The Downside of a Horse Career

Like many horse-crazy high-school kids, I wanted out of school ASAP and into the barn. And I figured working with horses was the best job ever. My parents disagreed, and I thank them for it.

Unless you’re extraordinarily talented — I’m talking consistent winning at the national level on multiple horses — or have a stable established where you can step in and take over, it’s tough to find a good-paying horse job. If you can even find a job, that is. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — a better resource, in my opinion, than a place promoting horse careers — the average horse trainer makes $19,880 to $38,280 a year — not much more than the average groom ($16,720 to $24,300 a year).

Because $25,000 might sound like a lot of money to a high-schooler deciding on a career, let’s put that in perspective. It’s about $2,100 a month gross pay, $1,800 net, assuming the job has benefits like health insurance and retirement. (C’mon, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.)

Horse costs: A reduced board rate is $250 a month or so. We’ll figure you don’t insure your horse and never need a vet. He’s barefoot, so $20 every six weeks for a trim is $15/month. Even light showing averages $200/month, and heaven knows you’d better be out there building your name. $1,335 left.

A cheap car might run $200/month. Figure $125/month for insurance (you’re a good, safe driver with no incidents), a tank of gas a week (at $4 a gallon) or $80 x 4 weeks ($320 a month for gas). A couple of oil changes a year at $60 or $5/month. $685 to spend.

Of course, you need a cell phone, texting, and Internet (you’ll skip Internet for your regular computer). According to the ads, you might slide by with $50/month. $635 left for the month.

Since you’re the farm manager/head trainer, we’ll assume you live on the farm with no rent or utilities. You might want cable TV, though. A cheap package is $40/month. $595.

Renters insurance’ Not a bad idea, since you’re on the road a lot and someone might break in. $15/month. $580.

You probably don’t need to keep up with clothing fashions, but if your paddock boots blow out or you fall and therefore need a new helmet, you’ll need replacements immediately. And you’ll want to go out on the town at least a bit (after all, you’re young). Say $100/month. $480 left in the bank.

Unless you want to hear your parents utter those annoying words (”Told you so”), you need savings for emergencies. About 5% of your gross pay or $105/month. That leaves $375 or about $94 a week in Mad Money, assuming nothing comes up, like new tires or a wedding invitation or Christmas. (Oops! Forget that. I forgot to add in groceries.)

If this sounds OK to you, great. But consider the alternative, too. Earn a degree that’s marketable, gives you better-paying job skills and helps ensure you’ll have enough money to always have your own horse. You can teach lessons, train horses or become a judge and earn some extra cash on the side, if you want. If you’ve got the drive, earn your MBA, DVM, MD or JD. Then you can support your horse habit to your heart’s desire — and build your own private dream barn.

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