Work Ethic

If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say some of the most popular sections of Quarter Horse News are the columns – Gala’s Gab, Frankly Speaking, Craig’s Spin, Let It Rein, Cornbread Thinks, Health Matters, and yes, even my Insights & Opinions. Our columns have provoked the greatest number of letters to the editor in the past year, and are often praised on social media as thought-provoking and original.

I don’t tell you this so that we can pat ourselves on the back. I tell you this because there is a column in this issue that I know you won’t want to miss. In his monthly column Craig’s Spin, reining trainer Craig Schmersal tackles the subject of assistant trainers.

There seems to be a very real problem affecting the equine industry – a lack of good help. I won’t give away all of Craig’s thoughts, as you really should read it for yourself, but I will touch on one subject he mentioned. In his own words, Craig takes a hard look at the younger generation and the positions its members are, or aren’t, filling in the horse industry. Training horses is a physically demanding job requiring 24/7 commitment. Many college-age young adults, he says, just don’t want to work that hard.

It’s an interesting idea, and not a new one. Much has been written about Gen Y’s sense of entitlement and how it affects the workplace. I hadn’t given it much thought until it came up again in a conversation with a colleague.

My friend is in the process of starting his second publication. He followed his passion to start his first magazine, and loves the industry so much he is branching out with a another magazine in an unrelated field. If my friend’s story stopped there, it would be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill, small-business-owner-meets-success story.

But his story doesn’t stop there.

What makes my friend’s story unique is the fact that he publishes both magazines, doing most of the writing and photography himself, while also working full time at his first profession, where he owns his own business, manages a staff and is the primary employee. He has turned his passion into a second career, and regularly puts in 12-plus hour days, seven days a week, to accomplish his goals. His work ethic doesn’t surprise me; he’s my age. Working hard to succeed seems to be the mantra of our generation.

As we talked about the increased workload a second publication brings, he mentioned how hard it was to find good help.  One young lady in her early 20s worked for just one week before failing to show up for work on Monday. Or Tuesday. Or ever again. She didn’t call, email or text. She just never went back. Another gal worked one day and then said she wouldn’t be able to come in the next day because she was going to Disneyland with her boyfriend. She felt she was entitled to the day off because she had plans.

I thought of my friend’s staffing issues as I read Craig’s column, and it was easy for me to agree that many of the problems in the workforce today are caused by generational entitlement. But then I remembered another staffing situation I saw at a horse show last summer.

It was mid-morning on a day when the finals didn’t start until after noon. A complimentary brunch was set up for everyone to enjoy, and many trainers and owners were eating, socializing and relaxing. A young horseman helped himself to a plate of food and sat down to enjoy a meal. But before he could even take one bite, his employer, a successful trainer, loudly and rudely told him to go get a specific horse out its stall and saddle it up. Right now. The assistant trainer asked if he could quickly eat first and was told no, it had to be done right now. The slump in the young man’s shoulders was visible as he set his full plate of food down and went back to work, missing lunch and, probably, dinner.

This particular situation is one I witnessed first hand, but the stories of assistant trainers being treated poorly for little pay abound in every discipline. That young man was willing to put up with being publicly yelled at and miss meals for the opportunity to learn from a trainer. When I see the assistants who stay, in spite of long hours, poor living conditions and inconsiderate treatment, I see people who are passionate about making a living in the horse industry and who are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

The truth is, jobs in the horse industry never run from 8-5. The hours are long and often fall on evenings and weekends, no matter if you’re talking about training, selling tack or publishing magazines. If it’s not your passion, you wouldn’t be here. Cultivating the younger generation’s passion for horses, which several associations are now actively doing, is one way to combat generational entitlement. Another is making sure that the dues you are asking the younger generation to pay aren’t too high.

And if that doesn’t work, I seem to remember a story my dad used to tell me about walking 10 miles to school…in the snow…uphill both ways.