A career with horses
How to train for horse care in the UK
by Angelica Erbslöh
It is a good thing to have a thick jacket, gloves and lined boots in your wardrobe if you want to work in horse care. Unlike your four-hoofed clients you don't have a nice fur that keeps you warm throughout the winter in unheated horseboxes or in snow-covered paddocks. So what you really have to be prepared for is working out in the cold. In summer it's much better, it just leaves you perspiring in the armour of riding-hat, boots, gloves and black jacket (at horse shows).
Field research in Belfast
During my visit to the Burn Equestrian Riding Club in Knockbracken Healthcare Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the middle of December I was frozen to the marrow. The first twosome I met were the chestnut mare Sophie and her blacksmith John, who had warmed himself up fitting four new shoes to Sophie's hooves. Then Philippa, one of Burn's two trainees, arrived, not looking too warm herself.
Philippa is training for the NVQ 3 (National Vocational Qualification) in horse care, in the section 'general riding'. This covers horse care, riding and stable management. Horse-care training in the UK leaves you the choice from three sections: the racing section, the breeding section and the general riding section. In addition, you can train in Riding Therapy at special centres which offer courses covering all aspects of Therapeutic Riding.
Always make sure the horse won't be harmed
Having already completed her basic training for NVQ 2, she is by now quite an experienced groom. Under the lead of chief instructor Mrs Judith Aitken she has received a good grounding in riding and good practical training in the general handling of horses. This includes knowledge about how to bandage, trim properly, present the horse correctly and about when it needs care and attention. You have to be aware of your responsibility towards the horse. "You really have to learn to check the horse properly. Sometimes you know that something is wrong with the horse. You can't quite put your finger on what the matter is but you know that the horse is not feeling well. In such cases you have to be able to assess what to do and make sure the horse won't come to any harm".
Putting the horses to bed after late teaching hours
The Burn Equestrian Riding Club has eight horses and seven ponies of its own and a number of horses at livery which are kept for private owners. People can hire a horse for riding lessons and for show-jumping or various competitions such as the Christmas show scheduled for the following Sunday. The trainees have to organize that as well. So, apart from horse care, they have to know the extra bits that go with it: how to organize competitions, get horses ready for them etc.
Since most of the teaching is done at night, the work in the stable is organized in shifts. Today Philippa is doing the late shift from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. This means she has to check the horses and get them ready for the lessons at night, help the riders, put the tackle away afterwards, wrap the horses up for the night and put them to bed. The early shift is from 9 a.m. to about 6 p.m. The morning is the time for general care. The horses that have spent the night outside are taken in, they have to be groomed and checked over, stables have to be cleaned out, shoes must be checked.
College once a week
In addition to the daily "on-the-job" training Philippa goes to technical college once a week to acquire the theoretical background for horse care as well as the key skills needed for managerial and supervisory tasks. She seems to be doing very well. Proof of this is provided by a silver plate hanging in the Burn office which was awarded to her by the college.
Previous contact with horses is an advantage
Formally, no special qualifications are required if you want to start training in the area of horse care. "You need an affinity to horses and mustn't be scared. It is an advantage to have riding experience, although some of the people here have never touched a horse before," Judith says. "Although it is possible to start from scratch, now that the course for NVQ 2 has been reduced from 78 weeks to 63 weeks, it is hard to get by without some previous experience".
Which NVQ qualifications are required?
The qualifications you want to obtain depend on whether you want to become a groom, a stable manager or a riding instructor.
If you want to look after horses under an experienced owner or manager, NVQ 2 may be sufficient. It provides you with very basic training in practical horse care. It gives you the opportunity to work as a groom or in stable management in an unsupervised capacity and enables you to exercise horses. After Level 2 you can continue with NVQ 3, which takes about another 15 months. This stage requires much more theoretical education, and you are trained so that you can work unsupervised or be in charge of a small farmyard. The riding part in particular is much more advanced. After successful completion of the course, you are not only able to exercise a horse but to train and improve it.
However, even with Level 3 you are not allowed to teach riding. If you want to become a riding instructor you have to do this through a BHS examination conducted by the British Horse Society. You will need BHS Stage 3 plus the Preliminary Teaching Test. These two qualifications plus 500 hours' experience will result in the BHSAI qualification. This will qualify you to teach and run a small farmyard.
A wide range of qualifications are available for a career in horse care.
You can either train within the BHS (British Horse Society) system or attempt to obtain a National Vocational Qualification at Levels 1 - 3.
The BHS Stage examinations I - 4 are examinations in horse care, riding and stable management. There are three ways to train: at a college as a full-time or part-time student or at a training centre as a full-time student. Both routes require private or public funding to cover the costs.
The third way is to train as a 'working pupil' or apprentice at a riding school or suitable farmyard. In this case you are paid for your work. For more details on the hourly rates, working conditions etc., we recommend you to refer to the British Horse Society's website
National Vocational Qualifications at Levels 1-3 are gradually becoming more recognized. Since most of the assessment is continuous, on-the-job assessment, these qualifications are particularly suited to people who do not respond well to the pressure of examinations.
Good opportunities for good grooms
A trained and conscientious groom is in great demand, and a wide variety of opportunities are available. You can find a good position at a riding stable or at a private farmyard which has show horses, eventers or hunters.
For those who hope to travel and work abroad, an important new development is the introduction of the International Passport for instructors. This document has the backing of 27 countries. (According to BHS, Germany has become one of the major forces behind efforts to harmonize qualifications throughout the world.)