How do I learn the skills needed to work with horses?

You’ve never been around horses before and have no idea how to handle them, YouTube videos haven’t helped and you don’t want to go into your first equine job with no clue, so what are you supposed to do? To be honest, learning the skills needed to work with horses is a very hands-on learning experience.

There are many different courses you can take – from college courses that focus on horsemanship as part of a degree to more career-based industry programs – and many stables are more than willing to teach a good worker the skills needed. Keep in mind that the skills you’ll need to handle a racehorse will be slightly different than those you’ll need to handle a foal so the skills you learn in one part of the industry may not fully transfer over to another part.

One way to learn the skills you’ll need without going to a university is through a program such as Thoroughbred Industry Careers’ Explorer Cadetship Program or the Thoroughbred Breeders Australia’s 12 month Fast-Track program. In both cases, you will take both classes to learn about the more theoretical side of horses such as nutrition in addition to work placements.

Programs such as Thoroughbred Breeders Australia’s and other similar ones will have you mostly working at a stud where you will learn everything from foaling out mares to yearling prep. If you want to focus more on an all-around aspect so you feel more prepared with your skills if you go into stud work or track work, the Explorer Cadetship provides more of that all-around education.

Like most other equine programs, the Cadetship kicks off with a “boot camp.” This is a useful first part of the course because you won’t be thrown right into the working environment where you have to learn all the skills while you work. This 12 week course will teach you everything from the basics of riding thoroughbreds, with the program tailored to suit a varying level of abilities, to pedigrees of thoroughbreds.

This part will also let you see the industry first hand through “Industry Days” so you can meet potential future employers and see the skills you’re learning play out in real-life situations. Since racing is about working in teams, horse skills aren’t the only thing you’ll need to learn. Speaking classes and courses on how to resolve conflicts are also a few of the other things you’ll learn here.

But as we all know, there is only so much classes can teach you, even if they have hands-on components. You’ll also get a chance to use the horse handling skills you’ve learned through the “boot camp” with a racing stable placement followed by a stud farm placement.

The great thing about horses is that there’s never just one way to do something so no matter what stable you go to, you’ll learn something new.

An important thing to keep in mind as well is that each stable likes things done just a tad different. So to make sure you learn as much as possible – something that is always important with horses – you need to go into each job or placement with an open mind. Believe it or not, there is more than one way to muck a stall (and the same stable may muck them three different ways depending on the day!)

As said earlier, you’ll need different skill sets depending on which part of the industry you’re in so the ability to work at both a racing stable and stud farm in the Cadetship will help you further your career and your all-around skill set.

While a racing stable will have you working with racehorses in a fast-paced environment where you need to move at a quick pace with horses who may often be on their toes, in a stud environment you may need to slow the pace down a bit.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll be having an easier time of it or it’s more of a laid back environment,  but learning the skills needed to move slowly to achieve  goals with foals or flighty yearlings that haven’t been handled as much as racehorses is useful. The good thing is that many of the skills you learn while working with racehorses or breeding stock will give you something else in your arsenal when moving to a different sector of the industry.

The great thing about horses is that even when your formal education is over, you won’t stop learning. While programs working hands-on will teach you the basic and even more advanced skills that you need to safely and efficiently work with horses, even after 50 years in the industry you’ll continue adding to your skill set every day.