A career with horses is on many a young person’s wish list. But as what, exactly — rider, trainer, groom? Finding the right niche and making a living is a puzzle I’ve spent a lifetime working out.

Some school leavers who love horses imagine the bling, the top shows, glamorous riders and sponsors’ parties… The reality for most is hard work, mud, rain, cold and endless mucking out for a pittance.

And there’s scant hope of a £50k salary unless a good competition career materialises, a BHSI is gained and probably a UKCC (UK Coaching Certificate) level 3 too — all of which takes years to achieve.

Apprenticeships don’t always lead to the right qualifications. Much as I moan at the British Horse Society (BHS), its exam system remains the best way forward.

I shuddered on reading some Pony Club publicity urging would-be coaches to “look no further than UKCC courses with the Pony Club”. Please don’t let this qualification supplant everything else. It should be an addition to, not the “instead of” the horse world is beginning to assume.

Aspiring lawyers or doctors know it takes up to seven years and a £100k government-funded loan to get that degree. But at least the infrastructure that trains them is supported with public money. Training our students costs us up to £25k a year in keep and teaching, and that’s without their own horse.

Sadly the Anna Rosses who made and sold sandwiches to pay for lessons with us at Talland appear long gone. Instead, youngsters want monied jobs, not qualifications — and they want them now. They’re too short-sighted to see that in five years’ time they’ll be replaced by someone younger, keener and without a bad back.

Horses are a difficult life, but so rewarding. Sadly, the passion to succeed is not found as often as it once was. For too many, it’s a case of all talk and no action.

Discussing this lack of get-up-and-go with a contemporary recently, they proudly told me of their two-hour walk from Macclesfield to Higher Sutton — and back in the evening — to muck out all day in return for one ride.

Those four Ds — dedication, drive, determination and discipline — are assets becoming harder to find than hen’s teeth.

Passage of time

Hauling myself back to grand prix has produced some uncomfortable statistics that other older riders may appreciate.

I can now achieve 240m of sitting trot without a near heart attack — just 10m short of what I need. That comprises 190m of painful sitting trot before I get to halt at C and take in a big puff of oxygen, followed by 60m of agony before the pain-free passage. No idea why; you’d think passage would be harder.

So, with 230m of pain to get that first trot work done, a doctor’s visit was organised. Lame and broken down I may be, but I got no sympathy. I was told off for walking lame; instead I must walk sound to become sound. Each pain was caused by the preceding one, it was explained; so unless I walked sound on the first leg, I would break down on the second. By now I’m wondering how all this applies to a lame horse…

Then I was given kaolin plasters. Well, that did it. Years ago, I remember borrowing some from the tack room to soothe the pain and swelling from my broken collar bone.

Now you don’t learn things like that in a coaching examination such as the UKCC qualification. No, that’s the sort of knowledge far more likely to be gained training for the more rounded exams the BHS might again become good at.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 March 2017