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Friday 28 July 2017

The hands-on experience

Sign up to RACE if a career of daily work on horses is right up your street

LEARN WELL: Upcoming RACE open days will show what is on offer on their courses
LEARN WELL: Upcoming RACE open days will show what is on offer on their courses
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

The equine industry offers a myriad of career opportunities, particularly for those who want to work in a hands-on way.

Last week I outlined some of the college courses available to students, but this week we look at some career opportunities for those who want to work with horses on a daily basis.



If names such as Johnny Murtagh, Conor O'Dwyer, Cathy Gannon and Robert Winston are your inspiration, then a career in racing may be for you.

The Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE) in Co Kildare is holding several open days in the coming weeks to give a real insight to what it takes to become a jockey. The open days take place on March 2, April 6 and May 11, 18 and 25, each starting at 2pm.

There are some basic requirements for applicants to the Trainee Jockey course at RACE:



  • Age: At least 15 and less than 18 years of age before July 1. Closing date is June 11.

  • Weight: Trainees must be less than nine stone (57kg).

  • Riding Experience: This is not essential but applicants must do a basic riding test during the trial for the course.


  • Education: A school reference is required. Applicants are expected to have basic literacy and numeracy skills, and have attained the Junior Certificate or equivalent.

  • Health: A medical certificate from the applicant's doctor is required to confirm sound physical condition and suitability for the demands of the course.



  • Candidates are chosen to undergo a one-week residential trial at RACE in July, and the most suitable 32 are selected to attend the course, which starts in mid-August.

    The suitability test includes fitness and riding assessments, yard duties, horse handling and observation of rules within a supervised campus setting.

    Successful participants are awarded the FETAC National Skills Certificate -- Trainee Jockey and can attain a full Level 4 certificate on the National Framework of Qualifications.

    They can also receive European certification through the EQUES (European Qualification for Stable Employees) programme in stable management, riding skills and conversational French.

    Some successful trainees go on to sign on as apprentice jockeys, while others are employed as stable staff, progressing to roles such as groom, work rider, travelling head lad or assistant trainer.

    The training is divided into three distinct phases:

    1. Directed Training

    Mornings: Practical riding and stable management modules. Trainees learn mucking out skills, grooming, tacking up, riding and general yard tasks in an environment that replicates a racing yard.

    Each has their own horse to care for and ride every morning, under the watchful eye of the team of RACE instructors.

    Afternoons: Theory modules in stable and yard routine, racehorse care and exercise, and lectures on communications, personal effectiveness, maths and information technology skills are carried out.

    2. Integrated Training

    Mornings: On-the-job training in riding and stable management under the supervision of local racehorse trainers on the Curragh, as specified in their Workplace Training Record.

    Afternoons: Classroom modules, as in the first term, plus additional modules on lifestyle and nutrition, managing money and media skills.

    3. Structured Workplace Training

    Full-time, on-the-job training, under the supervision of local racehorse trainers, that includes morning and evening stable activities and leading up at race meetings as specified in the Workplace Training Record. Trainees continue to develop their skills and work as part of the team in the racing yard, riding out three or four racehorses on the gallops each morning and carrying out all stable grooms' duties.

    Applications are now being taken for a second course run by RACE, the Racing Grooms course, which is aimed at people who want a career in the horse-racing industry but, by reason of age, weight or riding ability, are not suitable for the Trainee Jockey programme.

    The structure of the course has changed over the past three years but, this year, it is likely to take the form of a four-week Career Planning for the Equine Industry course, followed by a 20-week Exercise Rider/ Racing Groom Traineeship for suitable candidates.

    Applicants must be at least 16 years of age and keen to work in the racing industry.

    The aim of the four-week career planning course is to equip candidates with basic skills of working around horses, to determine if he/she has the necessary discipline required to be successful and to help candidates decide which area of the industry would suit them best. Candidates who are suited to becoming exercise/ work riders in racing yards will be directed onto the 20-week Racing Groom Apprenticeship.

    This course includes riding on all gallops, schooling over poles and fences, and working on practical tasks including preparing a horse for travelling, bandaging and plaiting. It also includes a monitored work placement with a racehorse trainer for full-time, on-the-job training.

    Other candidates will be assisted in finding suitable additional training or work placements if possible in areas such as stud groom, riding centre groom, or instructor.

    If your interest in horses lies outside the thoroughbred sector, perhaps a career as a riding instructor might be of interest.

    One of the best ways to start is to take the British Horse Society (BHS) exams. The minimum age for the first -- Stage 1 -- is 14.

    The typical route of progression via the BHS exams is to complete Stage 1 horse knowledge and care and riding sections before completing the Riding and Road Safety certificate and then onto Stage 2.

    The next step is to complete the Preliminary Teaching Test (PTT), where your ability to teach others will be examined. The PTT requires you to give a class lesson on the flat or using ground poles and jumps, as well as giving a lunge lesson or a lead rein lesson. This exam also includes a 10-minute presentation on an equestrian topic.

    You will also be examined on your business knowledge, yard organisation, teaching and child protection know-how.

    The final part of the PTT exam is a portfolio where you record rider assessments and coaching plans for a series of lessons you have carried out. If you pass it, you are awarded the Preliminary Teachers' Certificate (Equine Coach).

    The BHS Stage 3 exam also consists of two sections -- the horse care and knowledge section and the riding section. On completion of the former section, you receive a Groom's Certificate. Once both sections are passed successfully you are awarded the Assistant Instructor's Certificate.

    Moving further up the ladder, the Stage 4 qualification will provide the holder with the ability to work as a stable manager. They will be able to look after several horses and ponies in a variety of situations, ensuring horses, stables, yard and fields are safe and in good order.

    They will gain experience to manage staff and students, and show an all-round knowledge of business matters relating to the equine industry. Candidates will also demonstrate the ability to ride, assess and improve horse performance, and be able to train horses for dressage, novice horse trials and newcomers' showjumping events.

    When the horse care and knowledge section is complete, you are recognised as an Intermediate Stable Manager.

    Once both Stage 4 exams are done you move to the Intermediate Teaching Test (ITT).

    The ITT qualification is designed to give you the skills to give safe and compe-tent lessons from beginner to elementary standards without any supervision. Intermediate instructors will be able to show genuine improvement of horse and rider, will be able to demonstrate sound, practical business knowledge and be competent with running a commercial yard.

    The final three stages on the way to becoming a BHS instructor are the BHS Stable Manager's Certificate, Senior Equitation Certificate and Senior Coaching Certificate.



    Irish Independent