Love isn't enough
If you run an equestrian business, sooner or later you’re going to have to hire some help. It’s simply not physically possible to do everything, every day. Stable staff especially are notoriously difficult to find and even trickier to retain.
Old timers will tell you of the halcyon days of their youth, when young people lined up around the block to fill water buckets, lay beds, mix feeds, clean gear, change rugs, and sweep the yard from dawn till dusk. Hell, you might have even been one of these kids yourself.
So, what’s going on? Where has all the cheap labour gone? Where’s the love of the horse, the work ethic, the desire to do whatever it takes, just to get a chance to spend time with these beautiful animals?
Quite apart from the moral, ethical, and legal implications of expecting people to work all hours of the day and night for pocket money, the truth is there is very little possibility for progression in the industry today.
No longer will the kid who mucks out before school, who turns up on the weekends to make sure that everyone at home is taken care of while you’re away at a show, get a chance to even sit on a horse, let alone be mentored to produce their own prospect. Long gone are the days where they will get taught and trained and taken along to events themselves. There’s no opportunity for them to become the riders, the trainers, the yard owners of the future.
To attract and retain staff, we need to be giving them hope as well. A defined possibility of career progression.
As well as providing them with a decent wage, benefits and conditions, there must be training involved.
Let the talented rider take over the horse that’s going to need more patience than you have to produce, or give them lessons on their own horse. Set aside an hour a week to give your grooms a lesson about some aspect of management. Teach them why you’ve chosen a particular horse or why you’re changing the feed or how you plan a show season. Stand with them as they hold the horse for the farrier and direct their attention to shoeing techniques, to hoof balance and its correlation to movement and long-term soundness.
Encourage them to go on courses and clinics with you. Take them to seminars on equine health, horse fitness, sports psychology. Send them to certify in first aid and child protection. Support them to qualify as coaches and get their various driving licences.
Treat your staff like they have a future in the industry, because without them, our industry doesn’t have one either.