Most people who choose to work in the equine industry agree that the benefits of working with animals outweigh the hard graft and modest pay. However, you must be hard working and prepared for long, and often unsociable, hours to be successful in an equine career.

College courses

The traditional ‘on-the-job’ route into a horsey career has evolved over the years, and now there are hundreds of practical and theory-based courses at the many colleges up and down the country.

“At colleges, the students have the practical aspects of their course to manage as well as the academic side, which involves an intensive, demanding timetable,” says Jeremy Michaels, FBHS and equine director at Hartpury College in Warwickshire. “Students leave establishments such as Hartpury as excellent ‘all-rounders’ – both academically and practically qualified.”

A broad-based college course can open doors to various diverse careers such as equine therapy, nutrition and owning or running a yard. A qualification in something like equine business management or equine science will stand any student in good stead for a career with horses.

British Horse Society training

The BHS training and examination system is internationally recognised. Stages 1-4 cover horse care, riding and stable management although, as Margaret Linington-Payne at the BHS, explains, “It is not necessary to take the riding sections if you wish to pursue a career as a groom or stable manager.” But if you want to teach, you need to take and pass all parts of the stages examinations.

  • BHS Preliminary Teaching Test – you must be at least 18 years old and have BHS Horse Knowledge and Riding (HK&R) Stages 1 and 2 (including BHS Riding and Road Safety)
  • Assistant Instructor’s Certificate (BHSAI) – you must have passed the Preliminary Teaching Test and BHS Stages 1-3, have 500 hours of logged teaching practice, and a Health and Safety First Aid at Work Certificate or the Equine Specific First Aid Certificate
  • Intermediate Instructor’s Certificate (BHSII) – you must be at least 20 years old and hold a BHSAI or International Level 1, BHS Stage 4 and have passed the BHS Intermediate Teaching Exam
  • BHS Instructor’s Certificate – candidates must be at least 22 and hold the BHSII or International Level 2. To attain BHSI, you must pass the Stable Manager’s Certificate and the Equitation and Teaching Certificate
  • Fellowship of the BHS– candidates must be at least 25 and hold the BHSI or International Level 3

Candidates for all BHS exams must be members of the society. To join the BHS Register of Instructors, students must have attended a child protection awareness course and hold a relevant first aid qualification.

Qualifications are also available for those who accompany hacks or work at riding holiday centres, from Assistant Ride Leader to Centre Manager. For those who hope to travel and work abroad, the International Passport for instructors has been introduced, with the backing of 27 countries.

Scottish/National Vocational Qualifications

Scottish/National Vocational Qualifications (S/NVQs) are becoming more recognised and are available in equine studies at Levels 1-3. They particularly suit students who do not like the pressure of examinations. There are five levels of S/NVQ available, with Levels 1 and 2 in horse care and Level 3 in horse management and horse care. (Level 1 equates to five GCSEs at grades D-G; Level 2 to five GCSEs at grades A-C, and Level 3 to two A-levels.)

ABRS examinations

The following qualifications are available through the Association of British Riding Schools:

  • Initial Teaching Award – you must be at least 171⁄2 years old, with certificates in Riding, Horse Knowledge, Riding and Road Safety and First Aid, plus experience of teaching basic riding.
  • Teaching Certificate – you must be a minimum age of 20, with teaching experience, First Aid and Riding and Road Safety certificates.
  • The ABRS also offers an Advanced Teaching Diploma – there is no minimum age limit, although most candidates with relevant experience are 25 or over. (CVs should be submitted for both the Teaching Certificate and the Advanced Teaching Diploma.)

Other specialist teaching qualifications are also available from the Side Saddle Association, the British Driving Society and the Riding for the Disabled Association.

Training for grooms

A traditional groom’s job does not necessarily need formal academic training, but with competition fierce in the industry it makes sense to have some qualifications to back up practical experience. The British Horse Society, the Association of British Riding Schools, The National Stud and colleges across the UK offer relevant courses and qualifications.

Foundation and Advanced Modern Apprenticeships have, in most cases, replaced the working pupil schemes and are available for people aged 16-24. They are usually organised by the employer, and incorporate different levels, leading to qualifications such as Scottish/National Vocational Qualifications.

Other careers

Many organisations have their own apprenticeships, examinations or recommended career routes. These include The British Association of Equine Dental Technicians, The British Equine Veterinary Association, The Farriers’ Registration Council, The Society of Master Saddlers, The National Stud, The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy, the National Association of Animal Therapists and The British Racing School in Newmarket.

Join Horse & Hound’s NAGS

Membership of the National Association of Grooms and Students (NAGS) is free to all bona fide grooms and students. NAGS is sponsored by training provider KEITS, which offers Modern Apprenticeships, for those aged 16-25, as well as work-based training in equine, animal care and agricultural businesses.

Benefits of being a NAGS member include: Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy, £3 discount voucher on a sack of Blue Chip Dynamic, 10% discount on Splash Equestrian equipment and clothing, no P&P charges from Equestrian Vision mail order and eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers.

If you are interested in becoming a member, write to: NAGS, Room 2018, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS (tel: 020 7261 6993), e-mail: nags@ipcmedia.com , or click here to download an application form in PDF format.

And remember, the club is open to all students, not just those studying for an equine qualification.

  • This article was first published in HORSE Magazine (August 2004)

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