t is often said that the only sure way to make a small fortune in the horse business is to start with a large
There is a great unspoken challenge in terms of “making it” in the equine industry. We all know of the “800 lb. gorilla in the room” that few people talk about. I am referring to the near financial impossibility for so many of us to affordably own and maintain the infrastructure needed to consistently achieve quality work and results with horses.
Simply put, whoever pays the mortgage on the acreage, the barn, the big trucks and trailers and the indoor arena, not to mention actually owning the horses and feeding and caring for them, will often need to make their money “in a real industry” somewhere other than with horses and bring cash as disposable income to invest in the horse industry.
For myself, at age 30, after more then 10 hard years working as a “pro” horseman, it dawned on me that I did not want to still be riding colts at 50 while living in a dilapidated trailer, just wondering if and when the owners of the facility might sell out or get a divorce, only to leave me looking for another barn to train out of. So despite my passion for horses, this scenario did not offer much hope for giving my kids a leg up in life.
So, now I am 50, and I do own my own barn and arena and truck and trailer and horses, and yes, among other things, I am still starting young horses. Of course, the truth is that the bank owns our ranch and I hustle more then ever to make the payments. So how have I made it this far?
All the standard self-help clichés about how to be successful in business are definitely true for the horse industry. You must have the core competencies for whatever it is you offer as a service because nothing works for or against your success more than word of mouth. Stay focused on your goals while also flexible and open to change within the trends of the horse industry.
Yet to be successful it helps to lead trends instead of follow them in order to set your service apart from the competition. So it helps to keep your finger on the pulse of where the horse industry is and where it appears to be going. It can help to find a mentor and it is imperative to learn how to clearly communicate and market yourself.
As in any business, time management is always an issue. Often, the reason trainers, veterinarians and farriers are so often late for appointments is because the behaviour of horses does not usually obey the clock. And, for these careers, you will definitely need outstanding people skills because your clients are not always forgiving or understanding when you are late!
So having said all of the above, I recommend that anyone considering a future in the horse business should ask themselves a few questions.
First, do I have the seed money to buy and build whatever I need for my direction in the horse business? If not, is it feasible that I will someday be able to borrow to build what I need for my business and pay for it doing what I want to do?
How much physical risk does my interest in the horse industry require? Obviously being a rodeo cowboy or grand prix jumper is far more dangerous then being the harness maker or the saddle maker. A farrier or equine veterinarian is at more physical risk then a show judge. This may be obvious but I have seen many people become disillusioned and “get out” of their career with horses the first time they get seriously hurt.
In my opinion, to develop a successful career with horses, first and foremost, requires a deep-rooted passion that simply will not accept doing anything else for a living. While it may take passion to excel in any industry, the road to success with horses will require a great deal of commitment, tolerance and forgiveness, because for many of your clients this is not business, this is recreational sport. While you are trying to make a living doing something you love, your clients will often want what they want for fun, excitement and sometimes even romantic illusions.
Ultimately, it takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and a genuine sense of humour to succeed in the horse industry because no matter what path you take, your journey will be spiced with lots of drama from both people and horses. If you truly love horses, and you can find it in yourself to accept, tolerate and forgive people, including yourself as you learn along the way from your inevitable “mistakes”, then there is an incredible amount of joy, excitement and rewarding moments to be found in being of service to horses and horse owners. If you have thick skin, a strong heart, a keen mind and a measure of courage, then by all means come join us equestrian entrepreneurs who provide our services to the sport of Kings. It always beats the hell out of a “real job!” .
Chris Irwin is a best selling author, personal coach and internationally
recognized as Canada’s leading trainer and clinician. Irwin
certified trainers are successfully serving the equine industry from
coast-to-coast in Canada and throughout North America and
Europe while Chris works with his wife, Kathryn, from their Riversong
Ranch near Whitecourt, AB.