I have to admit that this might be my favorite portion of this series to write. What I normally see when an equine job ad pops up on social media is something so abrasive, domineering and horrifying that I wonder if people really want to find an employee.
I have this guilty pleasure of screenshotting every outrageous equine-related job ad I see on social media and saving it in an album on my phone. Whenever I need a laugh I just open up that album and read through them—priceless. If I could post my saved album without shaming or embarrassing I would, but instead I’ll give bits and pieces from actual ads I’ve encountered over the years.
As a side note: My master’s thesis was on hiring and employment assessments. The cost of hiring the wrong person is HIGH. I could show you hundreds of pages of research that prove that point. Take the time and do the work to hire the right person. This is Step 1.
The job ad (whether it’s on social media, your website or in print) is essentially your first opportunity to introduce yourself to potential employees. This should involve a certain level of advertising. Your goal is to attract as many job seekers as possible so that you have a pool of qualified and enthusiastic individuals to choose from.
It’s like online dating! (Do NOT tell me you haven’t tried it because I know you have.) You want to weed through a bunch of Joe Schmoes to find your charming prince. You want to find someone who will fit right in and be an asset to your business and your barn. That person will benefit as well from a job they love, a group of people they belong to, and a sense of accomplishment. (Don’t get too excited—they need to be actually, not intrinsically, compensated as well. Your charming prince wouldn’t wait forever either.)
If the idea of taking that much time to find an employee already sounds like too much, I understand, so do what the corporate world does and have another valued employee screen them first and give you the top candidates. You’re the CEO. You must have an HR director (assistant trainer, barn manager, etc.)?
“Enthusiastic” IS the operative word though. You have a HUGE advantage. Equine job seekers are usually so passionate about horses and the sport that they will throw themselves your direction to get an interview (if you don’t scare them away with your job ad). Do you know how many companies are seething in jealousy right now? A lot.
Design a job ad that is enticing and will show your potential employees what’s in it for them (think about the age group you’re likely working with)! Do NOT immediately deplete your options by writing something intimidating, scary or condescending. I know a lot of you believe that if you write a hardline job ad with a sarcastic twist you’ll weed out the weak early. But you know what? This is not an industry with a huge payback.
No, we are not just so lucky to be in the presence of horses on a daily basis that we should regularly neglect our personal lives, physical health, finances, mental health, etc. This is not medical school. These passionate young people you are hiring will not make $150,000-$1,000,000 a year at the end of this process. These working students, grooms, riders and barn managers do this because they love it even when it’s not lucrative or even tolerable. That means your job is to keep their passion alive because that is truly all that’s in it for them, and that is what will keep your program and your barn staffed, your horses cared for and your life happy. That is what’s in it for you.
Examples: ISO The All-Too-Common Working Student
•ISO Working Student: Lots of hard work and long hours. Duties include but are not limited to: stall cleaning, sweeping, stall leveling, any kind of cleaning, feeding horses, turning out horses. Possibly help grooming and cleaning tack. Must be on time, and the schedule will change weekly. I do not tolerate smoking, drinking or laziness. You must be able to pass a drug test and a background check. Must love dogs. I expect a good work ethic and my property to be treated with respect. Must have a positive attitude and no drama. No living accommodations provided and must have reliable transportation. There will be a trial period to see how you fit with our group. Compensation based on experience.
•Translation: I will be lucky to survive. Along with wrangling unbroke and wild horses, I will also be cleaning this person’s boots, bathroom, doing their laundry, changing and feeding their infant, and probably power cleaning their mansion patio on a daily basis. If I’m really good at all those super fun tasks they will let me touch the equipment and maybe even the horses! Punctuality is very important to this person, so I better develop a sixth sense for when my unspecified work day will start, and then I should probably bring a pillow into the tack room because I’ll essentially never stop working. I obviously can’t self-medicate to get through this torture, but I better find a way to look REALLY happy all day (and night) and manage to make everyone there my bestie. There is likely at least one rabid dog, if not five. Oh God they’ll probably eat my dog. I’m definitely living in the tack room, and I really hope my old car holds on because if it doesn’t I’m fired, and I won’t be able to fix it. Actually, I will probably be fired in two weeks anyway because I didn’t smile enough, and I didn’t fit in. No. I will not be paid for those two weeks. Wait, is there pay? Of any kind?
•The Problem: So, this whole ad is essentially the problem. It’s a combination of every bad thing I’ve seen in an equine job ad up to this point (remember I saved them). Do you expect to get applicants, plural, with this kind of job ad? NO WAY! Big things to take away from this: Don’t go into specific detail about all of the horrible parts of the job. It’s not necessary, and your job description (next blog) will do that. Do list your own major credentials. Job seekers in this industry need to know the experience/ability of the person they are considering working for, and it’s just good advertising. Don’t use words like “work ethic,” “attitude” and, God forbid, “drama” in these ads. This is all obvious and implied, and these terms are overused in the industry and make readers believe you’ve had this problem in the past. Try not to sound threatening. That’s just not good advertising. And PLEASE, this is a big one, mention compensation and specifically what that compensation is going to be. It does not have to be money (there should be some money if it’s a small amount), but you do need to outline exactly what the job seeker will receive for the laundry list of services you just demanded. If you want to attract applicants they need to know what’s in it for them!
•ISO Working Student: For a top-level eventing barn in Lexington, Virginia. We are seeking an experienced individual to join our established team. East Coast Farm offers a scenic and functional design and houses head trainer Jane Doe who has competed to the two-star level of the sport and produced a number of young horses successfully through the levels. Our ideal candidate would be someone with one year of experience working in the horse industry who wishes to learn the ins and outs of a competitive eventing barn. Duties will include standard farm chores like stall cleaning, turning in and out, tacking and untacking, and show grooming. Some riding is included! Compensation includes housing, board for one horse, weekly lessons, coaching at shows and a weekly stipend. Hours are normally 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week with a break for lunch. Please submit your resume and references to Jane Doe at Email.com to be considered for this position.
To sum it up:
Which ad would you respond to? Exactly. Sell yourself in an honest way. Keep it simple and straightforward. Your ad should reflect your schedule/program and the specific job you’re advertising, so wording will vary depending on the position. There will be time for all the nitty gritty details of the work during the phone interview, then the working interview and finally in the job description. This is the advertising part of your hiring process, so give the necessary information and keep it positive! Highlight your strengths and the advantages of your program. Fun competition or staff pictures are a great touch. Insist on resumes and references through email to apply. It proves initiative and should give you a comprehensive view of their horse and working experience.
Jessica Pye is an advanced-level event rider who grew up in the hunter/jumper and equitation rings of Wellington, Florida, but fell in love with the versatility and challenge of eventing at age 12. She’s worked for and ridden with numerous top hunter/jumper, dressage and eventing instructors during her journey including Karen and David O’Connor, Capt. Mark Phillips, Mike Huber, Missy and Jessica Ransehousen, Debbie Divecchia and Emilee Spinelli. She also obtained her master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and worked as the director of admissions/utilization review/assessment for the largest behavioral health facility in New Mexico. She has just returned to running a professional horse business, Pye Equestrian, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.