So, You Want A Career As A Horse Trainer?

Things To Consider If You Are Thinking Of Becoming A Horse Trainer

Written By Chris Cervantes

You have been riding for years and now think you want a career as a horse trainer.  Do you have a real idea of what the position entails?  Chris Cervantes, professional trainer offers some words of wisdom about becoming a horse trainer.

Chris Cervantes riding his thoroughbred horse, Roxy near Los Angeles CA

The Days of “No Degree Required” Are No More

Before there were equine college programs and trainer certifications, equestrians basically “worked their way” up, earning the right to train after demonstrating years of experience in riding, training, and showing.  Based on having paid their dues other established trainers would hire them.   Many trainers, especially older ones, are riders who may not have an equine degree, but excelled at the sport in their junior and amateur years before turning professional.

The path from rider to trainer was once simply to prove yourself exceptional by way of accomplishment and reputation, and becoming a trainer was something that did not require a formal college education or certification.   You didn’t have to have a degree, nor were there many colleges 15-20 years ago that even offered training as anything more than a club or just an athletic sport you could participate in.  Technically, this is still true.  There are no federal laws that require horse trainers to have a degree or even certification.  Most states and municipalities, however, will require you to have a business license and some form of insurance to train if you are charging for your services.

Why Having A Degree Is Still A Good Idea

Although the law may not require you to have a formal education before working with horses, it is not a bad thing to have a degree in some equine related field as well as certification credentials because if you don’t, employers and students are both likely to choose someone else over you that does.

If you know you want to do horses as a career, a formal education and knowledge is a good platform to have especially when you might not have had some flashy show career in your junior or amateur years that might instead of been a great stepping stone.

Like I stated before a big way people get their foot in the door without formal schooling typically is they have ridden for years, have a great show career in their junior years, and then eventually turn professional. If they are a well-known rider because they attended shows so much, and become “known” a bit, eventually they could get a foot in the door at a barn as a trainer for sure. This is how many “old school” trainers have had a great career in horses.

There are different certifications one can obtain to qualify you as a trainer; all are intended show that you are educated in a specific discipline in riding from a specific organization. Although you still do not have to have some form of certification, or formal equine related education it is still a great thing to be able to show case on your resume. When you are certified it shows you are already recognized by an organization or school and are well informed and educated in this sport which may make it easier to get a job.  As with anything else, these certifications and having a formal education shows you take yourself seriously as a professional and make you even that much more appealing to an employer.

Female horse trainer with a gray horse in a barnA Typical Work Schedule

Barns all over the country are unique in the services they provide and are run differently but it is not uncommon for a trainer to work 6 or even 7 days a week.  Having a typical 9-5 Monday through Friday schedule with weekends off, paid vacations, sick days and health insurance benefits for is not necessarily the norm for trainers as it is for office workers.

Most people who will be your clients do work “normal” schedules during the week and want to enjoy riding in their spare time, which is most likely to be evenings and weekends.  This is one reason so many trainers work evenings and weekends.

Most shows are on the weekends, so working on the weekends with horses is extremely common.  Depending on how many of your students go to shows you may be on a horse warming up at 6:30 AM and not done till 5 PM or later depending on students, classes and everything else involved. If your work attends shows all the time you may be giving up weekends quite a bit so keep that in mind when thinking about becoming a trainer, especially at a show barn.

Fitness Factors To Consider

Keep in mind riding is a sport, so staying in shape to a good degree, eating healthy, taking care of your body, getting rest and not getting sick is pretty important. You may be riding quite a bit, but that still may not be enough.  Cross training will help you make sure you’re staying fit and strong which is very important.

If your job requires you to ride more than teach, and you can’t cut it because you’re too out of shape and getting overweight because you have been chomping on those burritos and not hitting the treadmill that might cause a problem with work, truthfully. You don’t need to be a gym bunny and look like a muscle head but having great cardio and staying toned will help you at work so much.

When it comes to riding, your body is your tool and it must stay fit and strong. You need to be able to ride for hours, and ride many horses daily. Most barns won’t accept someone who gets tired after one or two horses, you have to be able to get in and really ride — no excuses — otherwise you may be out of a job.

Health Insurance Claim FormHealth Insurance And Other Benefits

Training horses, although a fun job can be very dangerous, too.  Paying for individual health insurance is expensive but very important.  A lot of barns do not offer health insurance so keep that in mind.  As with any other job after working for your employer you can likely work your way up, get yearly reviews, and new job perks such as better hours, a free stall, and/or those paid vacations you would enjoy (if you can find the time to take them.)

To avoid payroll taxes and having to provide certain benefits, frequently barns will hire you as an independent contractor, so you will be responsible for taking care of your own taxes too.

Barns will sometimes offer housing for their workers depending on locations and it is not uncommon for a barn manager to have a home on the premises as part of their salary package.  It is also fairly common, even for someone who is starting out, to take a live-in position as a trainer.  Your salary would be smaller but without the expense of a living situation it can balance out well for sure.

How Much Can You Earn As A Professional Horse Trainer?

A lot depends upon where you live, whether or not you are self-employed, or work for someone else but training horses is not a career that typically pays you the big bucks. It is a career that, after taxes and expenses, starts and an average around $25k a year and upwards to $40k.  How long you have been at a farm can also affect your pay scale.  You may also be able to earn a higher income if you own your own farm.  Depending upon your employer, you may also have additional perks like a bonus from lessons on top of a salary, and can sometimes make extra money from shows and training horses to boost your income.

All of these things I have mentioned in this article are typical for horse trainers and other similar positions in an equine related field. Take some time to process some of the things I have discussed and take time to see if training horses is something that might be what you want to do by visiting a barn and talking with other trainers in your area. For the right person training horses can be a fun, fulfilling career that is a labor of love, and that in itself is a huge payoff if you are a horse enthusiast.

This article was commissioned by and has been reprinted with permission.