Horse Trainer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a horse trainer. Get a quick overview of the requirements as well as details about educational programs, job duties and available courses to find out if this is the career for you.

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A horse trainer teaches horses the skills they need for performance, making sure they are also fit and obedient. Most horse trainers gain equine experience and learn training skills on the job, though there are postsecondary programs available for those wishing to enrich their knowledge.

Essential Information

Horse trainers, also called equine trainers, work with horses to prepare them for riders, races, trail work and/or horse shows. They help horses adapt to wearing saddles and bridles, teach vital riding commands and work with the animals to correct behavioral issues related to abuse or other trauma. Horse trainers are required to have expert riding skills and a thorough knowledge of horse management. Patience and a love of animals can also be extremely beneficial.

Required Education No formal requirements
Other Requirements On-the-job training or apprenticeship; equine studies programs sometimes helpful
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% for all animal trainers
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $33,600 for all animal trainers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Job Duties

Horse trainers use different methods to get horses to respond to them, such as giving treats and other positive reinforcement when the horses do something well. To get the horses used to human contact, horse trainers use their voices and plenty of physical contact. Slowly, trainers bring in other people to help the animals become used to responding to different riders' commands.

Trainers analyze horses' behaviors to assess the horses' dispositions. They use this information to correct any behavioral problems such as head tossing, kicking, biting and dominance assertion. Other traits trainers may address include bolting, nervousness and restlessness. The horses' personalities also provide horse trainers with insight in determining the horses' training capacities.

Most trainers also observe a horse's nutrition, feeding habits and health, which may be discussed with veterinarians and horse nutritionists if the trainer suspects the animal is ill. Because horses are frightened easily, horse trainers work on ways to counteract that tendency. Throughout the training period, horse trainers may be thrown off the horse, stomped on, kicked or bitten.

Horse trainers who prep horses for riders or horse shows teach horses different commands for when to perform a certain task or trick. Horse trainers use different training styles to coach horses for different equestrian events, including:

  • Dressage - a horse learns to perform set movements in a precise manner
  • Cutting - a Western style of training where the horse learns to herd livestock
  • Barrel racing - a rodeo event that requires the horse to execute a clover-shaped course
  • Trail riding - a horse learns to walk along trails
  • Show jumping - a horse learns to jump fences of various heights
  • Reining - a Western form of dressage
  • Western pleasure - trains the horse to enjoy being ridden by scoring based on whether the horse appears pleasant to ride

Horses being trained for races often perform early morning exercises, and then take a break for grooming and injury inspection. Later in the day, the horse may undergo another exercise session, and the trainer typically supervises all these activities. In addition to training horses, horse trainers also teach people how to interact with horses properly. Horse trainers teach jockeys how to direct and manage racehorses. They also teach horse owners how to care for and handle horses.

Cleaning horse stables and grooming are sometimes the duties of horse trainers. If these duties are delegated to other equine workers, the horse trainer supervises the chores. Horse trainers also acclimate horses to walking onto horse trailers to get them used to being relocated whenever necessary.

Requirements

Working in stables and as horse groomers is a way many horse trainers begin their careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Proficient riding abilities and knowledge of horse husbandry is often mandatory. Some horse training positions have weight requirements.

Some horse trainers work as horse trainer apprentices where they perform stable chores, exercise horses, feed and groom horses and any other duties their mentors ask. Completing an equine studies program, which is offered by some colleges, is another way horse trainers learn required skills. Courses may include horsemanship, equine anatomy and physiology, facility management, equine behavior, animal ethics and welfare, equine nutrition and equine diseases.

Career Outlook

The BLS reported that jobs for animal trainers in general is predicted to increase by 11% from 2014-2024, more rapidly than average across all occupations. According to the BLS, animal trainers earned an average yearly wage of $33,600 in May 2015. The top ten percent of these professionals took in $57,170 or more every year, while the bottom ten percent of workers made $18,160 or less annually.

Trainers work with horses to prepare them for whatever task they are to perform, implementing exercise sessions, vocal and physical commands, specified nutrition, and behavioral correction. An equine studies program can be useful, but is not required; apprenticeships and on-the-job training can suffice. Jobs for all types of animal trainers are projected to grow at a faster than average rate through 2024.

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