“So You Think You Can…” is a new series that will highlight jobs in the horse industry, speak to professionals and figure out what it takes if you’re interested in a career change. This week we discuss horse sitting.
Special thanks to Harley from The Horse Sitter for contributing to this article!
Are you qualified?
As a horse sitter, you will need the experience and knowledge to handle almost anything. Can you spot the early signs of laminitis or colic? Can you poultice, bandage and administer medications? Do you have a background with a wide range of breeds, ages and temperaments?
The important thing is to never lie about your experience. If you’ve never walked a broodmare with an over enthusiastic weanling stud colt at her side, don’t pretend you have. If you’ve never administered an intramuscular injection, don’t assume you can just wing it after watching a tutorial on Youtube.
On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short either. I once met someone that was extremely nervous about applying for a job as a barn hand because they lacked competition experience.
When I asked them what horse experience they did have they answered, “I took lessons when I was young and worked at several barns through college and used to spend all day every summer backing three and four-year-olds under the supervision of a trainer, but I’ve never competed.”
To which I replied, “Sounds like you have lots of horse experience. Don’t downplay yourself just because you don’t have a row of dusty ribbons lining your bedroom wall.”
Regardless, professionals should always commit to ongoing education and supplement real life experience by studying.
Are you reliable?
Practically speaking, do you have any health issues that might prevent you from getting to the barn everyday as promised? Do you have dependable transportation? Do you have back-up transportation?
Accidents happen and everyone needs time off, but the consequences of a horse missing a meal or standing in a dirty stall all day are potentially much worse than skipping work at an office nine to five.
Harley from The Horse Sitter says, “If you tell someone you’re going to be at their barn at four o’clock that means four o’clock. Don’t call and say ‘Hey, I’m running late … do you still want me to drop by?’ The answer is YES. The client wanted you to be there when you promised!”
Are you organized?
Horse sitting is a business and businesses have lots of paperwork.
You’ll need a contract that details the basics like price per visit, insurance, contact information, backup contact information, and instructions for every animal on the property. It should be signed by both parties and kept in a file.
Because clients will often book months in advance, horse sitters also need to keep in touch and confirm horse-sitting services beforehand.
Basic invoicing skills, accounting and tax prep are also handy, especially since you’ll be filing as self-employed, which can be daunting.
Are you a good communicator?
You’ll primarily be working with horses, but horse sitting requires people skills to meet clients and book services. Harley notes the important thing is to give the horses the best care possible while their owners are away and to absolutely keep in touch with the owners.
“Some people toss me a halter and say here you go and others write me a novel,” she laughs. “But I try to send a text or email every time I come so that they know that I was there, they know what time I was there, they know their horses are taken care of. I send pictures and videos and it adds trust.”
Do you love horses?
You’re reading this article on Horse Nation, so I’m going to assume the answer is yes, but a love for horses is paramount if you plan on being a professional horse sitter. Late nights, early mornings, cold, rain, boot-sucking mud, extreme heat and biting bugs are all part of the job.
“It’s also a lot of weekends and holidays,” Harley adds.
But if you love it, horse sitting and pet sitting is a rapidly growing industry. Morgan Stanley just released data that predicts an 8% growth rate for the pet industry by 2030, which is one of the largest rates of return in any retail segment. Bottom line, more people are spending more money on their animals.
Harley states, “I always say if you learn how to care for horses, you’ll always be able to make money some day. Always. And you’ll always have something that you can enjoy.”
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.