Dirty jobs: Horse Trainer
It takes a rare amount of commitment, horsemanship, business savvy, integrity, intelligence and above all PASSION to become a successful racehorse trainer. You will be tested time and time again and your love of horses and the sport must persevere. Some of the best trainers in the world have had career years in their late 40’s, 50’s and so on. It’s not a job where many reach their peak early.
Owners hire a trainer and pay them a daily wage to care for and race their horse. The trainer is responsible for having the help, supplies and equipment to run the stable. This “day rate” is designed to cover the cost of training a horse and not, in most cases to put money in the trainer’s pocket. The trainer only makes money when the horse finishes first, second, or third in a race, in which case 10 percent is the standard bonus a trainer receives. The day rate on the very lowest end, we are talking supreme corner cutting at racetracks where the purses are the microscopic, is $35 and the highest all-inclusive day rate I’ve heard of is $200 which would be for one of the best trainers in the country.
The horse training business model is unique because the trainer pays for many of the horse’s needs upfront and is reimbursed by the horse’s owner. This is a poor business plan but that’s the way it’s been done for years in the horse racing world.
The trainer oversees the horse’s physical condition, attitude, health, and soundness and can decide how talented the horse is and which company it can run in. They spend time in the barn with the horses, time watching them train and time on the phone with owners.
A horse’s trainer is 100 percent responsible for all care and decisions regarding the horse. Anything that goes wrong falls on the shoulders of the trainer even if he or she wasn’t present at the time.
There is no school for training horses. It’s a copy-cat endeavor that requires obtaining knowledge from many experts in the field while simultaneously developing your own ideas about what works and what doesn’t. Assistant trainers learn from trainers they work for and it’s not unusual to gain 10 plus years of knowledge as an assistant before taking out a trainers license and starting your own business.
When it comes to maintaining a successful training business no truer words were spoken than the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” With the right connections you can get the right horses in your barn. The better your horses, the better you look to potential clients and with numerous good horses in your care the positive attention will multiply and you could build yourself an empire.
Starting with cheap horses at small tracks is a more challenging venture. You may not even be running at tracks that are televised and the racing public will not be familiar with your name. However, if you work hard and run those horses in company they can beat you may garner a high win percentage. This is appealing to owners as they can see you are a good judge of a horse’s ability and have a knack for getting a horse to perform when it counts.
“The hardest part of the job is getting paid. The horses are the easy part,” said Louisiana based Kenneth Delahoussaye, “when owners get behind your bills get behind.”
Southern California trainer Emily Mode mentions the hardest part of training is having to work weekends, early mornings, nights, and holidays. It truly is a job that knows no hours and you get out what you put into it.
A trainer who has found great owners with talented horses and is able to win many prestigious races can make hundred of thousands of dollars. This would be the top five percent in the business. Many others barely make enough to cover the hardships that come along with being a small business owner. Especially a small business that is full of potential workers comp claims and lawsuits.
Besides winning races, many trainers note that the challenge of bringing along a difficult or maladjusted horse and making it to the winners’ circle is the greatest reward. The hardships along the way make the win that much more memorable.
Above all the trainer has to put together a one-of-a-kind recipe of horsemanship and business savvy to launch his or her small business to the top by WINNING despite the odds. Each and every horse is different and the learning never stops. Many things can get in the way. Injury, illness, lack of desire on the horse’s part and owners who overzealously see their not-so-talented horse as a world beater (out of love of course) can hold a trainer back and only the best can overcome the adversity training has to offer. Many many things can go wrong in the process of training a horse and within the race itself. Getting just enough things to go right to get your horses nose is front at the wire is a satisfaction all its own.