It’s a time of year when the horse job market is flooded with new graduates, both high schoolers not advancing on to college or those taking a gap year, and college grads, some from equine studies-adjacent programs, some not. We professionals in the equine business need support staff, whether it’s grooms or working students or vet techs or farrier’s assistants. There’s no barn-to-barn consistency in what one of those positions looks like, in the same way that being a server at TGI Fridays and a server at the nicest restaurant in Manhattan aren’t the same type of position. And with barns, just like restaurants, there are great ones and there are crappy ones, run by great people, run by crappy people.

I am so, so grateful to not be amongst the barns out there hiring right now (she says as she knocks wood and crosses her fingers and prays to whatever deity needs prayer to keep the team I have). The pandemic and its resulting economic strangeness have left the hiring market in the horse world a wild place. Inflation is making it harder and harder to keep up with wages. I’ve raised board five times in four years just to keep up with both increased costs on my end and also in trying to provide my employees with a wage that made it possible for them to live in a more expensive world. It’s tough, for a lot of people. I don’t have to tell you all this.

And listen, young and horsey, I see them too: the posts on the equine employment groups on Facebook that are offering unpaid positions with shady housing and long hours, touting “I will teach you the ways of the industry and provide invaluable experience” from people with boarding barns or low-level training jobs. If you think it sounds like one step above slave labor, it probably is.

With that said, somewhere behind the naiveté of my fellow Millennials who were told we could be anything we wanted to be—as long as we were willing to take on tens of thousands of dollars of student loans—only to have three epic financial crises in our lifetimes, and the Gen Z “tear it all down” approach to capitalism are a whole bunch of people who love horses and just want to make it all work. There’s gotta be a middle ground.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!