APHA horse trainer, Julie Kennedy, of Eastover, South Carolina recently posed the question to GoHorseShow, "What advice would today's horse trainers give high school aged riders who decide that horse training is something they would like to pursue?" Most kids in this generation have many college options, yet some want to jump into being a trainer straight out of high school and bypass going to college. GoHorseShow talked to several veteran, as well as young trainers, and asked them their thoughts about getting a college degree versus becoming a trainer straight out of high school.
Kennedy's own answer to the question she posed is that if she had the ability to start over, she would have attended college. "Looking back I would have pursued my degree and had horses as more of a hobby," says, Kennedy, who is surprisingly candid in her comments. "Maybe I'm just jealous that getting a college education wasn't an option
for me when I was younger, and collegiate equestrian teams and judging
teams didn't exist, but, if I could, I would go back and do things much,
much different in hindsight."
Kennedy continues, "When the horse business was good, we could count on a good chunk of income from commissions or buying and selling. With sales down, we are all hunting supplemental income--be it from judging, lessons, clinics or coaching. I can say that business courses would have been so helpful, since a
small part of horse training is actually riding--the profession also
entails managing time; budgeting overhead; and marketing and handling
people in stressful situations."
Trainer Arianne Pait, who, in addition to training with her husband, EH Pait, is also a professor at Arkansas State University. Pait believes that, "A college degree is something that can never be taken away. No matter what life presents to you. Young people should consider how their life as a horse trainer would be impacted by such things as poor health, family obligations and even disasters beyond your control. It is comforting to know that your opportunities are greater with a college degree. My advice is to follow your dreams, work hard, value education of all types and earn your degree."
Trainer and judge, Mark Sheridan, of Cave Creek, Arizona also agrees with Pait and Kennedy. Sheridan encourages up-and-coming trainers to get a degree as well as apprentice with the best in the industry.
"First of all, go to college! Study business, marketing, economics, accounting, and psychology. You will need all of these to help you become successful," Sheridan states. "Apprentice for five years, not five months. Learn how to develop a budget; learn what a spreadsheet is; learn how to do accounts receivables, learn to use Quicken and Quickbooks; and understand finances. Learn patience, and above all, if you don’t truly love horses, get out!" he says. "Take care of your equipment. I still have the same Featherlite eight horse trailer from 1987, and it looks new. Keep a lid on the overhead, work hard, remain focused, invest conservative and wisely, and learn from your mistakes. One additional thought is for all horse trainers or assistants to make sure they have health insurance. Disability insurance is a good thing as well. If you last long enough in this business, you will get hurt at some point in your career. Pay your health insurance premium before you buy that new pair of boots or that nice bit you have been wanting."
Horse trainer, Reid Thomas of Boerne, Texas, who recently purchased the successful training business, Showstring, from Scott Jones and David Miller, says the best decision he ever made was going to college. "I stayed in college and got a business degree that gave me options and opportunities along the way. That decision changed my life," Thomas says.
Multiple World Champion hunter trainer, Lainie DeBoer, recommends all trainers get a college degree. "Go to college and learn how to read and write--the horse business will still be there when you are done. That was the advice I was given and I am so glad I went to school and got a degree in business management," DeBoer states. "When you are a professional, you do more than ride. You need to be educated beyond your high school diploma. Your job entails giving clinics, public speaking, writing articles for publications, meeting with potential clients and balancing current ones, negotiating sales and contracts, accounting/billings/taxes, managing employee's and their salary/taxes/insurance, managing equipment, ordering feed and supplies, arranging travel for both horses and yourself, dealing with the IRS, managing a website or Facebook page, sitting on committees, running for positions on various boards and councils, getting your judges card, and finally giving interviews."
Long-time hunter and English trainer, Jerry Erickson says that young people should consider a nine-to-five job and do the horses as a hobby. However, his personal experience is living proof that is not always possible. "If you are a young trainer, you need to watch and listen and be observant of what does and doesn't work. Keeping one's mouth shut and attentively keeping your eyes and ears open will help so very much in the long run," he says.
Nevertheless, while many people are strong advocates of going to college, it isn't for everyone--including Brad Ost of Highpoint Performance Horses. Ost left college in his last year of college to pursue training horses.
"I think it's one of those things that if you want to be a horse trainer, you have to put a hundred percent in to it," Ost says. "If you have any doubts at all, you should go to college and get a degree. But, a college degree doesn't get you a horse training job. For myself, I left my last year of school and was willing to pretty much give up everything to get a job training horses. I feel like it was the best decision I've ever made. I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I love going to work everyday. Although, if this occupation doesn't work out, I don't know what I'll do!"
Debbi Trubee, general manager of Pine View Farm, has a different opinion. "Having a Plan B is always a plus in life!" Trubee says. "I would strongly recommend kids get a degree in something first. The horse business has been very good to me, but, it's a tough way to make a living. There is no retirement fund for horse trainers. A lot of young kids only see the glamorous part of the business and think it's all about winning. It is so much more than that, and, in the very least, some business courses would be advisable, so, they would have some basic knowledge on how to run a business."
Up-and-coming trainer Tara Eubank of Tennessee, is an example of someone who started training out of high school. Eubank says that, although she is not a fan of equine-related horse training colleges, she would recommend young potential trainers go to college and take business courses to help further their education and then apprentice with a top trainer. "In this economy, I would not recommend going out on your own to anyone. Work for another trainer--let them deal with the bills--you take the experience and roll with it without the hassle."
Young trainer, Wade Parks of Colbert, Georgia says he doesn't regret not finishing his college degree at Middle Tennessee State University, but that he wouldn't advise that other people do the same. "It was due to financial reasons that I was unable to finish," Parks told GoHorseShow, who recently got engaged to fellow trainer, Carly Veldman. "I don't regret leaving college to go to work for Ty and Karen Hornick because it is important to go work for some top trainers in the industry. It makes no sense to go out on your own if no one knows you or you haven't illustrated some competence and talent working under someone else."
However, Parks fears that in the future, he might ultimately regret his decision of not finishing his degree due to unforeseen circumstances where he is unable to continue training horses.
Park's fiance, Carly Veldman, says she would recommend all trainers get a degree. "I think clients respect a trainer more if they have a degree," Carly says, who graduated with a degree in agricultural business and was the University of Georgia Equestrian Western Coach. "Most of our clients are very successful in their careers and we need to be able to discuss issues on their level. Also, I think a four year degree gives young people a few more years to grow up."
Veldman continues, "I would also recommend young people who are interested in training go spend their summers and weekends working and helping trainers for free so they can still maintain their amateur status. It was helpful that I showed in the horsemanship and showmanship classes before deciding to turn pro. It also gives people a chance to decide whether this profession is a right fit for them before taking the major step of giving up their amateur status."
In hindsight, young trainer, Tate Oakley, also wishes he would have gone to college and received a degree. "One thing I wish I could have done different was go to college, and I regret not doing it," Oakley simply states. "Having an education and having something to fall back on if something were to happen to you health-wise is a must! A perfect example is my own dad (Troy Oakley). When he got hurt a few years ago, he was scared because he wasn't sure if he would be able to ride again and he didn't have a college degree to fall back on. So it goes to show that an education is important. There will always be time for the horses. So go get an education and prepare yourself for what life can give you."
As a mother of a college age student who wants to train horses I think this article was perfect. My son has had several trainers give him advice on what he should do and although most of them have suggested getting a business degree this helped reinforce that decision.