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Working at a Horse Facility

Whether landing your first job, looking for a new equine-related career, or seeking mentorship, a good work ethic is imperative.
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Working on a guest ranch can be a great job for a summer.

Working on a guest ranch can be a great job for a summer.

Your passion for horses leads you to seek a job that immerses you in your animal love. Are you thinking that you’d like to work in a barn situation or change jobs if you are already working at a horse facility? What sort of available jobs allow you to be around horses all day and get paid to do so?

Jobs

Barn jobs include simple, part-time work such as grooming horses, stall cleaning and general barn work. A more intensive job, such as being a barn manager, is not for the faint-of-heart; the time involved can be too much for some people.

A barn manager’s day often starts at or before dawn and lasts well into the evening, usually seven days a week and holidays. Duties include oversight of all operations and personnel on the farm. This includes supervising the hired (or volunteer) barn help performing stable hand jobs (described below). It also involves being available for communication and appointments with horse owners, trainers, farriers and veterinarians any time of day or night. Barn managers often take care of finances and paperwork, such as being responsible for getting boarding, training and lesson checks on time. The manager also might deal with payroll and taxes related to the hired help.

Listed personality qualifications might include being responsible, patient, approachable, compassionate, attentive to detail, having stamina, strength, and able to supervise others while also being a capable problem solver.

What do you get in compensation for such an exacting, all-encompassing job? Often, housing is supplied since it works best if the barn manager lives on site—horse care is a 24 x 7 undertaking. Because this is a supervisory position, there is often a salary, which ranges from $ 21,000 - $40,000 per year (more or less depending on the size and location of the facility, jobs required of the manager, and years or experience). 

Be sure to get a written contract with all points agreed on by employer and employee. Spell out all the details of what is expected of the barn manager and what the barn owner expects. When negotiating the contract, ask questions and clarify all points so there are no future misunderstandings.

Stable Hand

To gain experience, those interested in working around barns often spend time performing tasks such as mucking stalls and paddocks, filling and cleaning water buckets, feeding 2-3 times per day, turning horses out and bringing them in, putting blankets on and taking them off, performing basic horse grooming and bathing tasks, general cleaning tasks of the barn, tack and equipment, and maintaining and fixing broken fences. In general, the stable hand keeps the farm running smoothly. Good stable hands are invaluable no matter the equestrian discipline.

Schedules vary depending on the number of stable hand employees and whether this is taken on as a part-time or full-time job. If there are a number of stable hands, then work might be split between them, providing 3-5 days of work a week per person.

All tasks related to being a stable hand require time outside no matter the weather. And, all the jobs require hands-on, physical labor rather than office time. Check what that physical effort entails. Will you be moving hay or asked to do other heavy lifting? Will you be up on ladders or fixing fences? There might be tasks involved with landscaping or weed or tree trimming. Do you have handy man experience that enables you to take care of all parts of the farm?

It is desirable for a stable hand to have some horse experience. This is practical for offering the best care to the horses and is a safety feature when working around and handling large, unpredictable animals.

A stable hand constantly interacts with innumerable people on the property—boarders, trainers, veterinarians, farriers, and the barn manager, as just a few examples. Good teamwork, strong communication skills, and a responsible work ethic are essential for success in this job. Fitness and stamina are important to keep up with the physical demands of the job.

Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the pay scale ranges from $10-$15 per hour for these kind of jobs.

Schooling Rider

The job of schooling rider puts you in the saddle as an assistant to a riding instructor/trainer at the barn facility. You’ll need to enjoy teamwork and collaborate with the primary person overseeing the horses. Besides having strong riding skills, fitness is desirable to accommodate time in the saddle complying with specific exercise schedules for each horse. In addition to mounted work, a schooling rider is likely to groom and warm up horses for professional trainers or riders involved in competition. Usually this job is paid by the hour—often at minimum wage—or in trade for riding instruction.

Exercise Rider

Work of an exercise rider entails preparing a racehorse for racing through gallop exercise. Depending on the extent of involvement and how many horses ridden, there is a possibility to earn around $27,000/year. In many cases, it is paid hourly, with the 2018 median rate of $26/hour, meaning half the riders make less than $26/hour. Racetracks, race training centers and farms are venues where you can gain experience and move up from grooming or hot walking duties to better-paying positions, such as being an exercise rider. Geographically, the most numerous exercise rider jobs are located in areas with a strong horse racing industry, such as Kentucky, New York State, California and Florida.

The rider must have excellent riding skills to be able to control horses of various ages, training levels and dispositions, and to gallop them at a specific pace set by the head trainer. Good communication skills are necessary to work with the trainer and to provide feedback about each horse’s workout. An exercise rider should be sensitive, patient, fit and strong, and should be capable of quick decision-making. A good work ethic is important as this often entails a 6-day workweek, starting at 5 a.m. for 5-7 hours no matter the weather. Generally, the rider’s weight should be less than 140-150 pounds. Safety equipment (helmet and vest) are required for this pursuit, and the rider needs to be licensed.

Professional schools throughout North America are available to start an interested person in a career as exercise rider.

Guide or Wrangler for Dude Ranch or Camp

Being a guide for a dude ranch or horse camp can be a rewarding experience. Not only do you get to work around horses each day and ride beautiful trails, but you also meet interesting people from all over the world. To be the best at this requires some basic attributes: An outgoing personality, good horsemanship and safety skills, a strong work ethic, patience and a good sense of humor.

This job involves a variety of tasks, including grooming, saddling/unsaddling, tack cleaning, educating guests/campers, supervising riding outings, presenting demonstrations, feeding the horses, checking on and repairing fences, paddocks, barns and stalls. Other tasks involve working with the vet and farrier, and providing care and medications to horses as specified by the veterinarian.

These job positions tend to be seasonal and might work well into a college student’s summer vacation schedule. Often room and board is included with a salary.

Foaling and Breeding Attendant

Spring is a busy season for equine reproduction and a good time to land a job as an attendant to assist with breeding and/or foaling. Usually, a foaling attendant job entails sitting watch with mares at night to monitor for signs of imminent foaling, and to help with the process. So this might be a good job for a night owl.

Breeding assistants should have good horsemanship skills to be able to handle a stallion, or a mare being teased to the stallion, or receiving a stallion for live cover. Knowledge of semen collection and artificial insemination is necessary in facilities that offer those services.

Ideally, a person seeking a job in equine reproduction benefits from having pursued a course of study or degree in equine reproduction or equine science. Personality characteristics advantageous to this position include a responsible work ethic, good communication skills, attention to detail, able to think on your feet, and commitment to building one’s strength and fitness as these jobs have physical requirements. Wages are paid hourly or by salary depending on the level of responsibility.

Hourly vs. Salary +/- Benefits

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLS) differentiates between exempt and non-exempt employees. An exempt employee is not entitled to minimum wage and/or overtime pay if work exceeds 40 hours/week. A non-exempt employee is granted overtime pay of time-and-a-half for hours worked beyond 40 hours /week.

The current status to designate an employee as “exempt” is one that is paid at least $23,600 per year ($455/week) on a salary basis and performs executive, professional or administrative job duties. These entail primary positions as supervisors and/or managers of business operations and/or specialization with knowledge in advanced fields of learning.

When negotiating a contract for employment, besides asking details about wages, query about other benefits, such as room and board, free instruction, boarding for your horse, vacation time, worker’s compensation insurance, medical insurance, and paid sick leave, to name a few possibilities.

Take-Home Message

With a little bit of creativity, you can pave your path to a job that finds you spending more time in and at the barn, working around horses. There are a number of options; those listed above are a few suggestions for anyone interested in pursuing this path. Not only can these career choices be personally satisfying, but they can be rewarding in other ways. In these capacities, you can build a network of people within the horse industry and find people who are willing to mentor your skill development, while at the same time earning a paycheck.