What’s It Like Working on a Horse Ranch?
Most of us dream about working with horses, after all, who wouldn’t rather spend their day around horses than water coolers and computer monitors? Unfortunately,…
Most of us dream about working with horses, after all, who wouldn’t rather spend their day around horses than water coolers and computer monitors? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Working on a horse ranch is not a 9-5 job (you’ll find yourself up before dawn at least a handful of times a week, no matter how late you stayed the night before), and you don’t get to pick the weather you work in. With all that said, if you’re dedicated and have a passion for horses then working as a groom can be very rewarding.
What does a normal day on a horse ranch look like?
I work on an event yard in the UK that cares for 14 competition horses, all in work and ranging from unbroken 3-year-olds up to 4* level horses. On a typical day I begin at 0700 by feeding the horses, I then turn them out into their paddocks, and muck out their stables. Once the horses have had time to properly digest their breakfast we start riding – this can include hacking, schooling, fitness work, lunging, and long reining. We aim to get half of the horses ridden before lunch, and the remaining half afterwards.
After a horse is ridden their tack is cleaned, and any dirty equipment – such as sweaty saddle pads – are washed. If it’s early in the day the horse is turned back out into it’s paddock, however, towards the end of the day the horses are put to bed almost straight away (along with horses out in the paddocks).
Before I leave I check on all of the horses (a general “all-good?” once over), feed them, and then skip out their stables before I go home for the night. My day normally finished around 1830.
With horses no two days are the same, and, the yard rarely running as smoothly as I’ve made it sound – if it’s not a walker issue, a stable door’s likely to be on its last legs! On days that the horses are out training or competing the tasks I’ve listed still need to be carried out for all of the other horses – even though you’ve been out for much of the day. This means an earlier start and later finish than the mode; days can start as early as 0400, and end at 2100.
What does an event groom need to know?
Having an understanding of all three disciplines the horses compete in (dressage, show jumping, and cross country), the relevant scoring systems, equipment, as well as tack is helpful. However, if you don’t know all of this it can quickly be picked up on the job, and employers typically don’t mind if you’re not 100% clued up.
It’s also important that you understand how to help a horse recover from strenuous exercise through cooling and walking off, again, this is something you can learn on the job.
Working with top-level event horses brings with it extreme physical and mental demands. Great timekeeping skills help to minimise these demands. When I groom at a competition we normally have five or six horses with us, usually all in different classes and sections, therefore timekeeping and organisation is crucial so that each horse is in the right place at the right time.
How fit do you need to be to work on a horse ranch?
Being an event groom is physically demanding so you must have a good level of fitness.
Highs of working on a horse ranch
Working on a horse yard brings about lots of riding opportunities. Being able to ride so many different horses gives you lots of experience and confidence, what’s more, some yards let you bring your own horse with you. I’m fortunate enough to have two lessons a week as part of my pay (without any detriment to my actual wage) – something I wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. These lessons have really helped me to progress.
One of my favourite parts of the job is how varied the work is: each day is different, which keeps the job interesting and exciting. Also, the workload changes throughout the months. For example, in the run-up to the eventing season last year I spent most of my time getting the horses to their peak fitness, whereas after I focused on breaking in and bringing on youngsters (while the competition horses were on holiday).
You’re likely to have lots of common interests with your colleagues, and staying away at events, as well as the amount of time you’ll inevitably spend at work means you’ll develop friends for life.
Lows of working on a horse ranch
The highs outweigh the lows, but as with most things to do with horses, not everything goes to plan!
I work in England, so as you would expect, it rains a lot – I wear waterproofs a lot more than I’d like! Along with the wet weather comes mud, easily the worst part of my job. During the winter it gets everywhere: the horses are constantly muddy (and in need of cleaning), and you wade through seemingly endless amounts of the stuff every time you get the horses in. Not fun!
The days can be long and tiring, and horses and riders inevitably get injured. The first can be remedied with chocolate, the latter cannot. As with any sport, there’s a risk of injury, not surprisingly jumping a solid wooden fence on a 17hh horse isn’t the most risk-free occupation. Always take safety seriously.
Horse ranch jobs
There are plenty of websites that can help you find your dream yard job. If you’re in the UK we recommend checking out The Grooms List, but if you’re in North America take a look at Ranch Work.
Ultimately there aren’t many jobs where you get paid to take a 4* horse to the gallops! If you still like the sound of working on a horse ranch, go for it!