Apprentices learn on the job, gaining the skills, knowledge and qualifications they need within their chosen industry, free of charge. And they get paid to boot. It makes you wonder whether all those university students are quite so switched on after all.

The apprenticeship programme is government-funded, work-based training for people aged 16 to 24 and there’s plenty available in the equine field, from making saddles to veterinary nursing. The two-stage programmes last from one to three years — foundation and advanced — leading to NVQs 2 and 3, key skills and either a technical or City & Guilds certificate.

Most apprentices are already employed when they start the scheme, but, if not, the Learning Skills Council may locate a suitable employer to discover what apprenticeships are available locally.

If you’re after something alternative, like equine psychotherapy or massage, you’ll need to cross the Atlantic for appropriate apprenticeships. But there are plenty of other great schemes in the UK.

Read more about apprenticeships in saddlery, dressage, farriery, veterinary nursing, horse care and racing, plus advice for individuals considering going self-employed, in today’s Horse & Hound (24 January, ’07)