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Apprenticeships, how to?

So, I’ve wanted to be a professional horseback rider since I was a child. I was taking.lessons bu believed one needed to be VERY wealthy to have any chance to do so. I am now 40 y/o. Watching various YouTube videos, I learned about apprenticeships and how they have allowed people of all financial demographics to try for their dreams. I didn’t know such a thing existed when I graduated from high school. I cried thinking “who would ever choose a 40 y/o apprentice?” Am I truly too late or is the possibility still there???

EDITED: I’m sorry! But yes I started at age 9, rode and showed a bit until college and then was on our intercollegiate team and did an occasional hunter paces. After graduating I purchased a Dutch warmblood, but only schooled and then had a bad fall. I had to stop riding for a long while. Now it’s just been a tral ride here and there. I’m finally back in lessons and getting back into “riding shape.”

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The short answer–it’s too late if you are just beginning to ride at 40 to become a professional rider.
The long answer–people spend decades who began as small children riding many horses for many hours and still don’t make it professionally. Often they serve as working students (apprentices) to make their way and learn from the best. It is a hard life and difficult without significant financial support. It can be dangerous and the hours are long and arduous. Often it takes many, many hours over many years to learn riding and horsemanship–and you will never know it all. Far better to enjoy learning to ride at 40 from a fun reputable trainer who has some safe lesson horses who will take care of you.

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What is your riding background? Its hard to tell from your post if you have been riding since childhood, or you have lifelong experience. There are working student positions which often involve hard work and long hours, 6 or even 7 days a week, for a small salary and some riding instruction, some positions include housing. What type of situation do the videos you are watching involve? Do you expect free riding instruction in exchange for work, or are you expected to pay? Are you looking to teach lessons, or to be paid for riding and competing? You would need to be a very proficient rider to be paid for showing other people’s horses.

Maybe something like a British Horse Society course in the UK might fit your needs. From the BHS website " The BHS has an extensive and world-standard system of qualifications, training and education, including the Horse Owner’s Certificates which are aimed at the leisure rider, and the Stages exams which lead to various riding instructor’s and groom’s qualifications.". At one time there were programs in the US that seemed to be modeled after the BHS courses, such as Potomac Riding Center but I don’t think they exist any more.

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I am not sure what you really have in mind from your post.

BUT – in my neck of the woods [as they say], if you are physically strong, can go all day doing somewhat heavy work with not much rest or food, have regular hours to give, are not afraid of horses, are absolutely reliable about attendance, are ok with poor pay and erratic management, and live in a reasonable commute distance, there are barn jobs out there for you.

These are not riding jobs. They are horse care jobs. Management will train as, they regularly bring in people who are more willing than knowledgeable.

That will give you experience with horses and can lead to riding, for those who can ride at least competently (or learn to ride). Probably not as a professional trainer, but as someone who can put some rides on trail horses in the slack season and sometimes on lesson horses.

There is an east-west band of about 50 miles on either side of I-10 around and west of Houston, TX, to San Antonio, where there are a plethora of show & board stables of various disciplines, and vacation resorts with horseback riding, and often not enough workers. They do not care about worker demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, riding background) other than live close enough to be there per schedule. They will hire virtually anyone who meets the conditions in my “but” paragraph. They hire people who have never before even petted a horse, and they train. A lot of workers don’t stay once they learn how hard is the work, so there are frequently open positions.

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For someone who already rides as you do, you might be looking for a ‘working student’ position. If a program has a need for a working student and not enough suitable applicants, I’m sure they would be willing to give you a look.

Find the right classifieds (not sure where) to find these positions. They tend to have a lot of openings for the expected end of May semester. If they don’t fill with traditional college-age riders, you might be a candidate.

Unlike the paid worker jobs, these would probably require you to provide a lot of your own funding.

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How are you defining professional?

High level competition is not synonymous with professional. There are very high level professionals and amateurs. There are also many more low level professionals teaching beginners or doing basic training of green horses. And there are many people with mediocre riding skills who love horses and work as grooms or barn help

Riding is a sport where you need to invest a lot of your own time and money before you have the skills that make people want you as a working student. Also people tend to give more opportunities to young adults and teens on their way up than to middle aged adults.

Why do you want to be a horse pro? Are you looking for a money earning career? Or just looking for free access to riding? Either way you’d be ahead with a good paying nonhorse job and paying for riding lessons and maybe doing some barn chores.

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I think at this point I would like be reputable and skilled enough to sell started youngsters and project horses. I’m in a hunt club so the dream would be to sell field hunters.

See the thing is, being in that kind of sales is creating your own small business and you need capital to start it up. It’s not a job you get hired to do by someone. You are going to need the start up cash to rent or buy a horse property, the cash to buy young horses, to hire barn help, as well as advertise. Then the skills to choose the right horse , find his market, sell.him.at a markup. Where would you source your young stock? Are you going to be shopping retired TB? Do you have a good enough eye for a horse, the risk tolerance to buy off track, and the sticky seat to get them ammie broke in a couple months?

Is there a big market for field hunters? It’s a pretty small niche in North America, bigger in UK. Are you in UK? If you are go take the British horsemanship training. If you are in North America I’d focus on lower end junior hunter jumper for the most turnover.

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What are your qualifications for this dream? Experience and preparation?

Just on the above quote, you are fairly good at articulating your dream.

It is essential to be good at articulating why you are the right person for the job. The convincing version, distilled into a 1 minute summary.

And, to expand your search for various avenues to start your journey beyond COTH. :slight_smile:

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While I 100% agree with obtaining a sound education and professional qualifications, if your dream is to produce and sell field hunters, which is a very niche market, then perhaps just start small and build up. Take one horse into the hunting field, make it over the season, then sell it on. You belong to a hunt club so presumably you a) have the practical knowledge and b) have the social connections. Become the person everyone knows will have a good young horse or two available. Many well known sources, across most of the equestrian disciplines, sell only four or five horses in a year. Big dealers with tens of horses for sale are the exception rather than the rule. It is very time consuming to source suitable horses and then to market them and it is very, very time consuming to match a rider to their new horse. Training the horse is the easy bit. It is insanity as a business model.

The British Horse Society has online resources to help distance learning. Their training takes two routes: riding and handling. The BHS qualifications are comprehensive, effective and are recognized world wide as a professional standard. It is possible to do intensive courses leading to qualifications at some BHS approved training centers in the UK, generally suitable for people with some existing skills and knowledge. Often people do these in the period between finishing high school and going to university.

And a further thought, you could take on horses that people want to sell but can’t because they lack the time, experience and connections: a sales livery.

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These have all been great and helpful suggestions. Thank you for being kind!

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Just want to say good luck! You remind me of me when I was your age – and how nice that you have the hunt connection!
I wish you success.

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You could build on this by doing some training rides on horses that other (maybe older or newer to hunting) members own but want someone else to take out hunting a few times before they hunt on the horse themselves. Having been at a barn with a group of hunt riders, they are always looking for someone to hire to do some conditioning rides to keep their horses in shape, or get them back in shape before the start of the season. Maybe you would like to eventually become hunt staff? You could offer care services too, like clipping, first aid, or rehabbing an injured horse (directed by vet). Or even meeting and holding horses for the vet or the farrier. I think you have identified a niche for yourself that does not necessarily require impossible levels of funding or additional education. Especially compared to the show hunter world. More fun too!

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I think these questions are a little bit in bad faith! Sounds like OP is seeking an apprenticeship precisely because she wants to develop the experience, preparation, and qualifications for this dream…

To the OP, I would say to think outside the box. This isn’t like a nursing degree. You won’t find accredited programs that offer standardized training and give you a certification at the end. But you can seek out connections and opportunities that give you the learning experience you’re looking for. It might be kind of hodgepodge and informal, and you might find yourself in unsafe situations if you aren’t smart about it, but you can certainly keep learning and working toward your goal.

I don’t know the details of your background, but I can imagine a situation where a person feels like they never quite got a chance to “break in” to the behind-the-scenes horse world, i.e., you’re always just a client, just showing up, getting told what to do and how to do it. Unfortunately, deciding to become a professional wouldn’t solve that for you. But that doesn’t mean you have to confine yourself to the realm of weekly lessons, leasing made horses, and just showing up to be told what to do for the rest of your life. You can learn what to do and do it yourself.

If I were you, I would try networking with the people in your area who are selling the types of horses you’d like to train and sell yourself. See if they could use an extra set of hands—someone to come in the mornings and lunge, to work on ground manners, standing in cross ties, standing at the mounting block, etc. A lot of the basics aren’t rocket science and don’t even require riding, just consistency and patient handling. Obviously you can also take lessons that focus on these things, but lessons are expensive! I can understand wanting to find a cheaper way to learn how to train.

When you want to dip your toe into horse sales, there’s no reason to go all-in and make an entire business out of it. Use your connections to find a good project horse within your skill range to work with, and apply all the things you’ve learned. Then try to sell the horse at the end. And voila, you’re a professional.

Lots of things could go wrong, of course. You could attach yourself to the wrong trainer with the wrong horses, and learn to go about things in a totally wrong and possibly unsafe way. You could acquire a project horse that is way beyond your skill level to turn around and/or chronically unsound, and not be able to sell that horse like you planned. You could get hurt or realize you don’t actually enjoy working with green horses. But I think if you go into it with eyes wide open and common sense, you can learn a lot (even from the wrong people, or from your failures), and come out on the other side feeling like you got that “insider’s experience” as a horse professional whether you decide to stick with it and do it year after year or not.

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What an unpleasant thing to say. That is totally untrue and completely unwarranted.

Sorry, I didn’t mean it in an accusatory way. I think those would be perfectly legitimate questions to ask if OP had started the thread by saying she wanted to train field hunter projects. But since she started by saying she wanted an apprenticeship, it seemed like she was trying to tackle those questions already and just struggling with the “how.”

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OP this may not be what you had in mind but you sound like a prime candidate for working with a therapeutic riding program if there are any near you. We got a lot of volunteers who were about your age and looking to get back into horses after a long break or who had no horse experience but had always been interested. These programs provide solid training and exposure to a lot of different areas of horsemanship, and I had several volunteers that I trained who went from basically no experience to getting PATH certified and building a career in the field, and some who went on to work elsewhere in the horse industry. It can also be a good way to make connections in your local horse community. It’s a much friendlier introduction to the industry than going the typical working student/apprentice route, and doesn’t require the demanding schedule, low pay, and often unpleasant conditions working students have to deal with.

This wouldn’t preclude you from the goal of eventually restarting and selling project horses, but since it sounds like you don’t have much recent riding experience that goal is probably a ways off. It’d be a good idea to start with shorter term goals where you can gain experience and build a network. Project horses also aren’t going to be that profitable unless you have a cheap place to keep them and enough experience working with young horses to get them trained and sold quickly before you’ve poured too much money into them. A lot of amateur riders enjoy working with project horses and selling them on later, but it isn’t really a viable business model for most of them - just a way to improve their riding/training skills and recoup a small portion of the money they were going to spend on horses anyway.

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I suggest reaching out to a professional that is specifically working in your field of interest - selling field hunters. Maybe someone in your hunt is already doing this and can help steer you or they may even have a staff position open or know someone that does? It takes a lot of grit to be in the sales business.
Here is one field hunter sales business ~ https://www.qualityequines.com/
Good luck!

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I’m curious what other people’s experiences with therapeutic riding centers have been. Mine left me with a lot of questions! But, in fairness, I understand the focus is on the kids, and the professionals are therapists, not horse people. So, the level of horse experience among the staff can be questionable.

Anecdotally, I got my volunteer training from someone who seemed very new to horses. She told me to use a 17” saddle for a six-year-old rider and said it was a good fit (it was not). She said to use a 55” girth that was clearly going to be too big (and I imagine was what they used for the very smallest pony saddle), but she insisted that was the horse’s size and we could not use a smaller one. I did it up to the very top billet and hoped the kid didn’t lean! The therapist wanted to use rainbow reins and she thought that meant we had to take the horse back to the barn, take off the bridle, and go put on a different horse’s bridle (ie, did not realize you can just take the reins off one bridle and put them on another). The horse was overall a cool customer but would balk or dive for grass opportunistically and she didn’t seem equipped to do anything about it. It was nothing dangerous or egregious, but definitely enough to where I questioned how it went when she trained people with no horse experience.

All in all, it was nice for my ego to show off my magical rein removing and reconfiguring skills! But I couldn’t imagine relying on them for much horsemanship education. That said, I still think it’s a super rewarding thing to do, and I do think OP might benefit in the sense that she could find herself in a situation where people really need her help. Personally, I thought it was exciting and novel to realize I knew something someone else didn’t know :joy:. It’s nice to surround yourself with knowledgeable horse people, but sometimes it’s also nice to find an environment where you can be the knowledgeable one.

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ETA: this got pretty long and off topic, but I mostly suggested therapeutic riding because OP seems to be looking to combine the passion for horses with some kind of vocation or sense of purpose which this does for a lot of people. It’s not for everyone, it just depends on what you’re looking for.

As with everything else in the horse world, quality can vary depending on the program, and there’s nothing stopping anyone from hanging out their shingle for “therapeutic riding” with no qualifications whatsoever. That said, most of the certified programs I’ve been around have had very high standards of horsemanship - they may not be your standards, and there are things that make sense for that type of program that wouldn’t work elsewhere, but providing quality care and training is essential as a safety issue and for maintaining the longevity of the horses. Many of these programs see a large volume of clients and volunteers every week. The priority is always going to be on doing things safely and consistently, and streamlining things where possible because time and labor are limited. That means some of the “nice to haves” that aren’t safety or welfare issues may not be as high priority as they would in a private barn - it’s just the reality of trying to keep a program like this running. This is prime “don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good” territory.

How long did you actually work with this program? It doesn’t sound like you were there very long, and initial training is usually focused more on getting people up to speed to support lessons, not so much on the horsemanship side, since that’s the main need for volunteers and frankly a lot of volunteers don’t stick around long enough to make it worth figuring out if their claimed experience is legit or not. You do have to prove yourself a bit first, and they still have to confirm all your basics before moving on to areas where you can actually learn something, so it can take time. The primary focus will always be on supporting clients and horses; volunteer enrichment will always take a back seat to those goals, but was absolutely on our list of priorities. Education was something free and easy we could do to show volunteers how much we valued them and help them get as much out of the experience as possible.

Honestly, your post is kind of why it was often easier to get volunteers with no horse experience at all. A lot of horse people came in with very strong opinions on How Things Should Be Done (which of course all contradict each other!) and often jumped to judgment instead of trying to understand why things that work in a show barn might not be ideal for a therapy program. I always made a point to explain why we did things the way we did instead of just telling people the policy so they could learn. Usually there were very good reasons that weren’t obvious to people new to the program, but sometimes the reason was just that when you have that many people coming and going every week, at some point you have to just pick one way out of the multiple “right” ways and ask everyone to adhere to it to keep things safe and organized.

This is definitely not true. The vast majority of therapeutic riding instructors that I’ve known are people who have deep horsey backgrounds and wanted a job in the industry that wasn’t going pro. There are others who come into it from the therapy angle but they’re the minority, and in any case just going through the PATH certification process will get a person a good amount of horse experience. Either the more horsey instructors will handle the more advanced care and training, or larger programs will have a dedicated barn manager type on staff as well.

Not every instructor needs to have deep horse expertise, and it’s helpful to have a variety of strengths on staff since these programs need such a wide range of skills to function. You’ll also typically see some instructors with more of a non-profit/fundraising background too. These programs don’t have the budget for large staffs so everyone wears multiple hats, usually teaching plus something more specialized.

Not that unusual for initial training to be done by another volunteer that may not be an expert. If you were totally new to the program they weren’t looking to you for horse experience anyway, they just needed someone to show you where to find everything and explain the basic routine. If she could correctly identify all the horses and complete basic grooming and tacking, she was qualified to show you how to do the same.

As an experienced staff member, it wouldn’t have been a good use of my time to show you around at first when someone else could do that while I dealt with the more complicated tasks on my list. I would have checked in with you a few times and asked trusted volunteers what they thought of you after your first few shifts, and then I would have started spending more time with you once you had the lay of the land and I could actually start to figure out how much experience you really had. I would have loved to do all the initial training myself but there was always more to do than time in the day to do it, so it just didn’t always work out that way.

This is a non-issue. A 17" saddle should be just fine for all but the tiniest of 6 year olds, and fit for the horse is much more important than fit for the rider. These lessons mostly take place at the walk and usually there are volunteers walking alongside, and proper equitation is not the main goal. The horses, on the other hand, work hard and carry a lot of unbalanced riders so their comfort is most important. The horse may have been hard to fit or had back issues that required a specific set up, or maybe the rider had physical challenges which made that particular saddle work well. Saddle fit is too complicated to involve volunteers who may not have all the relevant information or experience. Remember also these are nonprofits - they don’t have the budget to be super picky with big ticket items like saddles and often rely on donations, so if it fits the horse correctly they’ll try to make it work if at all possible.

It’s very common for each horse to have specific tack assigned to it that volunteers are not supposed to change without consulting an instructor. YOU may feel qualified to make adjustments, but so do a lot of people that really shouldn’t be messing with what’s been fitted by the program - if every volunteer starts swapping stuff out as they see fit suddenly you have a chaotic tack room and a high likelihood of a tack malfunction that puts a rider at risk. Maybe the horse was going through some weight changes, maybe he preferred that girth for other reasons and they were making it work until they could get a new size, who knows. Instructors check tack and girths before riders mount, so if it was really a safety issue it would have been fixed. We had so many processes in place to make sure everything that needed to be was checked by someone experienced, just because you weren’t involved doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

Same with the reins. For a volunteer used to the therapeutic program, the idea of taking apart a horse’s bridle would give them pause - and it should! It’s really not a huge deal, and if you hadn’t been there the instructor would have easily made the swap themselves. All it took was a 30 second explanation and now that volunteer can handle this issue herself next time.

You get a wide variety of horses in a therapy program, and not every volunteer is going to be equipped to handle every horse. The main program I worked with typically needed 200-300 volunteers on schedule every week - try finding 300 legitimately experienced horse people who are willing to donate their time regularly, it’s not easy! Most programs will separate out horses by difficulty level, and the staff do a LOT of groundwork as well, but honestly a horse that dives for the grass but otherwise isn’t going anywhere would not be a huge concern for me. The volunteer will either figure out how to assert herself or someone else will come yank his head up, it’ll be fine.

Honestly it doesn’t sound like you were involved long enough to find out, and may not have come across as that willing to learn considering how many things you considered them to be doing wrong right away. It’s not something that happens in the first few weeks or even months of working there, and if you go in just hoping to get something out of it for yourself you’re going to be disappointed, but you’d be surprised how much they’ll bring you in on once you prove you’re a team player.

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