WHILE owning a horse if often heralded as a pursuit solely for those with the spare money and time to invest, exploring a career in the sector can be a way of combining a passion for horses and rural life with financial gain. Alex Robinson looks at different pathways into the equine world.
Whether its riding for pleasure at your local riding school or competing on the international eventing circuit, every level of the equine industry requires dedicated individuals to work.
From grooms, trainers and breeding yard managers, to feed nutritionists and equine journalists, roles in the sector vary from hands-on horse work to office based communication roles.
Director of education at the British Horse Society (BHS) Alex Copeland notes how everyone who look to enter the horse industry will experience a different journey.
Mr Copeland says: “When thinking of long term goals within the sector, make sure you do your research. Ask yourself ‘can I see myself doing this job every day?’. It may sound obvious, but you need to possess a real love of horses. Working in the equestrian industry requires hard work and determination, but the result when you build up a partnership with a horse or a client can be well worth the effort. Taking BHS approved exams is one way of getting your foot in the door.”
The BHS has just recently launched their equine excellence career pathway, which aims to give aspiring horse workers a solid foundation for them to continue their training in any area of equestrianism.
He continues: “It provides students with qualifications and awards in a chosen area, such as teaching, tourism and grooming; it is not just for riders. It provides them with the skills and confidence they need to go for that dream role. The Coach in Complete Horsemanship is the most comprehensive course, educating participants about every element of horse and rider management.
“BHS assessment prices start at £95.00 and there is also a scholarship programme which offers a route for young equestrians. Its main aim is to increase the number of qualified stage three horsemanship coaches on the ground. For those wishing to start the BHS Equine Excellence Career Pathway, we recommend they take the foundation ‘ride safe’ assessment, which provides a basic qualification in safe riding practice.”
Some equestrian roles will require the completion of initial higher and further education, gained in A-Level and university study. General science-based qualifications are often a necessity for those wanting to work in nutrition or veterinary jobs. While qualifications can improve the chance of finding work, there is often no way of securing guarantee entry level work, even in practical roles such as grooming or riding.
The British Groom Association (BGA) is an organisation created by former groom Lucy Katan, who noticed the lack of support there was for grooms. Existing to promote grooming as career, it also aims to support those looking to enter the industry across all disciplines.
Liz Daniels, former international groom and communications director at the BGA, is aware of the competitiveness of professional grooming. She notes: “The grooming industry has changed drastically over the past 10 years and while there are still improvements to be made, there are some amazing opportunities out there with a good rate of pay and regulated working hours.
“You might get to travel the world, ride incredible horses or meet inspiring people. If you are passionate about horses, it is the best job in the world.
“While there are many grooming roles which do not require riding experience, many grooms going into the industry are keen riders, meaning the standard of competition is high. People get into the sector in different ways. Some decide on college or apprenticeships, while others manage to get great jobs based on their experience and
Liz adds: “An employer will always want to see a CV, so work experience and volunteering roles are always beneficial to get some experience to add to your personal statement.
“You also need to be clear about what package the job is offering. Many employers offer accommodation and personal horse livery.
“Pay scales for grooms and riders vary, and are currently unregulated, except from within the racing industry where they have a pay
scale depending on responsibilities and experience.
“Yard managers can expect to earn above the national minimum wage. Freelance grooms on a basic rate are currently charging between £10 and 15 per hour, depending on work and experience.”
BASED in Lancashire and the surrounding areas, 26-year-old Ailsa has turned a childhood love for pony showing into a career working with competition horses as an equine veterinary physiotherapist.
While she continues to compete her own horses at national level, Ailsa also plays a role behind the scenes, treating other horses in need of complex physical therapy.
Ailsa says: “Every appointment involves observing the horses’ conformation and muscling to look for obvious asymmetries. I am required to complete a complex static and dynamic assessment, examining the locomotion.
“Treatment often involves stretching to increase range of movement and then I palpate the horse to treat sore areas. Like in humans, it is an important process, to increase blood flow to the muscles and decrease tightness, which is often prominent in competition horses.
“It is safe to say my education has been extensive”, continues Ailsa. “I have been qualified for a year so I am still cementing my position in what is a competitive industry. I achieved 10 GCSE’s and 3 A-Levels at school, before gaining first class honours in my Zoology undergraduate degree. Science was a necessity. I then completed an Equinology equine body worker course which gave me a massive insight into the equine anatomy and taught me about the relevant treatment techniques. This was then followed by a two-year vet physio course at Harper Adams, which involved an extensive interview process, and I graduated with a distinction.”
“I am self-employed, and length of days can vary depending on clients and time of year, but I usually visit between two and five horses per day.
“Initially, the idea of starting up a business was daunting and I was worried about getting clients. As all work with livestock is unpredictable, I find some horses to be more challenging to treat than others, but dealing with them correctly is all part of the job.”
As a veterinary physio, Ailsa’s role requires her to work closely with vets, who either refer or provide consent for her work.
She adds: “Communication with vet practices is a key part of what I do, as its vital to be provided with the relevant medical history of the animal. Similarly, I often have to create vet reports to update the medical team on what I have found during the session.”
Ailsa notes how important it is for those aspiring to succeed in the role watch as many professionals as possible.
She says: “There are multiple techniques and forms of physio, so getting specific training for the certain type you want to work in is important. Making sure you portray yourself as caring, knowledgeable and always having the interests of the horse at heart, will help you to stand out in what is a very competitive sector of equine work.”
THOROUGHBRED racing is a high-end sector of the equestrian sphere with a diverse range of jobs across the board. Race horses receive some of the best training and quality care available due to their high value, and owners are willing to pay for the best. As one of the biggest spectator sports in the world, those who work behind the scenes play a vital role in making race day happen.
The British Racing School offers a structured route to employment in the racing industry, via courses, apprenticeships and career support. The bulk of the courses they offer are aimed at providing qualified yard staff and grooms, and some are geared towards educating those who have little or no previous horse experience.
Jockey programmes are for those wanting a hands-on riding education, while management focused courses are designed to develop leadership skills specifically needed for success within the racing industry.
Aspiring trainers also have the opportunity to study for an official licence which is necessary if you have a desire to work professionally. There are also course for accounting and book keeping, and programmes for younger students to study alongside school commitments.
Camilla Sharples is currently the travelling head girl at the Irish racing yard Gordon Elliott Racing, Co Meath.
After growing up competing in the pony club, she entered the racing scene in 2008, working as a barn manager on 40-horse yard.
Camilla said: “In 2012 I moved to work in Malpas, Cheshire, to work for national hunt trainer Donald McCain as second travelling head girl, and in 2015 I moved to my current position. I had to pass my HGV test to take the job and now my role consists of driving top racehorses around England and Ireland.
“Mr Elliot trains over 200 horses and my main job is to ensure everything on raceday runs smoothly, often being responsible for up to 20 runners, their jockeys and owners. I am also in charge of teaching the younger staff and showing new entrants the ropes of the industry.
“My biggest achievement so far was being involved in both Cheltenham gold cup and Royal Ascot victories last season. I was also nominated for travelling head person of the year at the Godolphin stud and stable staff awards.
“I love working with horses and living in Ireland is great fun. The hours are long and anti-social but this is definitely more of a hobby for me.”
For more details see: www.brs.org.uk/courses-and-training