The Equine Expert

By Bridget Brandon

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You own or manage a horse training farm and one of the most important positions is the horse trainer. A trainer is the face of your horse farm business. It’s like having that walking logo. You want to find someone that shares your values, integrity, work ethic, dreams and future growth of your business.

Now days, the internet and social media provides customers a source of much needed transparency in the industry. You want to make sure the trainer you hire will mutually protect your farm, horses and clients, and provide an education that combines advancement and a source of joy. Equestrian sports are not cheap, and most individuals who are involved are passionate about horses and are using their discretionary and disposable income. Hiring a trainer that clients feel will take care of them and their money, will go a long way.

As in the restaurant business, repeat business is vital to having a successful and profitable business. Look for a trainer that has a good business sense as well being a good equestrian. If they respect your clients hard earned money, they will understand that buying a good, sound horse meant for the purpose it was purchased for, versus just making the sale and commission will most likely keep clients in your barn who will continue to buy horses as they move up. A trainer that sells your client a horse that he knows he cannot resell down the road will not help your future business success.

If a trainer respects your clients, they will respect your farm and property as well. You will be able to work together to set goals on how to build a thriving business. When interviewing a trainer, ask the trainer what their personal goals are and how you can assist them in reaching those goals. Ask them about their training methods and philosophy. How they go about buying and selling horses and matching horse and riders. Are they interested in showing, training young horses or just training at the barn. You want to see if you will be able to build a roadmap to reach both of your goals together.


There are many types of business arrangements with a trainer. It really depends on your facility, how much you want to be involved, the skills both of you bring to the table, experience and goals of the trainer and a host of other things. Clear arrangements and rules need to be established in advance so you do not undermine the trainer’s authority or vice versa.

Here are some general rules to consider:

  • When issues arise with clients, what is the protocol for addressing and resolving those issues.
  • Do not allow outside trainers which will take business away from the trainer you have hired.
  • In order to not have your clients feel controlled, they should be allowed to ship out for lessons as they please. After all, they bought the horse, fresh eyes are always a good idea, and no one likes to be controlled. If you run a good business and hire a good trainer, insecurity should not set in.
  • Clinics are great and should be allowed. Work with your trainer on organizing and scheduling clinics that will fit into their training program.
  • Hire sufficient help to keep your facility running smoothly and prevent your trainer from doing jobs he did not originally sign up for. Do not tell your trainer one thing when you hire them, and then do something else. Mean what you say and say what you mean. You will be respected for do that.
  • Allow your trainer to set competitive rates. They know the training industry.
  • Have an open communication between client and trainer to work out issues that may arise. Work to prevent any clients from pitting you and trainer against each other. Nip any barn drama in the bud. Culture comes from the top.
  • Work together to provide quality services that benefit your clients as you will both mutually benefit.
  • Look for a trainer with similar values, work ethics and goals and determine up front what your roles will be.
  • Determine the set-up of the finances. Is the trainer an employee or contractor? Do you collect only board, or both board and training? Do you offer housing? Do you offer benefits? What are the hours? Vacation days?


It’s always a good idea to put any type of business arrangement in writing and in the form of an agreement that will spell out terms, clarify duties, state responsibilities and protect both the farm owner and trainer. Have an agreement drawn up by an attorney that clearly spells out the details you have negotiated such as terms, pay, benefits, duties, responsibilities, reporting and other protocols. It’s much better to take your time, do your homework and follow strict hiring protocol than to find out it’s easier to hire than to fire. Or, after the business and clientele grew, the trainer leaves for another facility and takes many or all your clientele with them.

There are so many different types of arrangements that can be made between a trainer and a facility owner. As an owner, you may choose to collect board only and the trainer keeps all training income. Or, you may collect both board and training and pay a percentage to the trainer. Part of the pay may include room, board, a stall for one horse and the use of a truck. You may offer a salary and full benefits. You may have a large facility and lease out a certain number of stalls and facility usage to each trainer. Is the trainer an employee or a contractor? All of this should be thoroughly spelled out in the agreement.


Word of mouth is a great place to start. The horse community is relatively small and word can travel fast. Many trainers will relocate for a great position and facility. You might want to consider a talented young professional moving their way up. You can always go to horse shows and watch the professionals. See how they interact with their students and clients. You want to find individuals that conduct themselves in a manner you admire and value. There are many online forums and horse sites that you can search for jobs wanted.

Be sure to write a thorough job description that establishes the duties you are looking to be filled. This will help justify the job’s salary level. It will also help organize and clarify your thoughts prior to posting the job and interviewing. Be sure to list the skills, experience, qualifications and other essential information you want the candidate to possess, including any pluses that would add to their employment. It’s important to list the personal characteristics that you want in your trainer. And then structure your compensation package. Remember you get what you pay for, but pay may be made in the form of benefits.

Other benefits can include employer-paid health and life insurance. You may offer paid vacation and holidays, complimentary housing and horse boarding for free. Other important benefits are reasonable work hours, opportunities for advancement, bonuses, friendly work environment, excellent facilities, paid advanced training, paid showing and a host of other benefits.


You are finally ready for your interview. You have called a few applicants in and you are moving forward. You like their background, experience and credentials. Next you want to make sure that the two of you are a good fit and the culture will work.

There are some interview questions that are illegal to ask and you should ask an employment attorney which questions to avoid. Some of those are, for instance, age, race, national origin and marital status. Ask for professional references and be sure to check them out before you make an official job offer. Be aware that most former employers can do little more than confirm employment date and title, but it’s still a good idea to do your due diligence. It’s also a good idea to just ask around. The horse community is fairly small.

You really want to make sure the two of you will be a good fit. Often that is intuition. Working with horses is very fulfilling, but it can also be long hours and very stressful. Make sure the trainer is someone that you want there with you and you believe your clients will enjoy. After all, they will be representing your farm.

Bridget Brandon is President of The Equine Expert LLC, which is a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm. Expert equestrians join together to offer legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases and legal matters. We have consultants offering a wide variety of expertise in most all disciplines in the horse industry to cover liability, business, standards in the industry, valuations, training, showing, sales and most all equine areas needing support in legal and business matters. For more information on their services, email or call 817-454-4537 to schedule an appointment with a consultant.


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