I have a friend who is 16 this year. We’ll call her R for this post. R and I have never really talked about what she wants to do when she grows up, but her mom let it slip that she wants to have a career in horses. Not as a vet, but as a trainer. R’s mom seemed pretty distressed by her daughters career ambitions. Not because her daughter couldn’t make it as a trainer, but because her mom thinks all horse related activities are dangerous. Which they are… so I can’t really talk her out of that fear.
I wanted to talk to R about her career choice. I mean, I remember being 16 and wanting nothing more than to spend every day, all day, riding and training horses. As a paltry second choice, I might’ve opt to be a sulky horse jockey if I really couldn’t ride anymore. But… the point being, I know that dream. I think a lot of us had that dream to some extent. So I was thinking about what I would say to a young adult who is still too young to be independent from his/her parents, yet old enough to be nearing that decision point.
If I were able to talk to me when I was that age… what would I tell me?
I think I would start with telling younger me to shadow a full time professional trainer for at least a full week, all day, every day, for 7 days. From the moment they start work til the minute they stop working. Professional trainers don’t really just ride horses all day. They spend a huge chunk of time being people shrinks. If you aren’t thrilled by the thought of spending all day trying to offset whatever phobia’s or personal issues people have, then you might want to rethink “trainer” as a career. I mean, you could probably still train horses, but if the owners aren’t involved and trained then you will never be successful. To be successful, the owner has to learn how to reproduce the training.
I can’t stress this enough… you’ll never make most people happy most the time. Owners will hate you because they continue to let cutesy-wootesy nip them until he takes off their ear. Even though cutesy-wootesy would never dream of doing that to you in a million years because he knows you’d rip his lips off. Doesn’t matter, the owner will reteach cutesy-wootesy to nip and bite people two days after he returns from being successfully retrained by you, and then owner will blame YOU for doing a bad job (now switch out biting with left canter lead, or flying changes, etc). Or, the owner you’ve put hundreds of hours into coaching and training will have the ride of her life, but won’t win the class, and you will instantly be sucked into the world of water works and blame game. Where you’re left walking a fine line between nipping their self-induced hysteria in the bud and bolstering their ego’s enough to stop the crying, all while successfully not offending them to the point where they pull their horse out of training with you.
Second, shadow that trainer and learn every single thing you can from them. Volunteer as free help every day after school, be the first one volunteering to go get a horse, to clean a saddle, to pick a stall, whatever. Just be there, so when an opportunity to learn does come up, you’re the first one to be a part of it. Pick their brains, ask questions. Screw sports, screw band, screw everything else. You want to be a career equestrian, then you have to get up to a level where you can start your career as soon as you graduate from college. You have less than 6 years to become a trainer. If you’ve never even broken out a horse at this point, then you had better find an opportunity to learn how to do it correctly now. If you’ve never long-lined, you better learn now. If you’ve never walked a kid through the mechanics of how to post on a horse for the first time, well, you’d better figure it out pronto.
Third, go to college. Join the equestrian team or whatever, but get your degree. Any degree, in pretty much anything except history, english, or art. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is the piece of paper afterward. It shows you’ve got grit and can navigate b.s. successfully. People who pay money like that in a person, plus it gives you an option B in case you realize you don’t like people that much.
The last thing I’d tell my younger me is, if this is truly what you want, then get your butt in gear! You can’t make it by just hanging a shingle on your door and proclaiming yourself a trainer. You actually have to accomplish something that will entice people to want to train with you. Train with the best trainer you can afford and commit yourself to challenging your skills and knowledge every single day. Watch every video you can find, read every book you can get your hands on, and audit every clinic you can get to. If an opportunity to train with a top name trainer comes along, then jump on it. If you don’t have the money to do it, start hitting up your extended family, friends, strangers, or businesses, and non-profits for donations. Find scholarships and grants that can help with the finances. Do whatever it takes to make it happen, even when you are positive it can’t happen. Never give up, never let someone tell you no, and never ever doubt your ability to make it happen.
So anyway, R, if you ever read this… if you really want to be a trainer, then start making it happen. But I’d caution you in your career choice. Even the great trainers, who love horses, get sucked into a time vacuum where they can’t spend the time they want with the horses they love. Now me, as a non-trainer and regular working stiff, I don’t have to make something happen on anyone else’s time line with a horse. If I just want to spend time grazing Ava, or hanging out in the pasture with her, I can. If I decide I want to try reining, or mounted police, or polo… I can. If I want to goof off and ride bareback through a field, and then spend 2 hours brushing my horse… I can. I own all of my time with my horse completely.
You know what… I just realized what I would really say to younger me is: You’ll be content as long as you have at least one horse you love in your life and enough time to spend a couple hours a day with her. The rest will work itself out.