Finding a job as an exercise rider- is this doable?
First, let me preface this by saying I have no idea about the racing industry as a whole, so please let me know if this idea is just stupid!
I have recently moved to Ocala, FL for a job as a working student for an UL eventer. I have been looking for a little extra side job here to make some $$, and someone suggested breezing/breaking racehorses. I am experienced with breaking and going to the gallops for event horses, so it's not as if I have absolutely no experience, but definitely less than most!
The problem that I have run into is that I have no contacts here (or anywhere really) that do racehorses. Is it feasible for me to search out an exercise job like this? If so, how does one go about getting their contacts?
Tl;dr experienced eventer looking for a job exercising race horses, but has no contacts. How to solve this issue?
Thanks in advance!
Enter your horse in a race with you as the jockey and WIN. Then you will have your cash winnings and tons of offers to ride!!!!
Sorry, I couldn't resist. But you have started out in the right place. Is there any way you can hang out at the track in the morning and maybe strike up a conversation with some current exercise riders? I'm sure you'll get some got advice from other Cothers.
Just talk to the trainers. Tell them you have riding experience but never galloped. Some will take you on and put you on easy horses to learn but be warned, some will be asses and not care to put you on difficult horses.
There are tons of babies all over Ocala, I would think it would be very easy to ask around the various farms and training centers. What might be difficult is doing that and being a working student at the same time. You may eventually have to choose one or the other.
Most trainers want someone who can be there every day at the same time, usually mornings. Keep asking around, though, something may pop up. But be careful, some of the trainers with only a few horses don't do a great job starting them with groundwork and the first rides are nuts. They will be paying you with cash, so if you get hurt, it's on you not them.
Mukluk- that actually made me lol! If only it were ever that easy!
I am so unaware the entire industry on a whole, that I don't even know if there is a "working" track here in Ocala. I know there is the OBS track, but isn't it just for sales? Am I wrong and there is an actual track here?
Spotted Draft- how do I find trainers to speak to? Most of the people I have spoken to so far are pinhookers, and have told me I have just missed the sales season, but take down my contact info for next season ~ which I don't mind at all!
Laurierace- how do I get into contact with the training farms. In the event world, it's a bit odd (read, REALLY odd) to drive up to someone's farm, and I imagine it is very similar for the race world. Do I send emails with a resume? Just keep talking to people until I happen to run into someone?
Palm Beach- mornings are great, early mornings even better, and if there is an actual schedule, the best! Thanks for the warnings on rank horses, that seems to be a common theme when I ask people about it. I'm sure it will always be on my mind.
Let me ask though, do racehorse farms operate like a lay person might think- i.e., up and riding at 4-5 am? That would be my optimal situation.
Word of mouth is definitely the best way so keep talking to people, vets farriers etc. but email or Facebook message is an option as well. Don't automatically expect to ride however, almost everyone starts out walking hots regardless of what you hope to do eventually. There is not a race meet in Ocala but lots of training centers and the like.
OP, yes, they usually work in the mornings, starting at 6ish. BTW, many of the trainers are pinhookers, buying yearlings right about now and then breaking them about late summer/early fall to prep for the 2yo in training sales. If you are small and a good rider, they will like you. Check around some local publications, find the bigger training operations and start dropping in on them. Use FB, although not all of them are FB proficient. But you might be able to network with established riders and find out about openings.
To start with you are in Ocala. The only reason you are in Ocala is because of the “racing industry”. If it wasn’t for a TB Marylander by the name of Joe O’Farrell who moved there in the late 50s it might still be a “cow town” of no distinction. Or just another Florida bedroom community. In your travels around Ocala I would bet at some time you will drive by a farm sign that says Ocala Stud. That’s pretty much where it all started. Mr. O’Farrell left us a while back but his son Mike has done a fine job keeping the name Ocala Stud on the map.
Sport horse people are a fairly recent addition. The same as in Lexington Ky. The world economic collapse starting in 08 had a devastating effect on the TB industry. A LOT of TB farm went under. Talking to my friends down your way back then said more than half of the farms in the area are for sale or being foreclosed on. As the old saying goes, “One man’s lose is another one’s gain”. The price of farm dropped exponentially and the sport horse side of things took advantage of the opportunity. To be clear I am not saying this in a derogatory way.
That being said you are in an excellent place to find someone to take you on and teach you the skills needed. Yes you will be a “working student” but not in the same sense of the term that used in the sport horse business. Which IMO is basically working for slave wages. Even if one is working, learning for a “name” in the TB industry they are still paid a living wage at the very least.
Competent riders regardless of their background on a horse are and will always be highly sought out in the TB industry. It is considerably larger than the sport horse industry. I would like to believe for every “sport horse” in need of a rider in Ocala there are at least 10 TBs needing the same.
My TB farm is in Unionville Pa, a lot of TB operations and even more sport horse. I have had both Eventer and H/J riders get on to me about wanting to learn/gallop TBs for pick up rides and learn a bit about the other side of things. I also train some Steeplechase horses and re-school unraced/slow or retire racers. I have had some that changed their tack and stayed in the racing game others who really didn’t have what it took. Good riders, but not good enough. There’s no shame in realizing they are not cut out for it.
Eventer like to try their hand on my Steeplechase horses. In the beginning they learn to gallop them. They think this is a no brainer. Especially when they see this old guy take them out for a 2-3+ mile leg stretcher and come back not looked too wiped out. They all say pretty much the same here or at some of my friends farms. Wow, that’s a lot harder than it looks. Once they learn a few “tricks” and get used to the drill it usually comes together quite quickly. Schooling over jumps is another one of my favorite times with newbies. They all want to pick their spots approaching a jump, check their “speed” look for a “spot”. There are no spots in Jump racing by and large and you don’t want to check your speed if you want to win. It take a while to get used to but once they trust the horse and learn not to fork them the up it becomes quite easy and really fun. Not the type of fun for everyone but neither is ride X-country in Eventing. They also learn how to get a horse REALY fit. A few have said they are surprised that Eventing trainers don’t use the same process.
Most H/J don’t last very long. Especially with the youngsters and jumping at speed. Takes them quite a bit longer if they last riding “outside” the ring.
Those that have worked with youngsters outside the racing world may be taking back by the process. They need to understand that we are paid to get from A to Z as quickly and efficiently as possible. Not in a reckless way nor in a harmful way to the horse. Most average young TBs are worth far more than the average sport horse. This is a business, big bucks, sometimes high returns.
What you have learned in your “world” does apply but not all of it. A good rider is a good rider, but not all riders are good “brave” riders. I use the word brave, but there is a difference between being “smart” brave and “stupid” risk taking brave. One has to know their limitations, one has to know that all riders don’t fit all horses. No matter how good they are. A good trainer knows this and knows how to spot this. Never be shy, embarrassed to tell the trainer you don’t get on with a certain horse. They should know it anyway if they are paying attention to what they are being paid to do. Trainers are a dime a dozen, good ones far and few IMO.
“someone suggested breezing/breaking racehorses. I am experienced with breaking”
To start you won’t be “breezing” any horses until you have been around the training track more than a few times. “Breezing” is “working” a horse at close to racing speed for a short distance. With babies this comes months down the road. The riders are usually the best in the barn. This is one of the most exciting times for the trainer and especially the owner is by this time can have as much as $20,000+ into training expenses only. How a horse “works” is, can be an indicator of how good it maybe, become. All horses know how to run, some faster than others in the beginning. The trainer and the rider’s job is to teach them how to RACE. Big difference.
Knowing the breaking part is a big plus. But as I said above it may or may not be how you were taught to go about it. From what I have read on the forum the main difference is we don’t make “rocket science” out of it. Straight forward and to the point. Most of my horses are have good breaks, WTC and doing figure 8’s learning lead changes after 8-10 “rides” on their back. Galloping in hand not long after. Predictable but not always. Some have different ways of going about it. I have my own that is different than the way it is/was being done for years. I also start my horses knowing that their time spent racing will be a fraction of their useful life so I take it a step farther and give them a solid “all around’ foundation. But I am the “exception to the rule”.
That’s the long of it. I wish I kept a “filing system” on this subject because it is not the first time I written a “primer”. Hopefully my “revised” editions are getting better and more informative.
The link below is the contract information of the breaking/training farms in Ocala. Obviously the “breaking season” is over but there are plenty of farms that still have horses in training getting ready to be sent to the track. Horses being “freshened” horses coming back from a setback and being legged up. If I knew you and or rode for me just doing “ring work” on my re-schools and I thought you had the right stuff I would make some calls. Some are 2 year old in training “pin hookers” and or consignors and will be at the first yearling sale in KY right now. But I would be their barns are not empty. But rider demand is not as great now as it is in the fall for them. If you like working with babies being a freelance rider working the 2 year old in training sale is a lot of fun and most are paid very well. They better be I know what my consignors charge me for sale “day money” when I sell a horse with them. If the rider doesn’t make/get my horse to look good I am screwed.
Most if not all of these farm have a website. Check it out and go from them. Make calls, email introduce yourself. Good luck hope my long winded response was worth reading. Feel free to get on to me with questions.
I'm in Ocala, I gallop and I event.
Feel free to PM me! I can give you some names and more advice (would rather do that over a PM), answer some more of your questions. Gumtree gave you a lot of good info. I started galloping full time in December, but had had someone teach me the basics and I had galloped for them for a couple short stints of time when she needed extra help before the horses left to go to the races.
You will not find a galloping job right now. Possibly in the fall; its a ghost town right now. My farm went from almost 140-175 horses (sometimes more) in training and 15-20 riders riding 8-12 horses a day to 5 riders riding 6-7 horses a day. I averaged sitting on about $4 million dollars everyday and sometimes as much as $6 million through the winter (I'm not even making that up).
Super big ditto to what Gumtree said about breaking babies.
OBS is a sales place but people also rent stalls and train out of there.
Your current best bet is to try and find work at the August sale (if you can get away from your WS job), if you can, work for a more local consignment. You will more than likely just be a groom, not a person showing the horses but it will get you used to handling young TB's and kind of how things are done. Its a couple long days but the money is usually pretty good and someone will teach you how to show a horse properly, especially if you are small. This way you will also meet some people, get a reference and it will be closer to the time where people start thinking about hiring for the winter.
There are a ton of private farms and a lot of training tracks all over town.
Also, if you are at a bar, talk to people who look like horse people. This time of year, they're probably a tb person or know plenty of them. I don't know how many times I've been offered a job in a bar or had been given a card and told to call them before breaking season starts.
The job is 6 mornings a week. In the winter you can be there as late as 11:30 or 12. These days I'm done by 8:45. Some people are okay with you taking time off for horse shows or you leaving early and some are not. You are a girl (I'm assuming) that can help you but also not. You are not as strong as a man, and you don't know how to handle a horse that's being bad. You already know how to balance at a faster pace and your hands are already better then pretty much any of the hispanic riders. We cruise around at about prelim speed and think nothing about it. A slow breeze is 800 meters per min and it only gets faster from there for longer distances (I did the math). I breezed my first half mile the other day and it was awesome!!! I started out breezing babies 1/8th of a mile in February.
One of the hardest things for me was bridging my reins and putting my hands down and not using them. You don't realize how much you use your hands until you can't. Also the reins are really fat and you have to hold a whip too.
The way you ride is very different but the skills you already have are very helpful, things just have to be modified a little. Your flatwork will probably go downhill a bit unless you get a lot of flat lessons on a regular basis.
If you've gone prelim+ you should be okay, I've seen girls who have only done novice and they were not okay and it did not work out.
You need to make sure that whoever you're currently working for is okay with you taking time off from them to do this. You need to network, stop at any of the larger farms and go into the office and ask if they're hiring or fill out an application. Keep an eye on the local fb pages, I have seen legit people post things. Stay away from craigslist ads or people who only pay in cash. Work someplace that has workers comp.
If you come into a job ready to learn and you can ride a little, you'll be able to find a job. There are a handful of trainers who do specifically seek out event riders.
You'll pretty much just get thrown up on a horse and no one will give you much advice. If you ask, someone might tell you a little bit how the horse likes to go. If you're lucky, and you're on a baby you'll get paired up with a more knowledgeable rider and they might give you a little advice while your galloping but there are no "riding lessons." Its very much a trial and error and you figure out how to do it as you go, but what works on one horse won't work on every horse.
"Hell yes I can ride. I was riding when I fell off!"