I want to work with horses – an overview
I want to work with horses but hear I need qualifications! Is that correct?
Not always but YES in many instances you do need qualifications.
So what is available and what sort of jobs can I do when qualified?
The system for gaining professional qualifications depends on the type of work you want to do in the end.
Working in a ‘hands on’ capacity with horses offers 3 main routes of training with 3 different awarding body qualifications. There is also however, the degree course route which is naturally a more academic route, and doesn’t necessarily achieve ‘hands on’ work qualifications. Some of these training systems overlap
- The BHS and ABRS – 1.1 Part time Training
- The National Diploma – 2.1 Apprenticeships
- The British Grooms Association – Equine Skills (ESCV)
- The Degree course
The information we provide below aims to answer the sort of enquiries we receive here in our office. It is not an exhaustive or complete list of work/employment/positions/qualifications available. However, we have tried to cover information relating to the majority of questions we are asked regularly. You should be sure to do your own research.
The 3 routes for gaining professional ‘hands on’ qualifications for working with horses:
1. British Horse Society
These are the qualifications you need to gain if you are aiming to become a coach, horse trainer, instructor or stable manager. BHS qualifications are recognised internationally and have equivalent standards to other countries/members of the International Group for Equestrian Qualifications (IGEQ)
The route which offers a lead up to a teaching/coaching qualification (or groom/stable managers qualification) would be via the British Horse Society or in the future via the ABRS (Association of British Riding Schools).
The BHS route for coach/instructor etc., is the Complete Horsemanship pathway.
Neither the BHS or ABRS offer any distance learning qualifications for this type of professional ‘exam’ (now called ‘assessment’).
Some of the colleges also offer BHS training alongside the National Diploma training we discuss below. The teaching profession is probably the most lucrative of the options in this system of training. Coaches quite often work at riding stables/equestrian centres or as freelance coaches and in the main, most earn a little more than the minimum wage but sometimes they are able to top their wage up by working as a freelance coach on their days off – if the riding school allows. However, they need extra insurance for this.
Once they have moved up the ladder a little they will of course earn more if the yard is big enough. If they are in a position to increase their skill levels and their level of qualification to an Intermediate Instructor or BHSI within a training yard environment, there may be more options open to them. They can then begin to build a larger client base and charge more for their freelance work. It is important to note that moving away from a training environment however, makes it increasingly difficult to achieve the more advanced coaching qualifications.
The ABRS are currently revamping their training system – more info later.
We will mainly discuss the BHS route here because that is the one we are most commonly asked about and is recognised internationally.
All BHS professional exams are usually called assessments today. The BHS qualifications enabling you to work hands on with horses, are of a practical nature with no written work. The theory on equine care is questioned orally during the days of the various exams/assessments/BHS assessment days.
The ABRS and BHS professional exams are held at riding centres and colleges in various parts of the country. Alongside them you can sometimes gain the national UKCC qualifications (UK Coaching Certificates)
Note: Most of the professional exams are full-on, full day practical riding and or horse management assessment exams (no written work). They command professional level exam entrance fees – it is therefore worth getting the right training – and being aware that you might have to spend time traveling to and from a good training place. An hour and a half would not be unusual – but it is your career you are looking at and the traveling and the time spent training is not something you will have to do forever !
For your suggested pathway as a riding instructor, as stated earlier, you should opt for the British Horse Society “Complete Horsemanship qualifications” and then take the coaching pathway
First you would need all elements of Stage 1 – then all elements of Stage 2. Stage 2 or above is invariably the entry requirement for moving on into other professions within the industry too = e.g. massage, vet physio, behaviourist etc
This Complete Horsemanship (coach) qualification qualifies you to coach and train people and their horses and will allow you to obtain the all important insurance to teach on a freelance basis – thus also allowing you to take other routes in the future. This qualification is not likely to help you gain work where a degree is required for an office or on the nutritional side of things – it is the hands on side of working with horses that you are aiming for with these qualifications
Without these qualifications it is unlikely that you would be able to get any professional insurance for working as a professional in a hands on capacity within the equestrian industry – unless working for and employed by a stables which covers you whilst working on their premises
Although the BHS exams/assessments are of a practical nature, the distance learning courses we offer from Lingfield can, provide the majority of the theory knowledge on which you would be questioned orally during those BHS Stages 1 & 2 exams. They are therefore ideal for the mature student who is often working or has a busy life and cannot train full time. Or, they aim to train in future and wish to get the theory knowledge underway before they find the practical training place.
Careers is most equine related therapies such as massage and equine behaviour also require a good grounding in practical and theoretical equine management and many require a degree. Most qualifications require that the student is already proficient and requires a BHS Stage 2 or Stage 3 as a minimum. Behavourists and phsychologists also require a related degree.
1.1) Part time training:
Loads of our students are using our courses to train on a part time basis for the professional qualifications. They aim to gain the practical training on a part time basis – and this they aim to do reasonably locally at an equestrian centre. If looking to train part time therefore you need to find a good equestrian centre which can help – more info below on this.
Training on a part time basis means it is entirely possible to achieve the first coaching award (Stage 2 Coach Award) or even the second (Stage 3 / BHSAI) coaching qualification with the BHS. It is not however, easy to move on from that standard whilst training on a part time basis unless regularly involved in daytime work related training at a BHS Training Centre.
HOW TO TRAIN PART TIME – for BHS or ABRS
Sometimes this part time training can be set up so that you do a little work on the yard in exchange for training. The colleges however, are not really suitable to approach for this sort of training – they use a more ‘structured timetable / course’ approach which is not ideal for those with busy lives &/ or a family. Far better in our opinion to approach equestrian centres. Read on to find out how.
For the part time route where you use a local riding stables however, you do need to choose a centre where they already train their staff / working pupils / students for the riding elements of the Stages though. It does NOT need to be listed as a ‘Training Yard’ with the BHS however.
You will need to find a yard where there is an instructor who is a qualified professional assessor to pass you on various aspects of practical work leading up to and prior to the final assessment day with the BHS. The BHS will send you a ‘Skills Record’ when you first apply for the qualification. The skills record cannot be a copy – it must be the one sent to you by the BHS when you apply for the assessment. It must be signed off by your local BHS assessor instructor. (your instructor assessor will probably be able to help you with this)
Search out the BHS website Find a Place to Ride section (not just ‘where to train’) and look for yards with
a) good websites
b) who offer ‘training’ on their website for the BHS qualifications (Stages).
You may find you have to travel for at least an hour or maybe two to find a decent place to train – but if it is for your career training it will be worth traveling costs and time. It is important to find a good place. You have to remember that you may have to make sacrifices. Career training is rarely available to you on your doorstep and the cost is never minimal for career qualifications.
Having found a suitable equestrian centre or a selection of stables/centres in your area, check them ALL out by visiting them after you have first made contact by phone (not by email!- that is important)
TIP: Do not email !! Most equestrian centres get loads of similar emails and phone calls from people looking to get trained as a riding instructor – but few people follow it through. The centres therefore, don’t take people very seriously unless they sound seriously keen and motivated and explain also that they understand that they will have to start at the bottom.
You will therefore, need to sound really keen, motivated and very serious about it on the phone. Ask to speak to the person in charge of training – not just the receptionist or groom who answers the phone! Ask about ‘training for BHS exams’ at their centre.
When you go there to view any place which sounds as though it will help you, amongst the many questions you need to ask, we suggest that you
a) Ask how long as a rule, it takes their junior staff to achieve Stage 1 & 2. (this simply gives you a ball park timescale – the the answer varies for every person – it could be 9 months or it could be 2-3 years)
b) Tactfully, identify the staff and chat to them if at all possible
- Find out how long they have been there. Quick turnover of staff is not good.
- If you are looking for training for a young person or aiming to work full time during your training ask: Do the staff live in – do they have decent, warm and dry accommodation and do they get any meals cooked for them – they may need to learn how to cook. Check the accommodation out.
- What days off do they get (Apprentices of 16/17 should get two consecutive days off)
- Are they happy – is it a happy yard.
It is important to find this sort of thing out -that way you know if the yard looks after their staff and will do some proper training.
Many yards tell prospective employees that they will train them – but in the final outcome they don’t offer structured ‘actual’ training. They simply offer ‘experience’ on the yard which could be considered ‘training’ in the broadest sense of the word but is not structured or considered to be training by the employee.
- Some riding stables/schools offer evening lessons for riding school clients for the Stages exams/assessments
- Check all centres websites carefully for any ‘Training’ section.
- Remember to look at the Enjoy Riding section – do not just look at the BHS ‘Training’ yards.
- Some of the yards on the Enjoy Riding section also ‘train’ but are not necessarily classed only as training yards. So to be sure to search the all centres on the BHS website and the ABRS site too.
What to look for: To find ‘approved’ yards in your area, you can look at this section of the BHS site and put your post code in. Remember that you might have to travel for over an hour or more to get decent training but that is not unusual for good career training. You may also have to take time off work if you work – you will need to put a good amount of time into this – but if you want to change careers you may have to make sacrifices.
Experienced riders/owners: Those who are experienced often wonder why they have to start at the bottom and why it will all take so long. Genuinely professional career training and qualification is not something you can undertake in a couple of weeks. It always take a while and you always have to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Starting at the bottom is the same for most careers – let’s face it if you wanted to be a car mechanic – even if you have been fixing your own cars for years – to gain a qualification as a mechanic you would still have to show those who award that mechanics qualification that you can change a wheel – tighten the wheel nuts properly, know what type of oil various cars use, where to top up oil and the windscreen washer etc. They are unlikely to accept your word for the fact that you are knowledgeable – it would not be safe (for you, the car and others on the road) to allow you to have the qualifications without seeing that you can actually do the simple things safely and properly even though you and your best mate swears that you can do it.
The ABRS as explained, is unfortunately revamping their training system but many of their Approved yards also train people for the BHS Stages. Look on their website too for places near you.
Both organisations are linked from this page on this site
- Plenty of people do train on a part time basis.
- At least 2 of our tutors did it this way as do hundreds of other coaches.
- It is entirely possible to gain good qualifications but it takes a bit longer.
- You have to put aside the time to do it – and that might also mean traveling quite a long way an paying reasonable money for decent training.
- Career training is not cheap – hence the debt so many youngsters finish up with after taking a degree course.
Whichever route you take to gaining a hands on qualification, you will need to get that theory knowledge on equine care under your belt. You will be questioned on it during your assessments and there is quite a lot of information and knowledge to take on board so we would suggest that taking a distance learning course from Lingfield or somewhere like us (example is the Intermediate Diploma which includes our Levels 1 & 2 courses). They cannot be professional qualifications because they are all distance learning. This would however, get some of that theory behind you and get you bang up to date too. This would be a good stepping stone and would help you get started with your professional training.
Used alongside other part time practical training, gained somewhere more locally to your home base, you would find our courses would help enormously in reaching your final goal of gaining professional qualifications in future. The Reviews section of our site proves this to be true over and over again.
Having gained a professional ‘hands on’ qualification to BHSAI / Stage 3 Level you have achieved good all round equine management, horse training and coaching and could then branch out and specialise in a specific area or discipline if you wished.
A further option for training for coaching qualifications is available via the ABRS with the UKCC qualifications
UKCC qualifications are an option with other disciplines too (carriage driving for instance) and will provide suitable qualifications to obtain the all important insurance for freelance teaching. The BHS have for some reason dropped the UKCC qualification in the last few years – reason unknown.
Also see our article here on Qualifications Without College
People often ask if there is a good website for vacancies: Check out the British Grooms Association website for positions available – then look at other equine career companies – recruitment agencies.
The second option for qualifications
2. National Diplomas explained
typically in the equine industry these are offered at Levels 1 – 4
There are several bodies which have gained accreditation rights for professional qualifications from the government education body for the National Diplomas across all industries. One of which is the equine industry. One is EQL – Equine Qualifications Limited – set up by the BHS covering only the equine industry. Another is City & Guilds and yet another is BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council). For our purposes however we will simply call these ‘government accredited bodies’ offering graded work based qualifications.
These qualifications are the ‘National Diplomas’. They are a government accredited national grading system and practical qualification in equine management. However, they do not lead to instructors or coaching qualifications in their own right. Until recently this was the NVQ/SNVQ qualification which was revamped and renamed to National Diploma. They cover all industries in the same way NVQ’s did. You could get a Level 1-7 or even 8 NVQ – now you call it a Diploma instead of NVQ.
The National Diploma Level 1 – 4 therefore, is the national government accrediting / awarding body route leading to national grooms qualifications and apprenticeships.
This is the type of qualification you need to gain if you are aiming to work in the industry – perhaps as a groom/stable worker. Level 3 is a similar standard of equine management to the BHS Stage 3 at which you can become a BHSAI. The Nat. Diploma Level 3 would of course be without the teaching and lunging element. Although having gained the higher Level 4 qualification you would perhaps be considered a manager but would still be without any coaching element. This standard would normally take several years to achieve.
Please Note: The grading for the ‘National Diplomas’ in Horse Care is in ‘Levels 126.96.36.199’ etc. Other organisations, accrediting bodies, companies and training providers in this industry and others, also use words such as Levels or Stages or Grades to denote their grading and standards of achievement. A Level 1 2 or 3 Diploma for instance, is not used only in the equine industry nor in the equine industry itself is it used only by the government accrediting body. Our own equine management courses also use the word Level to denote our grading system.
The training is generally offered by colleges for school leavers – but parents should think carefully before going this route.
College does NOT suit everyone and the course / qualifications in the end might not lead to any more than a grooms post at a local yard where you would earn the minimum wage. In fact you could train and earn at the same time rather than going to college if college is not for you.
Training is offered at colleges or whilst working at a stables/yard which has a training relationship with and works with one of the colleges for assessments of work and standards achieved.
Be aware that this route does not have a pathway to gaining teaching qualifications or professional rider qualifications. Neither the colleges or yards offer any distance learning training or route for this type of professional qualification – they are all hands on training.
2.1) Apprenticeships: Some of the stables/yards offer apprenticeships
Apprenticeships combine practical training in a job with study.
As an apprentice you’ll:
- work alongside experienced staff
- gain job-specific skills
- earn a wage and get holiday pay
- get time for study related to your role (usually one day a week)
Apprenticeships take 1 to 5 years to complete depending on their level. Equine apprenticeships generally offer a Level 1 or 2 diploma depending on the length of time spent studying and training. Apprenticeships have equivalent educational levels.
|Name||Level||Equivalent educational level|
|Higher||4,5,6 and 7||Foundation degree and above|
|Degree||6 and 7||Bachelor’s or master’s degree|
Apprenticeships once again means the young person is working towards the ‘National Diplomas’. This qualifies you as a groom – a person who knows and understands horses and has a good all round education in horse care. The posts available on completion are usually a groom on minimum wage. To find out more on the Apprenticeship system check this link for general information. The British Grooms Association has list of positions which might be of interest.
Example from the City & Guilds website – The Level 1 Certificate in Equine Skills has been designed to provide a level 1 qualification practical equine skills, to meet the needs of learners, industry and other stakeholders. To gain the Level 1 Certificate in Equine Skills candidates must complete five core units plus one optional unit which takes about 231 hours of guided learning – often over 1-2 yrs. The following are required units:
- Handling horses under direction
- Feeding and watering horses under direction
- Mucking out and bedding down horses under direction
- Grooming horses under direction
- Putting on and removing horse rugs under direction.
If you want to work as a groom with horses, there are various training companies (private organisations) around the country that work with small and large riding centres and even quite small yards to assist and oversee Apprenticeships and training placements. To find out if they have connections with a yard in your area you could contact them direct to explain what you personally are looking for and see if they have any placements which fit your situation.
Examples of some of companies working with yards centres are
- and more regionalised are
- Stubbing Court Training – Derbyshire/Yorkshire
- The Equestrian Learning Academy – South East England
3. The third option is via the British Grooms Association.
Equine Skills CV (ESCV)
This is the type of qualification you need to gain if you are aiming to be a Professional Groom and maybe work with competition riders: This is the qualification we would suggest to anyone who does not wish to take the BHS route.
These qualifications offer a very strong and professional grooms qualification with specific yards via the Llantra accrediting route.
The sort of grooms we are talking about here are quite often those who work for top riders and travel with international competitors BUT they are not all so lucky.
See the British Grooms Association website for details of their Equine Skills CV (ESCV). Ask your employer or your prospective employer if they might be interested in getting involved in offering professional grooms training via the British Grooms Association / Llantra. Suggest the employer checks the site out and mention Lingfield Equine Distance Learning. The BGA are very helpful so ring and chat to them.
The 4th option is an academic route and is not really so hands on
4. The Degree course
We always suggest people do some research on the internet regarding degree courses – e.g. try this horse and hound forum giving personal feedback from those with degrees:
Colleges and career advisers at schools will often cite yard management posts could be the future role of a graduate. However, , with many students hoping to work in this area. But, phone up when such jobs are advertised, and you find the majority of vacancies in riding schools and yards require practical knowledge rather than a paper qualification.
The degree courses provide you with the qualifications required to gain a position where your academic skills can be used. This is invariably an office or technical position where the sciences are a required subject – along with a good standard of education as a whole.
Career training is not cheap – hence the debt so many young people (or their parents) finish up with after going to college and / or taking a degree course.
Such degrees would mean you are eligible to apply for positions as equine nutritionists with feed manufacturers (or on a freelance basis if you found sufficient demand) or as equestrian journalist, a racing yard secretary or a lecturer at an equine college, research and development at a university, a Racing Yard Secretary etc. etc.
The job market for equine degree students however, is in fact very limited. Here are the very limited examples:
Nutritionists hold such degrees as described above and work mainly for the big feed companies so the positions are fairly limited. They often work with the companies as support for the manufacturing side of things, but more often prepare sales and marketing information related to the technical side of feeds or for marketing purposes (advertising leaflets). They may be required to visit retailers to provide information or assistance and assist in promoting sales at the same time. They also may be called upon once in a while to give talks to Pony Club children or Riding Clubs – this is comes under marketing and is all relevant to the marketing of the products for that company. They are often on call on the phone or email or even online chat / help lines in the office – but that is usually just one small part of their office work time. View this link for an insight
Journalists work for media companies – they spend a lot of time at their desk researching and contacting people and some of their time is taken with writing articles in the hope they will be published in magazines or on websites. They must be aware of the law relating to journalism. Once again they would be involved in marketing the magazine. Most would be employed in the office whilst some might have the opportunity to interview people. Working on a local newspaper is often their first inroad into working as an equestrian journalist. However, time spent out and about may be limited.
Equine Journalist: View this link for an insight
Finally we suggest parents also check out this page of our site
This answers some of the questions about whether or not your child should go to college to train or if there is local training available ?