There is no part of the equine industry that is easy.
Why would it be? Looking at it from the outside in – we took a livestock species that had a practical, functional job and morphed them into a recreational, elite sports model. We built an entire industry around them. We brought them into stalls, dictate their existence, built up side industries to manage them. From supplements to tack shops to alternative therapies to conventional medicine to farriery to dentistry to board that can rival a mortgage payment (and sometimes easily more), it can look ridiculous. It may seem normal for us to fork over thousands of dollars for shows, shoes (for us and for the horse), blankets, the most balanced nutritional spread, conditioners, sprays, treats, tack, boots, trainer fees, transportation and more. But to an average person, it doesn’t make much logical sense. For every over-the-top dog or cat pet ‘parent’, horse people have had that aesthetic nailed down for ages.
And for as expensive a sport and lifestyle having and riding horses can be, there is not much money on the other side of things, either. Hay is expensive. Keeping a barn running is expensive. Shavings are expensive. Horses are expensive.
You won’t find many people in this industry for the money. Boarding barns are lucky to break even, trainers and barn managers are constantly trying to balance paying employees, taking care of their lesson horses to keep them chugging along as long as possible, keeping up with barn expenses and maintenance, all while charging reasonable prices to their clients that will simultaneously keep the lights on.
Financially, the equine industry is not easy.
And the work is hard, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Barn work means keeping a schedule that often starts before the sun comes up and ends after the sun has gone down. It means trudging out to break frozen troughs and bring the horses more hay when the wind chill is below zero. It means wading through muddy pastures to fish out thrown shoes and ditched fly masks. It means going back out to the barn extra times throughout the day to make sure that the horses still have water when the heat index creeps towards triple-digits.
Barn work means wrangling every type of horse you can think of encountering, constantly operating in a hyper-vigilant state of observation to pick up on absolutely anything out-of-place or not right with the horses under your care.
Barn work means 24/7, 365 days a year, hard, physical labor – and just when you think things can’t get worse, a horse will kick out a board in their stall wall, get caught up in the fencing and pull down an entire wire on one side of the pasture, spring a shoe, the barn will flood. If it can go wrong at the most inconvenient time possible, it usually does.
And for as much work as we put in, the horses repay us by finding creative ways to stress us out. We are dealt achievement and set back in equal amounts, although there are times when the stretches of bad luck feel relentlessly unending.
Anyone who has been in the industry for just about any length of time knows all of the above. Horses are expensive. Horses are a lot of work. Horses are not easy.
And yet – know this information, there seems to be such a big turnover of people.
The starry-eyed working students and grooms who get burnt out in a month when they suddenly realize how difficult it is to keep up with the schedule of a professional.
Barn jobs often can’t pay top dollar (see above, re: horses are expensive), and a lack of monetary incentive leads a lot of barn workers to leave when the demands of a physical job outweigh the joy of working with and being around horses.
People get burnt out. They leave. They jump around, hoping the next barn with have easier work, the next trainer will give them more saddle time for the same effort that they had been putting in, the next vet/farrier/chiro/etc. can do their work for cheaper; that somehow, the equine industry will get easier.
But it doesn’t – so why does anyone stay in this industry?
Running a barn, being a trainer, being a farrier, vet, show organizer, tack store owner, judge, grounds manager – literally ANY job in the equine industry that provides a service is a major labor of love.
No one is here for the money – no one got into this industry and stayed because of their paycheck.
And while ‘if you really loved horses/this barn/your clients you’d do XYZ or only charge ______’ is an absurd and unequivocal farce of an excuse…love for the sport, love for the animal, love for the people is a reason why a lot of people do end up staying.
To a reasonable individual, it looks insane. Hard work day-in and day-out, with a high price tag and not much to show for it some days.
But to the people who have persevered, found a way to make it work, stuck through the hard times to see their tenacity pay off, who have created a legacy for themselves in the industry, who continue to find ways to give back to others in the industry whenever possible, who take the negativity and pettiness and judgement that plague the industry and return with optimism and poise…this life is the only thing they can imagine themselves doing.
A labor of love.
When you think about just how much work goes into surviving in the horse world, how much is sacrificed to make this lifestyle work, and then you look at the people who have endured and sustained and thrived in this industry – you get a glimpse of just how much they must love the sport and the creatures that unite us all.