All horse lovers dream of a career in the equine industry. Some aspire to be a top coach, competitive riders envision a riding career abroad, while others hope to run a successful livery. The reality of things is that it can be hard to make it in the riding world; there’s a lot of good talent to compete with and the industry is not financially stable. There are, however, several other avenues to consider that are not limited to riding itself.
Working as a groom is a low-income, entry-level job in South Africa. In other countries, working as a groom is an entirely different deal. Working as a groom in someone’s yard can be the foot in the door you need to make it abroad. The work isn’t glamorous and you’ll spend most of your time mucking out stables, turning out horses, feeding, grooming, lunging and being the rider’s right-hand man at shows, but in return you can earn a comfortable living and you may be given the opportunity to ride some of the horses. A lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders, as you’ll be the person expected to raise the alarm if a horse needs specialised attention. You’ll work long and hard hours, but you will learn a lot, and if you prove your potential, it could be your ticket to competing abroad.
Most South African riders aim for yards in Germany, Belgium, France or the Netherlands, and some also try for America. Getting into these yards are largely about connections and most of the time a coach or fellow rider will be the person to put you in touch and recommend you.
If you have experience running and managing a yard, you could look into getting this same position in a more competitive or commercial yard. As a yard manager, you will be expected to oversee all operations and delegate responsibilities to the team. You will also tend to admin matters, such as placing stock orders, processing accounts and co-ordinating shows. You can work as a yard manager at a competitive sport horse yard, a racing yard or a stud farm. If you want to manage a yard abroad, the same thing goes – being put in touch and recommended is your best starting point.
If you’ve proved your worth as a groom and you showcase real talent to produce competition horses, you might be upgraded to a working rider. If you’re already a successful rider in South Africa, your coach might recommend you as a working rider in someone’s yard. Your riding capability is of paramount importance, and you will need to be competent enough to ride a variety of horses – the good and the bad. Your physical fitness and wellbeing is also important, and you will need to be prepared to spend most of your day in the saddle – working anything between five and eight horses a day. On the plus side, you will be able to compete at local shows and be coached on a regular basis. You’ll get a good idea of the riding and competition scene, and you’ll have the opportunity to ride among some of the world’s best riders in your league.
This may not be your typical riding job in South Africa, but the mounted police are a popular unit in European countries. Mounted police officers patrol and deter crime in the more intricate areas of a town, such as through parks and narrow allies that are not easily accessible with a car. However, in order to be part of the mounted police, you would first have to be a regular police officer for two to three years before being considered for the mounted police, as it is a specialty unit.
Becoming a qualified racehorse trainer is certainly no walk in the park. There are courses you have to complete, exams you need to pass and accreditations you need to have behind your name. It differs from country to country, but each country has a racing body or association through which you need to apply. You will likely study modules along the lines of racehorse management, health and safety of racehorses, staff management, as well as business skills and planning. Horseracing is, after all, a money-making industry and therefore needs to be treated with business in mind. It can take two to three years to become licensed if all goes according to plan. You can then operate as a trainer out of your own racing yard, but most trainers will rent stables at a track and share the training space with a few other trainers. You almost always need a loan to start out. Most trainers will train clients’ privately-owned horses, and you as the trainer are responsible for their success on the track. It’s a tricky industry and you really need to know your stuff when it comes to rules and regulations.
In Europe and the USA, racehorse trainers earn a daily rate for the horses under their care, and then a further percentage of the horses’ winnings.
Don’t we all dream of a picturesque stud farm, set over expanses of lush green land, with quality horses grazing in white-fenced paddocks? Being a breeder by profession doesn’t require any formal qualification, but you do of course need some good quality stock if you want to become a well-earning stud farm. You need a lot of land where horses can live and grow up naturally. You also need a competent team of vets, breeding specialists and caretakers who will be able to deal with a stallion, assist with pregnant mares and help raise foals. Your stud farm needs to decide on a type of horse to breed, whether it’s a specific breed or discipline. Things can be slow starting out, as you will need to wait for your stud’s progeny to prove themselves before you notice greater demand for your stock. Excellent breeding knowledge of certain horses, their characteristics and their types will contribute to your success at producing top horses.
It can be a risky business, because breeding horses need to be clean and pass all necessary tests. Few breeders use live coverings and most opt for artificial insemination and embryo transfer, which come at a cost. The responsibility of the horse falls on you as the breeder. Your stock can always be a gamble – pregnancy complications can happen, or you might produce a badly put together or untalented foal regardless of how well you planned.
The salary of a breeder will largely depend on the demand for the stud’s stock and the quality of horses being produced.
While not the most widely known or filled position in South Africa, bloodstock agents are instrumental to the success of a stud in the greater equestrian nations abroad. Bloodstock agents usually prefer to work for Thoroughbred breeders as the racing industry is the largest of all equestrian disciplines. Bloodstock agents are responsible for sourcing prospective horses – whether it’s a stallion, broodmare, active racehorse, yearling or weanling – as well as co-ordinating and closing the sale of the horse. Bloodstock agents will advise their clients according to the clients’ business or breeding plan. You are again required to have exceptional understanding of breeding, but on the plus side the risk of the horse from a care and ownership perspective (once he’s been acquired) does not fall on your shoulders. There is no formal licensing programme, and most bloodstock agents work their way up in the racing industry.
Read more about career options in the equine industry in the September issue from 2017 (HQ126) – available on CoolMags.