Equine-Related Professions

Getting A Good Education Is A Must For A Successful Equine Career
by Susan Dudasik, Salmon, Idaho

There are even opportunities to work with equines through government agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management
Each weekend there are thousands of shows held nationwide and many of them have highly trained professionals from judges to show managers and course designers
For as long as you can remember you've loved horses and dreamed of a career with them. But before you start dreaming of big paychecks and blue ribbons, there are some negatives to consider before venturing into an equine career. First, you must realize it's a twenty-four/seven venture with little chance for days off, paid holidays or a two-week vacation. The work is physical and demanding and don't expect to retire rich with full benefits.

The equine industry has seen a drastic change over the past 20 years. Before, you could often get by just on your equine knowledge. But today's equine professional must also have a basic understanding of accounting, business management, advertising, computer skills, marketing and possess good communication and people skills. Ask any trainer or barn manager and they will tell you much of their time is spent doing office work or dealing with employees and clients.

Also you don't own the equines, your clients do and they always have the last say no matter how you feel about a situation. If you're getting discouraged, don't be. All jobs have a downside, but as long as you know about and accept them, there's no reason a career as a trainer, rider, breeder or barn manager can't be as exciting, challenging and rewarding as you've imagined it would be. It just takes hard work and perseverance.

Previously, only veterinarians had college degrees. Today many equine professionals hold degrees in Equine Studies or have had extensive formal training to become certified in various equine fields. Look in any equine magazine and you'll find ads for equine colleges, wilderness outfitter programs, farrier, dentistry and equine massage schools, as well as courses in saddle making and bronc riding. So getting a good education is a must!

If the above realities were more than you considered, don't despair, there are still countless equine-related jobs such as equine lawyer, journalist, photographer, accountant, events coordinator, web designer, feed store owner and product representative. Many breed organizations have full staffs ranging from secretaries to researchers and public relations specialists. Unfortunately, they may not provide that much physical contact with equines, though on the bright side, they are usually better paying 9-to-5 jobs which offer various benefits, so you could afford to own your own equines and have time to ride them. There are even governmental jobs like working with the Bureau of Land Management's wild horse programs, packing for the Forest Service or being an equine specialist with the Department of Agricultural. And don't forget jobs in law enforcement like a mounted police officer or research and promotion with feed and health companies.

What equine career you pursue is limited only to your imagination and ability to fill a need, especially if you are artistic and willing to try something new. There are countless equine journalists, photographers and artists. Some people have successfully ventured into unexpected areas such as designing custom show clothes, making jumps or trail obstacles and designing websites. Though some might not seem eqiune-related, with a little creativity they can be. Numerous people are specializing in equine law, insurance, construction, and real estate. You just need to find a niche to fill.

So, where do you start? First, do your homework. Read books, search the internet, study videos, watch others work with equines and investigate all types of job opportunities. Learn as much as possible from everyone you meet. Just because you want to ride jumpers doesn't mean you shouldn't learn about western riding or vice versa. Versatility is the key word in today's equine industry and you need to have a basic knowledge of a variety of topics from current show-ring trends to the latest health and environmental issues.

Be inquisitive, ask questions, and go to equine expos and ride in, or audit, clinics. If you're in high school take classes in communication, business, and accounting, or check into community college courses to learn more about using the internet and promotion. Many county extension offices hold workshops geared to the agricultural or equine business community. Volunteer with a local youth equestrian club or therapeutic riding center. Teaching youngsters is a great way to develop your teaching style, as well as people skills. If you're interested in a specific type of showing, volunteer to serve as ring steward and learn from the judge.

The equine world offers a variety of demanding, challenging and rewarding jobs and by doing some research, soul searching and creative thinking, you can find one that’s just right for you. But it takes a good education to help you reach your potential.

Susan Dudasik is an equine journalist, PATH Intl. Certified riding instructor and a mule enthusiast. She's competed in numerous trail class events, holds clinics and teaches groundwork and trail classes at Misfit Farm in Salmon, Idaho. The advice given here is meant only as a guide. A professional trainer should handle any serious mule training problems. Find Misfit Farms on Facebook!

Who's The Boss?

by Susan Dudasik

How often have you heard someone complain that his mule won’t let him pick up his feet, touch his ears, trailer load, work a rope gate, back up...or so on. It’s amazing how many “problem” mules there are. Or perhaps, it’s not the mule; it just might be the person who’s the problem.

As herd animals, mules prefer a strong leader. They like to know where their boundaries are. When a new mule is introduced to the herd, he quickly learns his place in the pecking order. Mules have a way of working things out. He learns not to fool with the lead mare/molly and which ones he can dominate. It’s an ingrained part of his nature and things usually work harmoniously, until the human enters the picture. As long as the person acts similar to the herd leader by demanding respect and providing leadership, the mule is content. But when the person fails to place boundaries on the mule or is indecisive in his leadership, the mule quickly dominates the person and problems occur. Unless the mule has been involved in a severe accident, most of his “bad” habits can be traced back to improper handling, an inexperienced handler or someone simply letting him “get away” with something.

Often people unknowingly create problems simply because they’re in a hurry. They don’t realize that every second spent with their mules contributes either in a positive or negative way to the relationship and it only takes a few times before an action becomes a habit. For example, Kelly’s mule was excited to join his pasture buddies and she was late for an appointment. As she led him to the gate, he pulled on the lead, danced around, and shoved her into the fence with his head. As Kelly opened the gate, her mule crashed through. She managed to get the halter off of him before he galloped away. A few days later, he again pranced and danced his way to the gate. It worked before and again Kelly did absolutely nothing about his behavior except reward him by turning him out. The third time she tried to turn him out, the instant the gate was open, he jerked the lead out of her hand and gleefully ran off.

Mules are like little kids. They keep pushing until you say “no,” and like kids, they know when you’re not going to do anything about what they are doing. When working with your mule, you need to be consistent. Don’t say “no” one time and let him get away with something another. If Kelly had simply insisted her mule stand still when she led him to the gate the first time, things would have been different. But because she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time, she now has a dangerous problem that needs to be dealt with.

Whenever you’re working around your mule or asking him to do something, you need to follow through with what you’ve asked. If he doesn’t do it, you need to stay at it until he does. If you ask him to move over, make sure he moves, even if it’s only a step. He needs to respect your space. Ignoring little things like this lead to bigger problems. Internationally known trainer Pat Parelli has a saying: “If you take the time it takes, it takes less time.” How true. If Kelly had taken a few seconds to make her mule stand still, she wouldn’t have to spend time re-teaching him proper gate manners.

When working with your mule it’s up to you as to the way he behaves. If you allow him to do something and then don’t correct it, you’re the cause of the problem. The mule doesn’t know it’s wrong. How can he? You let him do it. And if he keeps doing it, you’re also the problem because you’re the one letting it continue instead of investing the time to correct it.

Mules are living entities with their own instincts, reactions and ideas, but they are generally willing to follow a person’s leadership as long as it’s consistent, fair and predictable. Becoming a good equine leader takes a willingness on your part to slow down, be decisive about what you want and “taking the time it takes.” By doing so, you’ll not only have a well-trained mule, but an exceptional partnership with your mule.

Susan Dudasik is an equine journalist, NARHA Certified riding instructor and a mule enthusiast. She's competed in numerous trail class events, holds clinics and teaches groundwork and trail classes at Misfit Farm in Salmon, Idaho. The advice given here is meant only as a guide. A professional trainer should handle any serious mule training problems.

Who's leading who? This mule has decided to head back to the barn, dragging his young handler with him
But, with a good tug on the lead, the handler has taken control of the situation, established her leadership and prevented the mule from getting away

Even On The Trail, Riders Need To Practice Good Manners

by Susan Dudasik
Salmon, Idaho

Stay on the trail. Don't go blazing new trails, especially on switchbacks. It breaks down the foundations.--->

I wear a helmet when I ride and people assume it is because I ride a mule. They are totally surprised when I inform them I wear one because I don’t always trust the judgment of other riders, especially on the trail. In the past I’ve been attacked by a stallion, had a stranger’s foal rear up onto my mule’s rump, was almost run off a cliff by an inexperienced rider, and spent one group trail ride with some woman running her horse into my mule’s rump because “it was the only way she could stop her horse and my mule was so nice and didn’t kick at her.” So yes, I have become a very cautious trail rider.

In all of these situations I was fortunate to be riding an extremely sensible mule that took the situation in stride. But all of these incidents could have been avoided if only the riders had shown some common sense and followed good trail etiquette. Trail riding is much like driving a car. If you don’t follow the rules, sooner or later someone or some equine is going to get hurt. And, like with reckless drivers, the victims of a reckless rider are either their equine or another rider.

So what is good trail etiquette? Basically it’s common sense and respecting others. For instance, if you’re riding in a group, only ride as fast as the least experienced rider. Don’t leave another rider alone so you can trot or gallop ahead. His equine might get upset and race after you. If someone dismounts, stand still until he is back in the saddle. This also applies if someone drops a rein or has to stop for any reason. Stay with him. Don’t ride away unless the rider tells you to go on.

Never trot or canter up behind other riders. Slow to a walk and ask to pass. Wait until they acknowledge you, then give them plenty of room since you don’t know if their equine will kick or get upset. Some riders like to turn their mounts to face other equines, hikers or cyclists coming from behind. If your mule kicks, tie a red ribbon in his tail as a warning. Don’t be a trail hog. If you’re riding next to a friend, drop back to single file and let others pass. Don’t force them off the trail. When riding on narrow winding trails, listen for approaching riders and call to them, then look for a wider place to pass so you don’t have to back-up to a wider area.

If you lead a second equine, keep him on a short lead, especially when other trail users pass. Don’t let him swing his rump around or block the trail. When exercising a youngster, don’t let it run loose. Just because your mule doesn’t mind a cute youngster running around kicking at him, it doesn’t mean other equines, especially mollys and mares, will like it. Keep youngsters on a lead and under control. This applies to dogs also, as not all equines like dogs.

When maneuvering an obstacle give the rider ahead of you plenty of time to get through it. Don’t run up on his rump. If you’re crossing water or a bridge, depending on the width of the crossing, wait until the mule ahead of you is at least halfway through before starting across. The same with going up or downhill, give other riders time to get clear. If the equine ahead of you is leery of crossing, ask the rider first if he wants your help. Don’t just charge in. It often helps when traveling with a youngster or spookier equine, to keep it next to, or just behind, a more seasoned one. This applies to novice riders also. After crossing a tight or uneven spot on the trail, keep going. Don’t stop. Just because you’re clear doesn’t mean those behind you are. Make sure everyone’s on safe ground before stopping.

Whether in the arena or on the trail, keep some distance between your mule and other equines, even if they are stablemates. Don’t let your mule sniff at or rub his head on other equines or riders. While this looks cute, riders can be knocked from the saddle or the mule can get caught on the reins or other tack.

While practicing good etiquette is essential for safe trail riding, there are a few other things you can do to ensure a safe ride. First, always tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. Don’t ask your mule to do something he’s not capable of, like climbing up or down an extremely steep hill. If the terrain becomes too rough, turn back or get off and lead your mule. Stay on the trail. Don’t go blazing new trails, especially on switchbacks. Be aware of your environment. Don’t get to chatting with your friends and forget your riding. Many accidents happen at the walk because the rider wasn’t paying attention to where his mule was going or what he was seeing. Equines are great radar systems and through their body language, especially their ears, they can tell you if something is wrong. You just need to listen.

Trail riding is a challenging equestrian activity, but following a few simple rules and exercising good judgment you and your mule can share years of exciting trail adventures.

Susan Dudasik is an equine journalist, NARHA certified riding instructor and a mule enthusiast. She’s competed in numerous trail class events, holds clinics and teaches groundwork and trail classes at Misfit Farm in Salmon, Idaho. The advice given here is meant only as a guide. A professional trainer should handle any serious mule training problems.

Discovering The Unwritten Rules Of Show Ring Etiquette

By Susan Dudasik, Salmon, Idaho

Every event has a set of unwritten rules which are usually based on safety and simple courtesy to other competitors. But unless someone explains them, a newcomer is often in the dark and only learns that they’ve broken one of the “rules” after doing so. While showing’s a fun activity, there are some ego-based competitors that go a bit overboard and won’t hesitate to complain about a person for what they perceive as breaking the rules. Therefore, observing more experienced competitors is the best way to figure out what’s the proper protocol at each show.

One area where these rules apply is the warm-up arena, a small arena or open space that competitors use to get ready before they enter the ring. This can be a very congested place as you may have riders of all disciplines and riding levels in a confined area. As a general rule, the warm-up arena is for those getting ready to enter a class. The number of equines will thin out when a class is called to the ring so try getting in the warm-up arena then. When in the arena, faster moving equines are closer to the rail and slower ones to the inside. If you need to pass, pass wide on the inside and vocally let the rider know you’re coming around him. Never go between a equine and the rail and be sure to leave plenty of distance between animals before returning to the rail. Watch those behind you. Don’t go from a canter to a walk if someone’s right behind you. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least one or two equine lengths between equines at all times. But this isn’t always possible so stay alert. If you need to stop, go to the center of the arena; if you want to chat with your friends, leave it completely. Stay with the flow. If everyone is going to the right, don’t go left. If you change directions, announce it before doing so. The warm-up arena can be chaotic since there may be folks jumping, doing slidings stops or lunging their equines. You need to be aware of everything around you as well as your own mule.

Before a class starts, they usually announce that the class is on deck, then give a first and second call followed by a final call, at which time all contestants must be in the ring. Once they announce, “Judge, this is your class,” you will not be allowed to enter. If you need more time between classes to change tack or mules, ask the ring steward for a short time extension of about five minutes. This needs to be done before the current class leaves the ring.

How competitors enter the ring depends on the judge, so pay attention. Some prefer that they walk in while others want them to enter at the trot. Whichever you do, keep at least an equine length away from the animal ahead. Upon entry, most riders follow the first mule instead of spacing out. Follow the lead equine for a reasonable distance, but if he’s moving slower then you, by all means, don’t be afraid to pass or cut across the arena to an open space. It’s easier for the judge to see your mule when he’s in the open instead of boxed in by slower moving equines. If you’re coming up on a traffic jam, go ahead and cut across to an open space as most accidents happen when equines get jammed and you don’t need to be in the middle of it.

As the class proceeds, the announcer will call out various instructions such as walk, trot, canter, reverse and line up. While you need to respond promptly, you also need to be aware of what’s going on around you. If there are equines blocking your path, you don’t want to instantly break into a canter and run into them. Judges watch for this. They want to see if the rider is a thinking rider or just a passenger. At the end of the class, riders may be asked to line up and back their animals. That doesn’t mean the class is finished. Don’t slouch in the saddle or start chatting with the rider next to you. A good competitor maintains his show attitude until he walks out of the arena. It doesn’t take much to understand the basic rules of showing, it just takes observing more experienced competitors, paying attention to one’s surroundings and following simple safety practices.