Young woman leading brown horse across grass - The horse trainer

So You Want to Become a Horse Trainer…

There are various career possibilities within the equine industry, and one of these is becoming a horse trainer. A horse trainer is someone who will work with various equines, helping to discipline and educate them so that they’re safe and suitable for their chosen role.

A horse trainer may:

  • Work with introducing horses to saddle
  • Re-educate horses who are moving from one discipline to the next (such as a horse that has retired from racing and will be used in eventing)
  • Start a horse in harness or prepare it for a particular discipline, such as dressage, show jumping, trail riding or Western pleasure
  • Work specifically with horses that have been identified as having behavioural or safety issues—bucking, rearing, biting, kicking, refusing to be caught and such
  • Train horses for performance (for instance, in dressage, riding schools or racing)

The role of the horse trainer can be quite varied, depending on what area and discipline a particular horse needs to focus on. That being said, successful trainers require many of the same qualities, regardless of their area of expertise:

  • Patience
  • An understanding of equine behaviour, fitness and nutrition
  • A level of strength and fitness that will enable them to work with and even ride multiple horses on a daily basis
  • The ability to assess a horse and determine (and adjust) a training plan
  • Empathy for the equine species and an awareness of their fight or flight reflex

Since there are so many different facets to training horses, it’s best to first consider what area you’d like to get into, if you’re thinking of becoming a trainer. Following that, seeking work under an established trainer will help you determine if horse training is indeed the job for you.

Are Qualifications Needed to Become a Horse Trainer?

The need for a specific qualification to train horses is often industry-dependent. For racehorses—trotters and pacers in harness, and gallopers on dirt and turf—a qualification is required. You’ll need to acquire your training license in order to train horses for the racing industry.

For educating and breaking in horses (starting them under saddle), qualifications aren’t necessary. But they always look good when you’re seeking potential clients!  However, the ability to bring about results with various horses often speaks more to possible customers than a piece of paper.

If you’re looking to train horses in the English riding world, then a qualification in riding and coaching from the British Horse Society or a similar recognized organization in your country would be looked upon favourably.

But again, a qualification isn’t imperative to being able to train horses. Experience and an affinity with the equine species often speaks volumes, and people will employ you based on this. Yet, a qualification that shows your knowledge and aptitude for horse health and husbandry can also go a long way.

If a qualification is needed to train horses in your discipline, this can be acquired over a couple of years at a Certificate IV (in Australia) or diploma level, or within up to four years if you’re looking at an equine degree. Be sure to research the horse courses that are offered and consider the subjects that will help you as a trainer:

  • Equine behaviour
  • Horse riding
  • Nutrition
  • Horse husbandry
  • Horse health
  • Stable routines

All things considered, a formal qualification can greatly benefit your career as a trainer, but it’s not always needed to get things started.

Working Conditions of the Horse Trainer

If you’re planning to work as a horse trainer, it’s important to be open to varied working conditions. In the racing industry, working hours are long and often are spread over split shifts. The morning shift may start as early as 3 a.m. at city racetracks, or closer to 5 a.m. at regional tracks.

This shift can run well into lunchtime, and will often include:

  • Preparing horses to be ridden
  • Feeding and mucking out boxes
  • Exercising horses or providing directions to others who ride them
  • Cooling horses down and washing them
  • Directing staff on how to best manage horses
  • Swimming with horses
  • Lunging and putting horses on a walker

An afternoon shift may also include some exercise for horses: lunging, swimming and using the hot walker. Horses need to be given ample opportunity to move, as they typically spend a large amount of the day in the stalls of a stable or barn. This shift will include feeding again, as well as mucking out or picking up boxes and potentially rugging horses for the evening.

It’s not unusual for the two shifts, morning and afternoon, to equal more than 12 hours combined. A trainer—and their staff—often work long hours. Some tracks are closed on Sundays and no gallops are able to be carried out, and heavier race work may be assigned on particular days of the week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for example.

Although a horse’s activities will vary from day to day, the racing industry works on a set routine. Shifts start at a particular time each day, and horses are fed, have their stalls cleaned and are exercised within a particular time frame. Tasks are also completed in a particular order.

For a non-racing stable, the hours will vary more. The start time could be 6 or 7 a.m. with a finishing time of 4 or 5 p.m. The same as at racing stables, horses will be fed and cared for, and an exercise and training routine will be established and built upon so that each horse and trainer can reach certain goals. Training is a job that spans seven days a week.

To summarize, a horse trainer’s work consists of long hours, weekend work, a variety of different horses and a lot of physical labour. This is an occupation for those who love horses, don’t shy away from hard work and are keen on helping develop a horse’s training and behaviour.

The Salary of the Horse Trainer

Brown horse with first prize ribbon attached to head strap - The horse trainer

How much a horse trainer earns will depend on the number of horses they have in training, if they receive any money due to show and race results, and what they charge for particular aspects of their job.

It should be noted that their fees are used to help cover the costs of feeding horses, tending to each horse’s health care (which will involve farriery, worming, dentistry and such), supplying bedding for stalls, paying staff—and, of course, the trainer’s time and attention.

A horse trainer can earn weekly figures based on what’s being done with a particular horse: starting it under saddle, pre-training, racing, preparing it for a show and so on. They may also earn extra funds from particular results:

  • In racing, trainers tend to earn a percentage of race prizes or earnings
  • For shows, an earned amount may be negotiated based on the horse’s performance at various levels

It’s up to the trainer to set their regular rates and make them known to clients in advance. Setting up accounts through which clients can be regularly invoiced for the care and training of their horses will ensure efficient cash flow for a business, especially if it’s a sole proprietorship.

If they’re training for a particular property or stable, trainers may be placed on an annual wage, rather than being paid for the particular tasks they do or the number of horses they train. This, too, can vary based on the employer.


image 1: Pixabay; image 2: Pixabay