will-do' attitude, you need to work efficiently and with skill, you need to be able to do multiple tasks at any given time and you need to be meticulous in the detail of your job to ensure everything is done to the very highest standard - for your own sense of pride and the welfare of the horses in your care, even if your employer doesn't require it.
The reality is there are fewer horsey jobs available than people who want them so in order to get and keep your dream job you need to stand apart and shine. This is where the industry can become extremely competitive and unpleasant. As an employer, I'm always far more impressed with someone who can shine on their own merits without bringing anyone else down in the process of elevating themselves, in fact I'm immediately turned off by any whiff of that, but working in the industry at every level, you have to be able to cope with others around you taking the other path.
Still want to work with horses? Ok, read on......
So, you still want to work in the equestrian industry? Great, you're already fore-warned therefor fore-armed to deal with some of the most unpleasant parts of the horsey-world! Here are my top tips on getting started.....
1. Seek out opportunities to build your skills from anyone you know or admire in the industry - offer to work for free, help them out in any way or see if they'll let you shadow them for a day to see what their job is like. Opportunities are rarely offered to you out of the blue and guaranteed not to find you if you don't put yourself out there. I know from experience that you'll be surprised how many times people will say 'yes' if you pitch it right. Everyone is busy, and quite often a task is much quicker completed when you do it yourself rather than showing someone else how to do it, so make an offer of help that is equally beneficial to them as it is you. Don't just say "Can I come and hang out for the day?" instead say "Is there something I can come along and help with - mucking out, tacking up, filling haynets, holding your equipment" etc, whatever you can imagine might actually be useful to the person you are approaching.
2. Accept all opportunities you are offered even if they're not exactly what you want to do. There is always something to learn or take away from an experience and making connections is always good - in this industry who you know is extremely valuable.
3. Turn up with the right attitude. Be prepared to get stuck in with whatever task you're given - a half-hearted attempt at something will immediately cause a potential employer to write you off. Much has been written and said about young people these days supposedly not being prepared to start at the bottom. Though I'm not sure this is any more the case than it's ever been, prove people wrong, show them you appreciate the benefit of starting at the bottom and learning from every experience.
4. Promote yourself through whatever means available to you. Never before have you been able to market yourself so easily so start a blog to show your personality and approach to horsemanship, use social media wisely (employers will 100% check you out online before agreeing to let you in!), get a friend to help you create video content for a YouTube channel that promotes your skills and abilities. More and more, people are able to use these channels to generate freelance work for themselves or use them to promote themselves to prospective employers.
5. Never stop learning! Read/watch/listen/visit whatever you can get your hands on and develop your own sense of style and philosophy about your chosen area of interest. There is a phenomenal amount of free content available online from some great sources but there's also a considerable amount of rubbish - make up your own mind about what's worth watching or reading but learn from the good and the bad.
6. Build on your social skills as well as your equestrian skills. Learn to build good relationships with people - you don't have to like everyone but try to be on good terms with as many as possible. Resist the temptation to talk badly about others - very often they will find out and even if they don't, it doesn't reflect well on you anyway. Be confident, friendly and willing to try and help others who are struggling - not only is that just a nicer way to live, employers want to share their time with nice people!
Making a living through working with horses, for me, is genuinely a privilege and to wake up (very early!) each morning and do what I love with my equine-friends is literally, a dream come true. It hasn't come easily though - it's taken determination, soul-searching and sacrifice but with it, it has brought real pride in my work and great character-building. I would 100% recommend a career in the equestrian industry - it can bring many rewards (though rarely financial!) for those that are suited to it.
Let me know what you think and what your experiences of working in the equestrian industry have been like.