Horse trainers, also called equine trainers, teach horses to accept and respond to riders and to perform other kinds of work. Some trainers break in young horses, teaching them to tolerate a saddle and bridle and to respond to commands.
Other trainers focus on correcting problem behaviors or helping horses to recover from injury, trauma, or past training mistakes. Still other trainers teach specialized skills, such as racing or show jumping. To break in a horse, trainers slowly expose the horse to people and riding equipment.
Trainers try to counteract horses’ natural fears and their tendency to startle, or “spook.” After the horse accepts a saddle and rider, the trainer teaches the horse to respond to voice, leg, and rein commands. Like other types of trainers, horse trainers use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.
Horse trainers also use a horse’s natural instincts to teach it. For example, a horse in nature avoids snakes and fast objects, so a trainer might get a horse to back up on command by rapidly flicking a rope in front of a horse’s legs.
For racehorse trainers, the workday starts early. Exercise sessions often begin at 5:30 a.m.—and that’s after the trainer oversees a grooming session and inspects the horses for bruises or injuries. Another session later in the day might focus on improving a horse’s gait or some other skill. In the evening, the horses might be walked or taken swimming.
Horse trainers teach people as well as horses. Racehorse trainers instruct jockeys on how to handle each horse. Show-horse trainers teach owners how to manage their horses, and many trainers are also riding instructors.
Horse trainers are also managers. They develop and oversee each horse’s training plan, and they supervise grooms who exercise the horses according to that plan. Trainers set specific fitness goals and keep detailed records. They meet with veterinarians, nutritionists, and stable managers.
Most trainers expect to fall off horses sometimes or to be bitten, kicked, or stomped on. Safety gear and careful observation lessen the danger.
What the job is really like?
Because the job of horse trainer involves working directly with horses, the trainer is required to spend much of their time outdoors, in all types of weather. While a driving rainstorm or blizzard will usually limit the amount of work a trainer can do outdoors with a horse, the normal cold and heat of the seasons doesn’t stop him or her from getting the work done.
You can also expect to work long hours as a horse trainer. Most start at the break of dawn, and often work well into the evening, so if you’re looking for a 9 to 5 schedule this might not be the career for you. Trainers also typically work weekends, and even seven days a week depending on how many clients they have. The work tends to be year round, but things get the busiest around the racing and show seasons.
Constant travel is another aspect to a horse trainers’ life. If you plan on working with race and show horses, you’ll be traveling to the meets and shows at various parts of the country. And only the most successful trainers can afford to stay in luxury accommodations while on the road – most sleep in inexpensive motels or even in the back of a camper.
But still, if you really love horses, and enjoy working with them and seeing the rewards of watching them learn new skills and behaviors, then it’s hard to beat the life of a horse trainer.
Training and getting started
Trainers usually start their professional careers as grooms, trainer assistants, or apprentice trainers. In these jobs, they do stable chores, but they may also help to train and exercise the horses. Experienced grooms or assistants
might ride six to eight horses each day, exercising them according to trainer instructions.
Horse trainers need experience with horses and expert riding skills. Many have worked or volunteered in stables: cleaning stalls; feeding, washing, and brushing horses; and performing other basic horse care.
At least 20 colleges and universities offer 2-year, 4-year, or graduate degrees in horse management or equine husbandry. And more trainers are getting these degrees.
Coursework includes horse training skills, but it usually also prepares students for several other careers, including stable management and breeding, horse facilities management, racetrack management, equine business, and feed and equipment sales.