Find the Right Equine Career
by Lisa Eklund
After spending over thirty-five years in the horse industry and the last nineteen in a college setting I have gained a decent working knowledge of many of the career opportunities in the equine industry. For the past eighteen years I have been a professor in a large equine program that offers associate in applied science and bachelor of technology degrees in equine science and management. My specialty is in the hunter and jumper disciplines and I taught and prepared students both in how to train horses and to manage a barn and the care of the horses in the barn along with learning the ins and outs of managing employees and clients.
Another part of my job was to meet with incoming students and their parents to discuss our program and the horse industry in general. Parents would often ask, “What types of jobs would there be after our son/daughter had completed the program?” Often both the parents and the students envisioned their career possibilities being in only training, instruction, barn management or grooming. All of these are wonderful career paths but they are not the only way to be employed in the industry. Not everyone is cut out to be managing a barn full of horses or wants to be on the road as a groom or trainer going to horse shows. These jobs are very fulfilling but they do require working far more than a typical forty hour week. Quality trainers and instructors also require in depth skills both on and off a horse. A strong love for horses and riding alone are not enough to be successful in training and instruction. Talent, a dedication to learning, grit, sales and client skills and a feel for horses and the industry are keys to success.
So what are other career paths that are in or connected to the equine industry? The opportunities are far more than I will be able to talk about in this article. I am also sure there are many wonderful equine related careers that I have not even yet heard about. But I hope to give you a good start on your search for your best equine career. The industry, technology and commerce are growing all of the time. As they grow so do the career opportunities. The horse industry is huge and much more diverse than many people know. It is comprised of a very large network of supporting industries and businesses that help to maintain the day to day operations of private horse farms, horse shows, racetracks, professional training farms, breeding farms, lesson programs and more. The equine industry is filled with unique, creative and ambitious entrepreneurs. If you want to be part of the equine industry there is something out there for you.
You just need to go to a retail trade show to see the huge variety of businesses that support the equine industry. I am not going to list every business here but the types of businesses range from those that sell tack and equipment for the horse and rider, health and exercise supplies, jewelry and equine décor, fencing, ring footing, jumps, barn equipment and service industries like insurance, performance coaching and business support. Many of these businesses have employees who help market and sell their products. Some careers revolve around traveling to the trade shows to promote a business. This type of career can be a great opportunity to travel many places and meet all types of people. So if you are outgoing and enjoy travel, marketing and being social, this may be for you. One of my students who graduated about 10 years ago is now the Senior Equestrian Account Executive for a large international company that has an equestrian line of tack and apparel. He travels and sets up shop at many of the big hunter/jumpers shows in the US and in Europe. He has a great career with wonderful opportunities. He worked his way up to this from a college internship at a large show barn as a groom and rider and continued upon graduation. He then later began working for a well know tack shop and then applied for the job where he is now. He has worked his way up the ladder to his position. He is very outgoing and a hard worker with great people and networking skills. This career is a perfect fit for him.
If travelling is not for you there are many other options. A majority of the businesses seen at trade shows also have brick and mortar businesses. There is usually a need for employees at home to run the retail end of a business, manage inventory, do the actual business and office work, manage websites and social media, create marketing campaigns, do product testing, do regional sales and a variety of other things. Since the industry is so diverse and there are so many supporting businesses it is easy to find an area of interest. Some businesses are small and some are large with great opportunities for advancement.
Another graduate has done very well for the last six years or so working at a large national corporation in their feed and nutrition division as a Customer Account Coordinator. It may seem that having an equine background and an equine degree would not really matter so much in getting into a job at a company like this since you would not be working anywhere near horses. But it is important, as the more you know about the customers that are being served and how the products you sell work, the better you can communicate with customers and meet their needs.
If you have a talent or passion separate from horses you may be able to combine that talent with your passion for horses to fit in a specialized niche. Someone with a strong background in technology and computers could work in developing software or apps for a variety of equine needs. Equine professionals are so busy that they often don’t have time or experience to design and maintain websites and do the management needed for content marketing. They may not have the skills but they do have the need in this new electronic business age if they want to remain competitive in the industry. Combining social media and computer technical skills with an equine background makes for a great opportunity for a career in the industry. There are now horse show entry sites where, for a fee, trainers enter all of their entry information including client, horses, divisions and trainer/rider information. When it is time to do entries they pick the shows and classes and the rest is done for them. Technical skills related to design of health, fitness and rehab equipment for horses can also open doors in that business area. If you are a great writer, photographer or artist there are careers related to equine print and online publications, marketing, product design or blogging where your talents can be used.
If you really want to be around horse people all the time and go to horse shows and events you can become a show manager, steward, course designer, a jump crew member, floral designer and jump/show decorator, stable manager, shipper, feed and bedding manager, media person or any one of a number of support people who help to keep shows running. There are very large horse show circuits like The Winter Equestrian Festival that run in the same place for several months. These shows have thousands of horses on the venue site and the surrounding area. It takes all types of businesses to keep these events running smoothly. If you want to be a groom or improve your riding and training skills a show facility is the place to go. Top farms are always looking for good employees. In equestrian communities like this there are also people always looking for the best equestrian property to buy. So selling equine properties is another great career opportunity.
Every equine breed and discipline has some type of governing body which manages the breed registries, show points, rulebook and all business needed to be done for that organization. There are many career opportunities available if you have the skills needed for a job. The different types of skills are broad. Positions can be found in marketing, customer service, rules and regulations, data entry, technical support, the business office and more. Again, a strong background in the equine industry and a degree can help you progress further up the ladder in these organizations.
Another graduate from my college program is now director in a large department in one of the largest equestrian show organizations. She worked hard as a sales representative for a few large businesses and was able to travel nationally and internationally. But she got tired of the travel and with her background, soft skills and references she was able to get a job with this governing organization in a customer service position and quickly moved into this director position.
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, some talent, an idea for a business, the connections needed and access to the start-up funds you can be your own boss. But I would still recommend getting out there and working for several people in order to see the ins and outs of owning a business, make connections and gain the soft skills needed to run your own business. Running your own business can be very exciting and allow you the freedom to make your own decisions. But remember that the buck stops with you. When you own a business you will find that you have to do many things that are not related to your passion. You have to keep records, do billing, maintain a website, stay active with social media and content marketing and many other things that aren’t always so much fun. As someone who has just started my own equestrian performance coaching business I have found that I spend as much time running the business part of the business than the actual coaching. My advice is to learn to like that part of the business so that it becomes easy to do and gets done.
This is far from a complete picture of all of the career possibilities in the equine industry. But it is a good start to open your mind to the idea that the horse business is not just about training, riding, teaching and grooming. You have a couple of lists of a variety of business opportunities. These should help wet your interest to search for more. Go to a major trade show and talk to all of the vendors. Ask them what it is like to be in their business and what skills and education you would need. Ask about the opportunities for advancement and what the salaries and benefits ranges are. Go to some big shows and talk to all of the people running the shows the same types of questions. Whatever it is you may think you are interested as far as a career ask all of the questions you can about the career. Find out what skills and education you need to be a success and be sure it is really the right fit for you.