Training to become a horse-keeper in Germany
"Sometimes the horse also has a bad day"
By Dörthe Schmidt
Which full-blooded horse-fanatic doesn't dream about turning her riding hobby into her career? For Silke Neumann, this girl's dream has become reality. She is in the first year of her course as a horse-keeper - the main focus of emphasis being "how to breed and keep horses" - at the Dortmund Riding Club.
It is not easy for horse-lovers to obtain one of the training places as a horse-keeper, unless that is they happen to weight 50 kilos at the most and wish to become professional riders. If after their training they win at least 50 races in the A-class, they are then allowed to call themselves jockeys. People are crying out for horse-keepers with this focus of emphasis in their training programme. Who is such a featherweight, though?
The three-year course of vocational training to become a horse-keeper includes a total of four main areas of special emphasis: "horse racing", "trotting racing", "riding" and "horse breeding and keeping". In the two last categories, people of average weight have still got a chance. This said, high demands are made on the applicants. As Stefan Weyandt, holder of a master's diploma in horse-keeping and trainer at the Dortmund Riding Club, explains, when "riding" is the main focus of interest the applicants are expected to have tournament experience at class A level. This means that, as far as possible, they should have sat on a horse for several hours per day since their childhood or early youth. A high demand. The riding master admits that nobody in the entire pool of applicants had this qualification.
Trainees must have a good seat. Silke certainly does. She has been a horse-rider since her childhood. Her work centres on the care of the animals. However, it is a far cry from the romantic images of work in the stable. As a trainee horse-keeper she must swing into action early in the morning. "Work starts at 6 o'clock when the horses want their feed".
After that she mucks out the horseboxes. "It's better not to be too delicate", the horsewoman says, "but if you do the job well every day, it's actually not so tiring". Large quantities of straw must be put down, in particular in the cold winter months, so that the horses do not get backache or rheumatism when they lie down. One of the horse-keeper's jobs is to assess the state of horses' health.
If the boxes are OK, the horses are cleaned. Silke scrapes mud out of their shoes, currycombs the animals and picks straw out of their tails. "In the main I only clean two horses and then start to ride". At 11 o'clock the horses are fed again. After that there is only the sweeping up left to do. After 6 hours' physical work there is a break for lunch between noon and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The trainee sometimes uses this as an opportunity to have a little nap: "that's something I have learned to do" since getting up early wears you out. In the afternoons the prospective horse-keeper gives riding lessons for beginners. In addition, there are still a few small things that need doing, such as cleaning the saddlery or sweeping up. "It's not possible to do hardly anything after work", says Silke and laughs. And even though the training is hard, she's working in her chosen career: "It's something I've always wanted to do!"
NOT ALWAYS THE SAME OLD ROUTINE
Although a lot of the work sequences repeat themselves, working with the animals still offers a great deal of variety. Silke doesn't therefore have to think for very long about what she enjoys especially: "It's the horses really. It is not simply the case of everything being the same old routine. Sometimes the horse's mood is as bad as mine. Sometimes it's in a better mood. It's always different. And then I've got something to cuddle or, if the horse doesn't do what I want, I can show him who's the boss". Sensitivity and an ability to assert oneself are certainly essential characteristics for the job.
Activities within the main focus of activity "breeding" include taking care of pregnant mares, rearing foals and keeping the stallions. The trainee learns which stallion may produce progeny with which mare during a centrally organized course of practical training held at the mating area: "I've had the job of holding the stallions' chain while they've mounted the mare. In such a situation you do feel a bit nervous," she admits.
And what about the future? After the apprenticeship she would prefer to stay at the riding school and perhaps, after a few years' experience in the job, take an examination to become a master horse-keeper. However, Silke also fears that she won't be able to pursue the career all through her life, "because riding affects the lumbar and cervical vertebrae".