I am the last person to dissuade someone from a career in the horse industry. I can very honestly say that I would not trade my job for any other. I get to make horses feel good all day and then I get paid for it! It doesn’t mean that careers with horses don’t come with their own particular challenges though. Here are a few of the many things you should consider before jumping in.
If you want to get rich quick, this is not the way to do it.
As the saying goes, “The easiest way to make a million dollars in the horse business is to start with two million”. Those of us who work with horses do it because we love it. I had a part time job for the first ten years of running my own business. It didn’t help that I had entered a field that was still relatively new, but many people in the industry work part time jobs when they first start out.
It’s not just what you know, it is also who you know.
By all means, you should seek out the best schools, working student positions or apprenticeship positions you can. If you are serious about being recognized as a professional, that is a very important step. I moved to Ontario for two years because it was the only program I found anywhere which was the equivalent of a RMT. It was not convenient or easy, but I was serious about doing this as well as possible, so I went to the best school I could find. The downside of getting the best education is that even with it, if you don’t know a lot of people in the industry, your phone will not start ringing. I dropped off flyers at barns, hung out at a lot of horse shows, groomed at the track, got a part time job at a tack store where I met a lot of people and mailed out gift certificates to trainers I looked up to. Easily 95% of my business to date has been word of mouth and I would say that is not unusual with horses. People will seek services for themselves without a referral, but will rarely do so for their horse. As a result, it does take time to build up a clientele.
You don’t work, you don’t get paid
There is no such thing as paid vacations, paid sick days or benefits (ideally, eventually you will have savings to cover these). If you have health problems and require time off on a regular basis, I wouldn’t recommend getting into this line of work. I have taken off two sick days in thirteen years. I am very lucky to be healthy, but there have certainly been some days I haven’t felt great and powered through even though I would have much preferred to stay in bed. Especially when massaging in prep for or at horse shows, you just don’t want to disappoint clients.
The ability to completely make your own schedule is an illusion
If you want clients to use your services, chances are very good that you will work weekends and evenings at least to start. During show season, I usually work 7 days per week. I only take days off if there is something I really want to do. This is fine with me as I would rather massage than sit on the couch, but it is a reality not one everyone can accept.
Your body will be one of your most valuable assets
Whether you want to be a trainer, farrier, veterinarian, chiropractor or massage therapist (among others), working with horses is a physical job. If you want to do your job comfortably for a long time, you need to be in good shape and take care of yourself. Being strong and fit doesn’t prevent every injury, but it certainly helps and it also will often shorten recovery time if you are unfortunate enough to have a serious injury. If you are struggling with chronic physical issues before you even pursue this line of work, it will be very hard to do your job comfortably. It is hard to enjoy your job and do it well if you are in constant pain. I also think very differently about many activities because I can’t afford to get hurt. When learning new physical activities I am much more careful than I used to be (and sometimes more careful than is ideal to learn) because I worry about being hurt. Insurance is great and all, but it doesn’t account for the fact that many clients will move on to someone else while you’re recovering. Resist the temptation to eat crappy food on the run, it will not give you the energy you need long term.
You will work unpaid hours
Whether it is making schedules, writing up files, answering texts and emails or driving (so much driving), there will be many, many hours of work that will technically be unpaid. You need to think about this when setting your rates and planning your schedule. If you are very successful and lucky, you may be able to source some of it out eventually, but again, you will have to adjust your rates accordingly.
Income will be unpredictable
Horses are a luxury, therefore changes in the economy affect horse jobs more than some. Other things will affect your income as well. These include, but are certainly not limited to, extreme weather, certain holidays, etc. No matter how good you are at your job, you can’t make everyone happy. Some clients will leave. The horse industry is one of very few where payment is not always due at time of service provided. Occasionally you won’t receive a payment or it will take months. Emergencies will arise and some people will cancel last minute. It is a very good habit to not count on any money until it is actually in your bank account.
You will be uncomfortable
You will be too hold, you will be too hot, you will be damp… sometimes all in one day. Your work environment will be dusty. Oh, and don’t forget the horses. They are large and unpredictable. No matter how careful you are and how good you are at handling horses, you will get bitten or stepped on at some point (best case scenario). Even the best behaved horses can spook, and often they are the ones we are not as careful around.
You may have gotten into this line of work for the horses, but the owners will be the ones paying the bills
To be successful you need the right balance of horse skill and people skill. Every time you meet a new client, you need to treat it like an interview. It is noticed when you answer emails/calls/texts in a timely fashion, are polite and friendly and punctual. These are things everyone can do and work on and they do make a difference in your business. It is also very important to balance being technically good with interacting with a 1200lb flight animal. It often means setting your ego aside and understanding that the horse does not understand your goals. Some days it does not matter what you had planned, you have to work with the horse in front of you.
If you tough it out, the rewards will be worth it
Working with horses you will meet some of the most amazing people who are all wonderfully different, except for the one passion they all share. Seeing or hearing about improvements in horses you work with will never get old. When I receive a positive update on a horse I massage, it makes my whole week. Even if you have always ridden, and have worked with horses before, you will really begin to understand the generous nature of these huge flight animals when you work with them all day every day. It constantly amazes me that horses allow us to do the things we do, because if we’re being completely honest, we would never be able to ride them, if they didn’t allow it. Personally, I feel very lucky to have a career I love.