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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Long story short, I'll be 19 in May. I started riding at 9-10 but had to stop due to family financials. I picked it back up and began riding consistently at 14. Since then, I really haven't shown much. I've done a few local shows here and there but have been unable to go any higher both due to financial concerns and lack of access to a quality trainer (my barn does not have a trainer)- I also didn't (don't) have a horse trailer, so that doesn't make things any easier.
Before I continue, I'd like to say that I'm extremely grateful for every opportunity I've been given- while I haven't been able to show high level, I was still given more opportunities than most.
My boyfriend and I have recently moved onto 30 acres and we plan on building paddocks and an arena and bringing my horses home (they're boarded, currently at $850/month/horse- ouch!). I have three, so bringing them home lifts a significant financial burden off my shoulders!
That being said, it would free up enough money to allow me to purchase a horse trailer, truck, and to allocate funds for a quality trainer and showing.
It's been my dream to ride, train, show, sell and breed horses. Most of the people I know in this sport have started from the age of 5, and have been showing since they were children. I was wondering if anyone had any experience breaking into this sport professionally at an older age? To give context, I do hunters, but would love to venture into just about any and every equine sport- from dressage to trick riding, haha. I don't plan on throwing all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, so I won't count on this as a career if it is possible.
That being said, is it possible?
Any insight or support is greatly appreciated!

*Edit to add, I don't plan on being a professional anytime soon, just eventually.
 

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Welcome to the Forum...

Its never to late to reach for a dream...but you have to add being realistic to it the older you get.
From what you describe of yourself I would say you look to do the A/O ranks of show riding to stay in the same discipline of English and hunter style riding.
It is open to all, but the older you get the more difficult the competition level and costs associated with it.
Costs escalate as you acquire more and more stuff such as trucks & trailers, needed instruction by higher skilled instructors as you reach pinnacles in abilities, tack and riding apparel to stay with the fad choice of that season and the biggest one is the mount to take you where you want to go.
Now add to that if you are really campaigning you need a staff at home to run and keep your barn for your other horses.

What you want is absolutely doable.
Small time breeding operation, raise, train and show your own horse{s}, sell and do it again...
Many do this as a hobby but to do this as a "profession" takes a lot more animals, strong campaigning and out pushing the show circuit and win, win and more win to get a name and reputation for turning out quality or you are just another backyard wanna-be. sorry.
To do this in several disciplines takes a even larger commitment and financial outlay as you need more instruction, more animals, more tack and equipment. Few are blessed to have a horse who competes in H/J and can also drop and cut a cow, do reining patters, barrel race or any combination of a athlete extraordinaire.
If you are looking to sell then you also must push and not get attached cause the animal will not be in your barn for long once showing starts...success arrives.

I don't mean to be a downer, far from it.
But what you reach for, is the golden ring that takes a commitment extreme by you and everyone around you who must take a quiet back seat to your ambitions as you will need to focus, focus, focus to make it in a industry where riders start as leadline babies stalking a goal.
To go pro... now again, there is pro and there is pro!

Some make it, more don't ever reach that elite ability for various reasons but often the largest ones are drive & finances and just time to do nothing but horses.
To do this on a more regional level is absolutely attainable, but still costly in time invested and $$ too.
Many do this riding as a hobby, they take lessons, they trailer out to shows, and they have fun but not be consumed by it either.
It used to be you could own a boarding barn, but nothing else were you permitted to get paid for...so a small window of opportunity and a large overhead of monthly debt could you face as a A/O..
Some of this may have changed in what is permitted or nor, but being the A/O rider is as expensive to get to the lofty heights in showing as being the paid professional athlete equestrian...
The bottom line is to reach the level I think you are referring to is going to have many other people in your life take a back seat to your consuming desire. Who not want to be the best of the best...
There is a huge middle ground of opportunity though where you can ride, show & compete with having a life other than just horse too.
No matter which it is you seek though it takes a commitment huge 24/7 by you and those closest to you to keep animals home.
Horses do not work 9 - 5 M - F but are endless in things needing done.
My horses are home, no boarders.
By the time I do daily chores I'm lucky if I have time to ride a hour or so a day each horse...so currently that is 2 hours as some of mine are retired and not ridden anymore now but the work and expense still is ongoing daily.
Its lovely to have the horses home, but...it is also a huge family commitment to keep them home and live your life around the animals needs to.
We do family activities always with a mind of getting home to the animals as they rely on us to be there for them.
Vacation and holidays away from home only happen if you have those you trust with your animals for any length of time.
Fun & games comes with strings attached is all I am saying...those strings are attached to everyone in your life.

I speak from not just the competitors position but the person who stayed home, ran the farm & barn situation so you going off to shows every weekend and midweek, often not home but a day or two a week was done.
Having the dedication of employees like that is harder today when people jump job to job often.
There is a lot to think about. It isn't easy is all I'm saying...it is a passion.
I showed when younger till about 25 years of age and did well.
Today, I have no desire to deal with the politics and nonsense of the show ring or circuit.
I ride for me and me alone, to better me so lessons still happen but no more shows unless I feel like it...and I like it this way!
Good luck in whatever you decide and pursue.
:runninghorse2:...
 

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Can you define what you mean by doing this professionally? To me, that means you expect to be paid to ride. In my part of the world, that is exceedingly rare. Like, nonexistent. Very few people in the world can do that.

So then you are looking at whether you can sustain yourself with horses in some other way. Let's explore that. Coaching is usually done by people who have fairly extensive show experience. Not sure where you are, but here in Canada, you also have to be certified. It means going through your rider levels. My daughter, who has been taking lessons for 9 years, is on her rider level 5. You need a 6 to coach. She's started giving informal lessons to people for practice (but is not getting paid). Mostly just to friends. She also does hunters and got several division championships at regional shows last year, also got year-end high points in her category for the entire province last year, and reserve champion in many others. She's 15. The top coaches I know in my area cannot make a living at just coaching though. And they have all the rider levels. My daughter's coach certifies other coaches, so she's right at the top of the pyramid. But she has a full-time day job not related to horses so she can afford this lifestyle.

Breeding is not something amateurs should be doing. You need to have a lot of knowledge of genetics and breeds, and own a few mares that are worth breeding. They need to have proven themselves as competitive horses in their discipline. I know someone who breeds warmbloods successfully, but she is a top dressage rider who has competed at top levels. Her dressage horses are stunning. But to make money at this, you have to be able to train a foal. If you have to hire a trainer, then you're in the hole pretty quickly. Some people do take on young horses with the idea of training them, but they are rare and even so, for the price you can ask for a foal, after you've paid the insemination fee and other costs related to keeping a broodmare and getting baby looked at by vet, not to mention all the things that can go wrong which will make that vet bill skyrocket (the warmblood breeder above just lost one of her mares right after the foal was born so had to find a nursing mare), you're not coming ahead by enough to pay for your horses' feed, much less yourself.

So that leaves boarding. That can be done by someone with relatively little experience in the show ring. But again, I have not yet seen someone make a go of this successfully without having another job (or 3) on the side. People want a top facility with access to riding rings (preferably an indoor which will cost an arm and a leg to build) and all the services with none of the costs. But maybe you can board a few horses and that will cover the cost of keeping your own?

Otherwise, I'd recommend you take a course and get some training in a horse-related field if you really want to earn a living in the horse industry. Body workers are popular, farriery, barefoot trimming, other therapeutic industries. It's hard work, low pay, and you'll have to travel around to other people's barns to get work, but you'll still be around horses, and if you're lucky, you'll pay for your own. My trimmer cannot keep up with all her clients (she apprenticed for about a year with an experienced trimmer and then did some workshops with Pete Ramey). She has stopped taking new clients because she's so busy. It is back-breaking work, but if you can do it well, you'll have lots of clients.
 

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Speaking with experience from offering training to the public for only one year, people do not bring their good horses to a trainer that isn't a recognizable name, even just locally. People bring their naughty, dangerous horses to new trainers in the area, that are often cheaper and more willing to take their horse on. When I began training for the public, I knew that I would end up with some horses with vices, but I certainty didn't think all of them.

I broke out a horse that was cold-backed, and would try to buck you off no matter what you did, for at least the first 20 minutes of the ride.

I gave a re-fresher to a "beginner-safe" horse that would spin AND buck at the same time, to get me off. I could have his nose to my knee, and he would see be bucking.

I was hired to re-train a horse that was professionally trained, and now explosively bucked. Well, he would start bucking as soon as you even thought about getting on.

When considering going into "the equine industry", you have to think about the wear and tear it will have on your body. At the end of that training season, I had to take a step back and think about how much money I was really making, and what effect it was having on my body. The next year when people started asking for me to come back, I was either going to have to raise my prices, or stop. I stopped. I can't enjoy my own personal horses if I'm getting beaten up by everyone else's.

And after reading this, you might think "well, what experience does she even have"? I start riding when I was 8, and started showing by the time I was 12, and I've been pretty successful all-around, in many different events. I could cater to many different clients, if I wanted to. I have experience breaking out "good" horses, I have experience on horses that buck and rear, and I have experience on generally unhandleable horses. But I still decided to walk away, and just enjoy my own horses, while working 40 hours a week for someone else.
 

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I am not a trainer or a barn owner but I can tell you that location makes a world of difference. Location will determine how many horse owners are in your area, do they show locally or are they going to breed pointed shows, what is the median income of horse owners in your area? What type of experience can you get before you decide to train? Can you work with someone well known in your area and apprentice with them?

When I was in High School (1984-1988) I broke horses for people. I started 2-4 horses every summer and always had horses to work with. I was not paid much and looking back I am surprised my parents let me bring horses here and break them. I then worked with a trainer while I was in college. I started his young horses (just the basics, grooming, tacking up and riding walk, trot and canter) and cleaned stalls. In exchange I got lessons from him and eventually got to ride and exercise some of the high end show horses. I rarely showed due to finances but would go to the shows and groom and pick up some extra cash for braiding and grooming. I learned then that training and boarding were not for me. Long long hours, extremely physical work - EVERY SINGLE DAY! Horses became a business and brought very little pleasure.

Fast forward to now - my husband takes lessons at a local barn whose owner and trainer is very well know in her breeds show circle. She is a dedicated trainer with a great facility who also caters to local horse owners that will never show. She works non-stop and has 3 young children, she has missed out on school events and other things her children do. She is gone for weeks at a time to the shows farther away where she has multiple clients attending. She is young and has knee and back issues from years of riding. The life is not glamorous. The boarding part is a hassle - she will tell you that even her steady clients have to be chased for board and training fees occasionally. Hay is a constant worry even though she has her own hay field. She has shown and trained with some of the biggest names in the industry - she went to college and showed on their show teams, when she moved up to trainer her name was already known.

Sit down and think about what level you want to train at, where are your clients coming from? what will you charge? Will you be able to cover expenses if you get hurt? What experience should you get to make yourself marketable?

Wade in slowly and see how it feels.
 

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Sit down and think about what level you want to train at, where are your clients coming from? what will you charge? Will you be able to cover expenses if you get hurt? What experience should you get to make yourself marketable?

And make sure to figure out exactly what and how much the hidden costs are.

Insurance for yourself, the horses you are working with, and the people you give lessons to is expensive. If you want to work off-property too, it gets more expensive. Working off-property with groups aka clinics is even more expensive.
 

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And plan on clearing the better part of those trees.
 

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I think you've had some very good insight into the profession already. I agree that it is never too later to pursue a career in the horse industry; however, I will say that very few people are successful in making it a full time career. For that reason, I'd recommend pursuing another career as your main financial resource and pursuing horses part-time. You can always convert over to horses full time if your business becomes successful enough.

If you truly want to train/ instruct, then you need professional training, possibly in an area that is lacking in your location. For example, a sub-category of dressage such as classical dressage in an area full of modern dressage trainers or western in an area of english trainers. This may give you an edge in the industry where it can be hard breaking into. Personally, I would try to specialize in a certain area, if you can.

So, if professional lessons are hard to come by, I'd recommend looking into a working student position where you can learn from a proven professional. I know someone who has gone from barn to barn doing this and coming by paid positions as well as she became more experienced. She has been asked time and time again for lessons from people, as she has learned a lot over her travels. To train or coach, you need to have a lot of experience not only in the correct way to do things, but also in problem solving. Also, many people want their instructors/ trainers to have credentials. The more, the better. That doesn't always mean showing, BUT showing is a common way to prove that you yourself can ride well enough to place. I instruct occasionally on the side, and I do work with horses on the side as well. I don't ever plan to do it full time because I can't ever see myself making enough from it to do so.

I'm in Canada and here, It is recommended that people who instruct have a certification to do so. Not everyone does, but it is a benefit and shows you have the capabilities to teach. Many people will just get their Instructor of beginners (IOB) and stop there for financial or convenience reasons. I know a few are capable of much higher level than what they are certified for. As Acadianartist has mentioned, the IOB requires you pass Equine Canada rider level 6, which is composed of a written exam, an oral exam, a ridden dressage test, a lunging phase and an optional jumping phase. I'd say that the dressage phase is around first level if I remember correctly, with some stirrupless work incorporated. The jumping phase was 2'6". Here is an overview of what it entails https://www.albertaequestrian.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Rider-6-8.pdf It may be a good thing for you to look at, as far as checking off instructor requirements go.

Aside from rider levels, there are a number of courses that are suggested. They prepare you for making lesson plans and ethical decisions, as well as teaching itself. It is also advised to shadow a certified instructor prior to applying for the test. Teaching one student itself has some challenges, but teaching 3 or 4 at a time (in the test) is a whole different ball game, as you need to be able to have "traffic control", along with clear and concise communication. When you are finally ready to get evaluated, the committee gives you an assigned mounted, unmounted and (optional: jumping) lesson topic, to which you plan a lesson to and submit. You have 15min to teach these lesson plans each with riders you have never met before. You need to show both extensive knowledge, safety and control over your lessons.

Being an instructor/ trainer also means that you need to be adequate in dealing with people. And, unfortunately, that can occasionally be frustrating. Most people are great to deal with, but occasionally, you will get people who can be difficult to deal with for one reason or another.

Secondly, you need to be good at what you do. Clients may come, but they will only stay and recommend others to you if they are impressed with what you do. That is why it is so important to gain extensive knowledge and continue to acquire knowledge if you plan to instruct/train. Often, both professions go hand in hand. I'm often problem solving when I teach, the same way I would as If I were training a horse, but then I have to teach how and why we are doing X to correct Y to the student. If you train, then you are often teaching the owner what you did and why you did it. Training can be easily undone if the owner doesn't continue to do things a certain way and many times, the problem the horse has acquired, has to do with the owner.

I can't say much about boarding or breeding, as I have no experience running either. However, I will say that the people I know who run boarding barns often make little to no money doing so. The people who do started out with lots of money and charge 800-1000$ per month for boarding. Even then, the money they make from boarding is incomparable to the money they make in their day jobs. The people who have been successful with breeding are those who are very reputable riders with very expensive warmbloods who have proven show records.
 

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If you're going to train, you need to pick a specialty. I can't think of a single trainer who is doing brisk business who trains more than one specialty, unless they are VERY closely related - reiners and reined cow horses, for instance (and there is still enough difference between those two that a person could easily specialize in one or the other - and most do). I know people who will train, say, driving and riding horses, but they don't focus on training 'driving horses' and also 'riding horses' - they focus on training 'safe horses'. So they still only have 1 specialty, if that makes sense.

You'll spread yourself too thin trying to do several things at once, and as mentioned before then you have to have more equipment, more knowledge, etc etc and that all adds up. Horses are expensive beasts, and the best way to make money with them is to do as much as possible in as short a time as possible. Train that sucker and get it sold, before it eats enough that you don't make your money off it. Of course when you are selling a finished horse, or one close to being finished, you'll obviously be holding onto it a while until the training is put in. But while it is relatively easy to churn out safe horses with minimal mileage, selling fully trained horses is a bit harder. You've got your target pool, which may or may not wax and wane over the years as that type of riding becomes more or less popular, and of course YOU will need to have the skills and the knowledge necessary to put in the hours and create this wonderfully trained horse. Obviously, if you've got another job now you've got even less time to ride, since you now need to take time out of every day for your 'real job'. This means you'll be holding onto that horse even longer, feeding it more, etc. Is it worth it?

I can put 30-60 days on a colt and turn out a really nice, well mannered green horse that is safe to ride and is ready to be finished by any reasonably knowledgeable rider. Or I can keep a horse for longer and finish him to the degree that any idiot can ride him, with no further training required. They have radically different price points, and I don't even train 'specialized' horses - I focus on turning out safe horses more than anything else. But every day I keep that horse around to finish him, he keeps eating, and requiring farrier and vet visits, and dental work, and chiro work, etc. This all adds up, and eventually will surpass any reasonable price I can expect to get for even the best trained safe using horse. So on the rare occasions that I keep a horse longer than a month or two intending to train and sell it, I have to balance how much training and time I put in vs. how much money I spend on the animal over time. I'm sure this is different if you're selling a fully trained dressage horse or reiner - but those aren't my schtick.

I just sold Thunder and admittedly, I was never really planning on selling him so his situation was slightly different. I bought him as a weanling and sold him as a late 3 year old. Let's call it 2.5 years for simplicity's sake. So. Over the course of 2.5 years I fed him, and kept up on all vet and dental stuff. I had him gelded but other than that he never had any big vet bills, which was nice. But he was a Shire, so cost more for farrier visits. He also ate more, and I had to order special EVERYTHING for him since none of the tack stores around carried tack in his size. When you add up everything I paid for that horse while I had him including his purchase price, when I sold him I barely broke even, much less made any money. Now, I think if I'd have kept him another 6 months or a year I might have doubled my money - due to his age I didn't have enough time to put any real riding time in, though he was driven a fair amount - but during that time, he'd have been eating and needing shoes and possibly more tack, etc so that would have cut into my sale as well. So. Would it have been worth it?

-- Kai
 
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