The only thing harder than finding the right horse job is finding the right employee — and vice-versa. Claire Trafton of Entrigue Consulting has a few considerations for both employers and employees.
Finding the right job or finding the right employee can be a tough search. Right now, it seems like every trainer is hiring, but they can’t find the right worker. We could go on all sorts of tangents about why that is, but today let’s focus on the big picture with some key points.
So, here’s the cold hard truth!
If you’re the trainer…
Getting Ghosted By a Would-Be Employer
If you’re a trainer, you’re a professional. A role model. An example. A standard. What I’m going to tell you here is act like it.
If you don’t want to hire the 20-year-old girl because she doesn’t have enough experience, doesn’t have the time commitment you need, or because her pits smell bad from 20 feet away – whatever the reason is, call her and tell her no.
You are doing a favor by turning people down. Seems backwards, right? Well, if you tell them no, they’re free to go along their merry way, leave you alone, and find another job. It’s downright rude to not return calls.
Let them move on and pursue another job. I can guarantee you that they’re wondering if they’re nagging you (you’re not answering phone calls, text, or emails), or if they should just move on without saying anything, or maybe you’re not calling back because your Grandma died and you’re at the funeral — they’ll come up with any excuse besides “maybe they’re just a jerk that won’t call me back.”
TELL THEM NO. Don’t ghost a potential employee.
Train the Horse, Train the People
Let’s say you have two potential hires. One is a talented rider, but you can tell that he or she is close-minded to learning other techniques. You’ve ridden with this person a couple of times and they half-try to use your theory before going back to their own. But overall, they need little assistance in their riding skills. You could leave them alone with 15 horses and they could ride them all.
The other is a great rider as well, but needs some refinement, more miles in the saddle. They’re eager. Willing to learn. They’re gracious. They tell you “thank you.”
Be willing to teach. No one wants to hire someone who needs to be taught how to latch a gate properly, but everyone has to start somewhere. Someone who is willing to learn will exponentially improve and work hard for you. It might an investment, but in the long run you will have a better employee and someone who is grateful for the opportunity. Work ethic is more valuable than talent.
So You Had it Tough…
“Back in your day” you worked for a trainer that was borderline abusive, worked 15-hour days, seven days a week, almost never rode, and you did this all for free.
So many trainers think since they had it rough and worked for nothing, that people today should too. Just because you worked that way, doesn’t mean it was right and it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
If you want someone to work for you six and a half days a week for full-time hours and for free, you need to understand that that position is going to be incredibly short lived and you will constantly be searching for an employee.
If a person is over the age of 18 and doesn’t have their parents pay for everything, they need money to survive. Everyone needs money, we know that. And if you want to move up in the world, you need to be able to not only pay bills, but to save money as well.
If you want to keep employees longer (and keep good working employees), there needs to be some compensation. If you can’t afford to pay a decent wage or salary, consider hiring two part-time employees that have 3 days off a week, so they can have another paying job.
That’s better than having one full-time employee that have to replace every three months – your employee turnover rate is going to be through the roof. And as every trainer knows, good working employees is hard to come by. Value those that are putting in the work and that you want to stick around.
If you’re the rider…
Don’t Demand More Than You’re Worth
There’s a flipside to trainers needing to pay their workers, too. You want money; everyone wants money. You need to pay the bills and you want to save so you can upgrade your saddle, go to higher end shows, move out of someone’s basement. Whatever the reasons are, you need money to live.
However, you’re going to tick off every trainer in the universe if you want to work for a high wage right off the bat. Horse training is not the job for you if you want a consistent, high-paying salary. That’s the reality.
Another thing to consider: if they are giving you a place to live and they don’t charge you for board/training for your horse, that is part of your compensation!
Let’s say you get $1,000 a month for working full time, they give you place to rent (let’s say rent in the area is $850 a month on average) and they give your horse free board and train (and let’s say average for that is $1,000 a month).
You’re being compensated $2,850 a month. It’s not money in your pocket, but it counts, and every working student/intern/assistant needs to realize that, because if you were paid straight $2,850 a month, you’d owe $1,850 right back to your boss for rent, board, and training.
Cockiness Gets You Nowhere
A trainer I rode with told me “those who talk about how well they ride usually can’t ride”.
Preach to the choir! People who have to constantly talk about how good of a rider they are usually lack the talent to back it up.
Nothing is worse than a rider sounding cockier than the trainer they’re trying to get a job from. The last type of employee a trainer wants is a working student who is going to challenge them and refuse to learn anything new, because “they’re such a good rider”.
Every trainer has something new to teach you. NEWS FLASH: there are many ways to train a horse. If you think it’s your way or the highway, then hit the road, Jack!
Less is more. Be straight to the point. Hit the key points, explain some major accomplishments, but give the Sparknotes version. Speak with confidence, be sure of yourself, and then prove yourself.
Dress the Part
This should go without saying, yet I see it a lot, so here it goes: dress professional. Be modest when it comes to showing skin. Some trainers are okay with tank tops. Some are not. Play it safe until you know better. A solid colored shirt is better than one that says “PINK” in ginormous letters across your chest.
Even if the trainer you’re working for is lax when it comes to clothing, other trainers you meet, their clients, or other potential networking opportunities may not be so “down” with your laid-back apparel. It can seem superfluous to wear nice clothes to the barn, but if you dress it up, it makes you look professional and like you know what you’re doing instead of looking like just any other rider taking lessons. Dress like the professional you want to be and want to be treated as.
Cut the Attitude
Does Amy want to stay an extra hour to help close up the barn? Yes. Will Amy ride the difficult three-year-old? Yes. Will Amy work on her day off to help with the vet and farrier? Yes. Amy says yes. Be like Amy.
Don’t complain and say no. Always be willing to lend an extra hand, have good work ethic, and better yet, have a positive attitude about the situation.
The number-one thing trainers have to say about working students that don’t work out is that they weren’t willing to put in the work. They had a poor work ethic, complained when there was more work to do, weren’t willing to put in the extra hours. They’re horses, they’re kind of a 24/7 job. Duh!
Be like Amy. Otherwise, Amy is going to make you look bad.
There are lots of opinions on both sides about hiring assistants and working students, and all have some merit to them, which means both sides have something to consider. The horse industry is a commitment and it is demanding. It’s also an amazing industry that runs off of passion and talent, so let’s see if we can help each other out!
Claire Trafton is a junior consultant at Entrigue Consulting, a full-service equestrian marketing and brand agency. She has worked on multiple professional rider and equestrian brand accounts managing social media content creation and growth. Claire enjoys working with riders across all horse sports including dressage, jumpers and eventing, but in her spare time rides western from reining to pleasure. If you have any questions about social media, please contact Claire at [email protected].