Muck out at 7am, then attend lessons all day

Learning Account: A week in the life of... Peter Cook, British Horse Society instructor
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The Independent Online
Peter Cook is also head of the School of Equine Studies, Bicton College of Agriculture, Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

All our students arrive with a real love of horses, but it's our job to teach them there's more to working with them than just patting and cuddling.

The three courses we run all have a large element of business studies, as well as the outdoor bits such as stable management and riding and instruction skills.

Students mostly come to us at 16 or a little older and take a one-year National Certificate in the Management of Horses or a three-year BTec National Diploma in Horse Studies, which includes a sandwich year working in the industry.

They are being trained for a career that will see them start off as grooms, maybe in show jumping or dressage yards or in riding schools, and then possibly move into riding instruction. Increasingly, they are saying they want to compete at riding rather than teach, but unless they have the talent and an awful lot of financial backing they'll need back-up skills. As grooms, they'll be lucky to earn as much as pounds 100 a week, and many will get considerably less.

The thing students have to realise when they come to us with stars in their eyes fresh from the Pony Club or lessons at their local riding school is that looking after horses is hard work.

During term time, when most of the students live in college since we're so tucked away in our corner of Devon, they spend one week in every three working in the stable yard as well as studying. They have to be out by 7am mucking out, feeding and grooming, then attend lessons and lectures all day, then they're back in the yard again at 6.30pm.

The lesson they learn is that, even if they have looked after their own horse at home, that is quite different from working on their own and having to look after three or four. You just don't get the same attachment, and some of them get a bit disillusioned.

They also find the business studies side hard-going. The advanced certificate students, who took exams last week, study stable management, stud work, anatomy and physiology, grassland management and business skills.

Many of our students will freelance or set up their own small firms, so they need business acumen. Many businesses fail because people are good with horses but have no business skills.

Each student will ride under instruction for 45 minutes a day, and they also practice teaching each other, taking it in turns to ride round on the end of a lunge rein. At weekends, they get the chance to ride out under supervision on the common nearby.

The hunting debate has raised much less division in college than it has nationally. It might surprise many people to learn that quite a proportion of the students are opposed to hunting, but it's perfectly possible to avoid having anything to do with it if you pick a stableyard or riding school that is not involved.

We have had students go on to work in top American polo yards, for top eventers, or to become highly qualified instructors, which takes six years' training - more than to become a vet

Interview by Lucy Ward