For many people, their fascination with horses begins at a very early age. Maybe they ride a pony at the state fair and get hooked on the feeling of freedom that riding brings. Or perhaps they watch movies set in horse country and dream of owning their own ranch someday.
Whatever the introduction to the equine world, one thing is certain: An interest in horses can be turned into an interesting career. The equine industry is extensive and multi-faceted, and equine jobs can be found in many professional environments, even some that may seem less obvious at first.
What Are Equine Jobs?
Equine jobs cover a wide range of opportunities. Anything related to horse care, health, or related resources is considered part of the industry, as are the roles of professionals who work with performance horses, including those who manage the business end of things.
Shelby Winchell, equine instructor at Northeastern Junior College, shares her insight about jobs in the horse industry.
“Frequently, when people think of the equine industry, they just think of training horses,” she says. “But somebody who works at a horse trailer dealership is also considered part of the equine industry. A horse trailer salesperson and the folks who sell feed — they're all encompassed within the industry.”
She adds, “If you were to ask somebody on the street about jobs with horses, again the most common answer is likely to be ‘Horse trainer or somebody that rides horses for a living.’ But someone who’s a horse trainer might also provide horse boarding as a second income. A nutritionist might work specifically in equine nutrition. The industry is so broad.”
In 2021, a big trend is that some equine jobs, especially those involved with the care of the animals themselves, are going mobile. “You’re still going to have your brick-and-mortar vet clinics, but mobile equine dentistry, mobile equine chiropractic, and mobile veterinary services are growing,” explains Winchell. “Equine massage is also increasing as a mobile service. These are growing because being mobile lets practitioners travel and still do what they love and have their own businesses.”
Entrepreneurial roles are some of the most widely available in the equine world of work. “It’s just the nature of the industry,” says Winchell. “For example, someone goes to vet school, studies nutrition, and then sets up shop on a ranch running a mom-and-pop operation that serves the local area.”
Examples like this are everywhere. The local vet, the mobile services providers, the equine dentist all illustrate that designing an entrepreneurial role is one way of making a mark — and making a living — in the industry.
What’s the Job Outlook for Equine Careers?
The job outlook for employment in animal care — including the equine industry — is bright, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting 22% growth through 2026. Experts expect the economic impact of the industry to be around $122 billion and include two million jobs.
In 2019, the BLS listed median annual pay for animal care workers at $24,990, but salaries vary widely across the horse industry because of the many roles that exist.
People who are in the equine industry tend to be accepting of the salary variations. They’re typically risk-takers who are willing to work outside the box, even when it comes to pay. And many build their equine careers by combining related jobs,
“A lot of them have more than one role; for example, someone might train horses and sell livestock panels. Financially, the industry can be a little risky, but the advantage is you can have more than one opportunity and still be involved in your passion for horses and the horse industry,” says Winchell.
Where Can I Find a Job in the Equine Industry?
Equine jobs are found in a variety of work environments. Performance-driven roles include positions in rodeos and other performance venues, while service roles are found in chiropractic and veterinary care, among other specialties. Opportunities also exist in manufacturing facilities that craft products for horses, insurance agencies that provide coverage in the industry, and tourist attractions that offer trail rides and other hospitality-driven amenities.
Winchell says the industry has grown broader over time, but it began as an entertainment-based market. “Today, there are the products and services of an equine dentist, massage therapist, or nutritionist, but the bottom line is the equine industry was started for entertainment purposes. The racing industry and the rodeo industry — these entertainment factors kicked the industry off, and it branched out from there.”
Winchell believes demand on the entertainment side of the industry will always be strong partly because there are a variety of options that allow many people to be involved. “Anyone can go to a local barrel race, and thanks to the National Barrel Horse Association, barrel racing is exploding. Right now, roping is also growing. Everybody wants to rope, and pro rodeos are even starting to include breakaway roping.”
The show world attracts a wide range of equine workers, too. Winchell explains, “You have kids who grew up showing horses and retired older individuals who use it as their pastime. Recreation riding is so big as a leisure activity. It’s for everyone — people still in the workforce and retirees. Young and old. For example, some good friends of mine live in Illinois and go to Arizona for trail rides. A rodeo recruit comes from a family that provides trail rides in the summer and sleigh rides in the winter.”
Equine careers are varied like that — A horse trainer who also provides boarding services. A trail host who may also offer sleigh rides. The opportunities are there to be discovered.
While the science and care side of the industry may seem far removed from performance roles, they are intertwined. “They may seem separate, but the industry is circular. Everything is interrelated with one central focus: the horse — a four-legged creature we’ve developed millions and millions of jobs around. And one kind of job feeds into the next,” says Winchell.
“With the horse in the center,” she explains, “you’ve got the manufacturers that turn raw materials into goods for the horses. There are also the manufacturers that build the equipment for those processes. Then there are horse owners who buy the products for their animals and service providers who take care of the horses and their owners. There are jobs at every point around that circle.”
What’s an Equine Work Environment Like?
For every equine job, the work environment is different and sometimes unique to that specific job. A traveling massage therapist might be indoors one day and outdoors the next, for example. Veterinarians may work overnight hours when a client’s horse goes into labor but keep regular clinic hours most days.
Equine jobs can be very hard work. Employees who are just starting out in equine careers may be mucking stalls, getting their hands and feet dirty every day, and working in all kinds of extreme weather. The work environment may be challenging, but Winchell says, “Look how much you're learning for when you're out on your own.”
Fundamental skills and resiliency for a successful long-term career are built early on, even in the toughest stable jobs.
How Do You Get Started in an Equine Job?
Finding a job that’s a good fit in the equine industry is a matter of exploring. Whether someone has experience with horses or not, opportunities exist, and it just takes getting in there and getting your hands dirty (literally!) to find the job that’s right for you.
“If someone’s in high school, I encourage them to explore jobs. Job shadowing is one way to do that. Anything you can do to get more exposure to the industry is a good thing,” says Winchell.
Taking a class is also a good place to start. Winchell says, “Get involved in an equine science class at a college and build from there. Once you take a class and start finding your area of interest, then look for an internship or job in that area.”
Winchell encourages studying at a community college like Northeastern first, and being open to opportunities that may come along.
“I tell those interested in equine careers not to pigeonhole themselves,” she says. “I'm a firm believer in two-year institutions that let students get their feet wet first before moving on to a four-year program or to the workforce. Getting the foundational skills that a two-year program can offer is fundamental because no matter what level someone ends up working at, the basic skills and knowledge need to be in place.”
She adds, “Coming into a two-year institution gives students a safe environment to explore options and figure out what they’re really interested in. Out on their own in the real world, they might not have the financial means or time to experiment with different options the way they could in a college environment.”
What Is an Equine Studies Program?
Equine studies focus both on horses and the horse industry. Northeastern’s equine studies program covers everything from managing an equine business to becoming a horse trainer. It also offers equine pre-veterinary science for those interested in pursuing equine veterinarian jobs. With extensive facilities, the college can offer students hands-on experience in classrooms and an on-site arena.
Prospective students shouldn’t worry about having extensive experience with horses before enrolling in an equine studies program. “It isn’t necessary,” Winchell explains, “Students don’t have to have pinpointed specific knowledge coming into a two-year program, but the more exposure they can give themselves beforehand, the better.”
After all, one of the benefits of college is the ability to explore and test career interests. “When students get here, it’s important for them not to be too closed off. I always like to say, ‘We don't know what we don't know.’ So, get into a program and use that opportunity to broaden horizons,” says Winchell.
Northeastern’s academic advisors can help students navigate those bigger horizons. For students enrolled in equine studies, the first semester covers a lot of general topics, and students can begin choosing electives based on the interests they discover along the way.
“In the first semester, students may take Introduction to Equine Science or Introduction to Animal Science and one or two electives,” Winchell says. “Those classes have multiple categories. So if a student comes to us saying they think the dental issues of horses are interesting, for example, we’ll help them choose additional classes related to that. Others may enjoy the discussions about horse nutrition, and we can help them focus later classes on healthy eating and similar nutrition-focused studies.”
She adds, “At Northeastern, we’ve built our program with stepping-stones. I teach a basic class that’s for students who aren't necessarily ready to train young horses. Students take the class as a stepping-stone because horse training can be intimidating for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with horses. We’ve recognized that, and we work with students where they are, in terms of the experience they have.”
That’s good news for students at all experience levels. It’s also good news for those who already have ideas about how they’d like to spend their equine careers.
“There are a lot of variations in business,” Winchell says. “One of my students was a young lady whose mother was a psychologist and father a physical therapist. She was interested in both and wanted her work to involve horses, so she planned to do horse rehabilitation with physical and psychological aspects to the treatment. Students bring their own ideas to the industry and can explore related opportunities — or create their own, like this student planned to do.”
Where Do I Start?
As with any profession, the willingness to start at the beginning can be a big win for someone interested in equine careers.
“Don't be afraid to start at the bottom. Someone who wants to be a horse trainer, for example, can get tunnel vision and only see the end they’re trying to reach. But it’s important not to be afraid of the process it takes to get there,” advises Winchell.
She adds, “Know that when you start, you're going to be the person who cleans stalls and saddles and does other menial jobs around a facility. It may not feel great at the time, but that’s the best place to start, so don’t be afraid of it. Start at the bottom and grab every opportunity that comes along the way.”
To learn more about how you can start your career in the equine industry, please visit the equine studies program page.