By Sarah Evers Conrad
Members of the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) have an abundance of career options, including riding instructor at a public riding facility, owner of one’s own facility, a camp instructor, an instructor associated with organizations like the Girl Scouts, instructor of riders with disabilities, teaching at the college/university level, being a trail or overnight guide, etc.
Managing one’s career can mean making some big decisions over time. Those decisions can mean the difference between a carefully crafted career or one that can take you down a variety of side trails before you end up on the path that is best suited for you. Everyone is different, and there is no one right career pathway, especially in an industry as vibrant and diverse as the horse industry.
Owning a Lesson Barn
Some of the most common options for instructors is to either work for a lesson facility as one of several instructors, to run their own lesson program and lease space out of a facility, or to run a program out of their own their own facility. CHA Certified Instructor Corinne Lettau is the owner of Denver Equestrians, LLC, and the Colorado Equestrian Center in Littleton, CO, a full-service boarding and training facility with lessons in English equitation, western pleasure, dressage, and jumping for youth and adults.
“I started my own business, which featured a horse camp program in 2009,” she says. “It grew by 400% each year until we were able to purchase our own facility.”
Even though it is stressful, Lettau likes having control of her own facility. “While it was definitely easier to lease space from another barn owner, the ability to secure the facility gives us stability that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Lettau has the most experience within the disciplines of dressage, however her views have broadened beyond that one niche. “My appreciation for kids and allowing them to choose their own disciplines after learning the basics has become a new passion,” she says.
Scouting the Way
Many instructors get started in Girl Scout or Boy Scout riding programs and summer camps, just like Julie Fischer did. Fischer is a CHA Certified Instructor in western disciplines in Allenspark, CO, and an assistant site manager at Meadow Mountain Ranch Girl Scout Camp during peak season and a camp volunteer in the off season.
“The career path with Scouts has led me to work and live in some amazing and remote locations, go on some great trips, and change the lives of many scouts through horses,” says Fischer, who adds that the down side can include a lack of job security.
Fischer shares that her skills in accounting, bookkeeping, management, training, grant writing, non-profits, and facility management have been helpful when working for these non-profits.
“Being valuable to an equine business is important,” she says. “I was constantly improving my knowledge and traits so I could provide more to any program I worked for in addition to horse knowledge.”
Camp Morrow Ranch Manager Teddy Franke of Pine Hollow, OR, says the great thing about working in a camp program is that there are always opportunities and directions to grow. Franke is a CHA Certified Instructor with a certification to teach riders with disabilities as well, a CHA Equine Facilities Management Assistant Clinic Instructor, a CHA Certified Trail Packing Guide, as well as a graduate of Mission Farrier School and an American Stock Horse Association judge.
“If I can dream some program up and get a pile of people to come along on the adventure, it will usually fit the mission and generally be effective,” says Franke, who knew his ideal career would be to combine horses and ministry. “Having the freedom to pursue those ideas and the ability to scrap the poor ones is what makes this line of work worthwhile.”
Franke has really enjoyed traveling to horse-related events, clinics, conferences, and a host of other functions. On the flip side with a camp career, he cites never having enough time to accomplish everything he wants to or being able to develop a specialty within the horse industry because to help people use a camp horse, he has to teach a wide range of disciplines.
In addition to the camp, Franke runs a small side business involving training, instruction, and farrier services. This has helped him diversify his income streams for when one part of the business is slower.
Instructing at the college level and/or coaching a collegiate equestrian team is a calling that many CHA members find appealing. “I love college students,” says Amanda Love, the horsemanship director and women’s equestrian team coach at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, TX. “It is a very fun age to teach as they are now responsible for their own decisions and are excited to pursue new information. College is a place where I have an opportunity to help encourage others while they pursue their riding passion and balance that with choosing their own career path.”
Love adds that the college kids keep her young at heart. However, she jokes that she doesn’t remember what a day off looks like with this career path, because in a college environment, one teaches all week and then must take the equestrian team to competitions on the weekend. However, this can also be true for any instructor who take their students to shows.
How CHA Helps Career Development
CHA certification can open up a lot of great career opportunities. Fischer says that the connections, resources, and relationships one makes through CHA can last a lifetime, while Love adds that the CHA network of people and the interaction at CHA clinics and conferences is the best way to find new ideas to bring back to the barn.
This ability to always be learning is what Franke loves about his career. “I feel fortunate that I will likely run out of life before I come close to learning all there is to know about the horse,” he says.
Fischer adds that the various CHA certifications allow instructors to branch out and become skilled in working with riders at all levels and in various disciplines.
Love encourages instructors to try out different careers before deciding on a final path. “I think it is important that as instructors, we have a bigger view of the horse world than just what is out our back door,” says Love. “Being involved in different facets of the horse world gives you more to offer your students.”
Lettau says that by experiencing multiple career paths within the horse industry that instructors will be able to find the exact niche that they are meant to provide to others. And finding that ideal career path can lead to a lifelong passion and contentment with one’s career.
Sarah Evers Conrad is the editor of CHA’s The Instructor, and is also published in a variety of equine publications, such as The Horse, Arabian Horse Life, American Quarter Horse Journal, American Paint Horse Journal, USDF Connection, Equestrian, and others. In addition, she helps equine businesses with their marketing through her company, All In Stride Marketing. Visit AllInStrideMarketing.com.