Robert Redford’s character in The Horse Whisperer. Teenage Amy Fleming from the popular series Heartland. Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.

Horse trainers are highly romanticized in popular entertainment. The reality, however, is anything but.

I come from a family of professional horse trainers, but will never be one. Why? Because training horses for a living is nothing like Hollywood dreams it to be.

Real horse training is spending hours outside in terrible weather. It’s getting stomped on, knocked over, bucked off, ran off with, bitten and disrespected.

Actual horse trainers spend their lives trying to “fix” equine behavioral problems that other people have created. Think about it: how often does an owner spend $1000+ per month to put a gentle, compliant horse into professional training? I’d argue that these clients are few and far between.

Of all horse trainers, those at the bottom of the ladder are the men and women like my family who build their livelihood dealing with “problem” horses. Horses tend to get shipped to these experts after other trainers have tried and failed, and the horse has become unmanageable.

I watched this process my entire childhood.

For many of the horses who came to our farm, my family was their last hope of becoming a suitable equine for human interaction. These were horses that flipped over backwards, wrecked stalls, and kicked people. Many were capable of bucking like a rodeo bronc, pulling back hard enough to break halters, and rearing at the mere sight of a vaccination syringe. In short, they were dangerous horses.

And the privilege of working with them affords a limited income in return, especially in relation to the risks. A trainer who is paid $1700 per month per horse brings in just $56.70 per day before accounting for major expenses such as feed, shavings, equipment, barn help and facilities. Would you risk your physical safety for that amount?

I love horses and have been blessed to learn how to gentle a young colt, transition an ex-racehorse to its new career, and trail ride on difficult terrain. But I will never risk my personal safety as a professional horsewoman. 

You can create your dream as my family has done, but it will not be easy, nor glamorous.

After all, there’s a reason Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings famously sang “Mammas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…”