The world of horse racing has deep roots in Kentucky, with many aspiring to be part of this storied industry. And while the job market differs from the state’s highest demand sectors, there are career opportunities, from the horse farm to the auction house to the racetrack. You might find your niche in the daily care of horses, in farm management or in sales. Maybe it’s the excitement of the racetrack that entices you. Whatever you’re looking for, Kentucky is the place for horse lovers. What’s it like to work with thoroughbreds? Watch this video to find out.
Interested? As you can see, Kentucky is the place to be for a career working with thoroughbreds. The commonwealth is home to 54,000 thoroughbreds, according to the most recent Kentucky Equine Survey. That’s 22 percent of the estimated 242,000 horses in the state. According to Bloodhorse.com, Kentucky annually leads all states and provinces in thoroughbred breeding. Kentucky-based stallions accounted for 55 percent of the mares reported bred in North America in 2019 and 60 percent of the live foals reported for 2020.
Wondering if you have what it takes? Learn more about the variety of careers in thoroughbred care, sales, and racing. Find out more about jobs in the thoroughbred industry, and jobs with horses in general, by visiting the job postings website of the Kentucky Horse Council.
Need more information? See all of the equine career pathway documents on the Equine Workforce Initiative website.
It all begins on the horse farm. From the groom who takes care of the horses to the farm manager, everyone has a good work ethic and a passion for thoroughbreds.
Farm Operations Average Annual Salaries
- Farm Manager: $60,000-$100,000.
- Division Manager: $40,000-$60,000 (A division manager may be in charge of a unit of a large horse farm, such as the stallions, mares and foaling, or preparing young horses for sale. – Kentucky Equine Education Project)
- Barn Foreman: $35,000-$40,000
- Groom: $25,000-$35,000
If you enjoy the excitement of auctions or the challenge of making a sale, this might be your dream job.
An auctioneer earns an average yearly salary of $45,000-$70,000. An announcer earns $35,000-$50,000, and a bid-spotter, who helps the auctioneer see potential buyers to keep the sale moving forward, $30,000-$45,000. A large auction may have several bid-spotters.
In some careers, people work on commission, meaning they are paid a percentage of the total sale. The consignor arranges for the horse to be sold at auction. The bloodstock agent is hired to buy and sell horses for breeding and racing, A pinhooker buys yearling horses at auction or privately, oversees their breaking and training, and re-sells them as race-ready 2-year-olds in training.
Kentucky has five thoroughbred racetracks: Keeneland in Lexington, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Turfway Park in Florence, Ellis Park in Henderson, and Kentucky Downs in Franklin.
The backside is where you’ll find the hands-on work: the hot walker who takes horses out for a walk after a workout, the groom who keeps the horses looking nice, and the trainers who get them ready to race. All these jobs require licensing by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
On the frontside are the people who keep the racetrack running year-round, from the track superintendent who keeps the track safe for horses to the stewards who officiate the races. Many of the frontside positions require accreditation from the Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP).
Getting Started in the Thoroughbred Industry
Some people grow up learning to ride horses and take care of them through 4-H programs, FFA, or Pony Club. And some lucky few grow up on a working horse farm. But where can you go from there?
The thoroughbred industry can be daunting for a newcomer to navigate. The Amplify Horse Racing Mentorship program pairs young adults (mentees) interested in pursuing a thoroughbred industry career with experienced industry professionals (mentors). These pairings will educate mentees about the industry and its nuances; teach essential skills and knowledge needed to pursue a job or career, and facilitate meaningful conversations between about the realities of employment in the industry.
If you’re interested in management and have finished the first three years of college, the Kentucky Equine Management Internship may be for you. The program lasts 22 to 24 weeks over spring and fall. Interns work full-time at commercial thoroughbred farms, learning all about daily operations. A full-time work week is 48 hours per week with one day off. Students meet at least one evening a week for a lecture, demonstration or field trip. Students learn about horse breeding in the spring and thoroughbred sales in the fall.
For information, see the KEMI website.
A racetrack could not get by without its seasonal workers—the clerks, judges, clockers, and starters needed for a race meet. All these frontside seasonal workers are licensed as racing officials. Auction houses also need seasonal workers to show and take care of horses through the sale.
Find out more about jobs in the thoroughbred industry, and jobs with horses in general, by visiting the job postings website of the Kentucky Horse Council.
A Horsey Higher Education
Kentucky is world renowned for its thoroughbreds, and as you might expect, many of the universities in the state offer equine studies.
University of Kentucky, Lexington: Bachelor’s degree in equine science and management. Master’s and doctoral degrees in veterinary science with a general emphasis on the horse. UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Equine Programs
Murray State University: Bachelor of science degree in agriculture with a focus on equine science or equine management. Minor in equine science. Extracurricular activities include Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Hunt and Stock teams, the Dressage Club, and Rodeo Team. Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture Equine Programs
Morehead State University: Bachelor of science degree in agricultural sciences with an emphasis in equine science. Minor in horsemanship. Fully equipped equine breeding facility and Equine Health Education Center with surgical suite. Equine Team and Equestrian Club. Morehead State University Equine Science Program
Midway University: Located on a 200-acre horse farm in Woodford County. Bachelor’s degree in equine studies (concentrations in equine management, equine rehabilitation, and science); MBA with an equine studies concentration. Midway University Equine Programs
Asbury University, Wilmore: The only university in the country with a student-conducted police horse training program. Bachelor’s degree in equine studies, with concentrations in management, training, science, or equine-assisted activities (facilitated mental health). Bachelor’s degree in equine science (pre-veterinary medicine track). Asbury University Equine Program
University of Louisville: Undergraduate degree in equine business through its business college;. Online horse racing industry business certificate, for those who already have a bachelor’s degree. UofL College of Business Equine Program
Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Lexington: The only community college in the country offering a racehorse riding certificate. BCTC Equine offers a two-year associate degree in equine studies; and certificates in equine industry workforce, exercise rider, and veterinary assistant. BCTC Equine Studies
Georgetown College: Equine Scholars Program allows students to apply the skills from any major to the equine industry. The college’s equestrian team is open to anyone, experienced or not. Georgetown College Equine Scholars Program
You love horses, but you’re short on experience, so where can you go to learn the ropes of the horse business? A new equine-specific Registered Apprenticeship Program began in 2020 through the Kentucky Office of Apprenticeships. Apprentices learn or improve their skills in horse handling, feeding and nutrition, proper grooming and exercise, identification of disease or illness, basic health care, and medical treatments, and facility care and maintenance. Once you finish the 2,000-hour apprenticeship, you earn an industry certification from the U.S. and Kentucky Departments of Labor.