By Liv Gude of Professional Equine Grooms, special contributor to Heels Down Magazine
How do you feel about the following luxuries:
Having a flexible schedule?
Meeting friends for dinner?
Free weekends to do what you like?
Air conditioning and heat?
What about these opportunities:
Doing things that you think are beneath you?
Walking, and sometimes sprinting, 20,000 to 40,000 (or more) steps a day – often with something heavy in your hands or attached to you?
Questioning if that weird smell is in the stall or you?
Never having clean nails?
Letting your car be a shavings/hay/barn dirt transport vehicle?
Working in the horse industry means giving up the first set of luxuries and replacing with the second set of opportunities.
There are gobs of amazing opportunities (with the definition of opportunity meaning hard work, not luck) in the horse industry to become whatever you like. But there are demands, too.
If you want to become anything in life, you will need to work your butt off. This is not exclusive to the horse industry. What makes the horse industry different is that we spend most of our days covered in sweat and dirt.
One of the keys to finding success in the horse industry is to be vigilant and knowledgeable about what is legal and what’s not. For example, it is legal to be classified as an employee when you are performing work. It is not legal to be paid cash under the table with no taxes paid. It is legal to have worker’s compensation insurance. It is not legal to be labeled a working student and be paid in lessons without also paying taxes on the value of those lessons. Therefore, you should learn the employment laws for the state you work in.
It will also behoove you to have a certain ability to put yourself first. You may find the dream job with the Big Name Trainer that will catapult you to stardom. Super! Just be sure you are treated legally, fairly, and with respect. It’s hard to set boundaries when you have stars in your eyes. Constantly working on your “day off”, not having time for lunch, being yelled at, and many other much worse things are all examples of disrespect. Respect yourself enough to set boundaries. No horse has ever died from a dirty stall or 10 more minutes waiting for turnout because you ate a sandwich.
Most importantly, you will only make it in the horse industry if you want to learn, if you actively seek out learning opportunities, and if you’re examining the horse industry from all angles. You will never get into the Grand Prix ring if you don’t know how to pull a shoe, braid a mane, know the FCC regulations on Instagram posts that promote sponsors, have knowledge about how to keep books on a business, care for a horse with a fever, or the rules about hind boot weight in the FEI ring.
Top riders are horse people, not just riders. They also know how to run a business. Your years doing the grunt work is really just years of learning what it takes in disguise. So you have to scrub the cross ties with a toothbrush? Better do it when the farrier or vet is there so you can ask questions.