Learning About Horses (Stable Studies)

What do you want to learn about horses? There is a plethora of programs available to those interested in the equine industry.

There was a time when an individual seeking a horse-related vocation had few choices for equine education. About all that was available was working as an apprentice under a successful trainer or breeder--sometimes for little or no money. Frequently, this was a successful approach and a new trainer or breeder entered the field, carrying along the style and approach of his or her mentor. There was, however, an inbuilt problem with this approach--there was room for only a limited number of interested individuals.

It is vastly different today with a number of equine education programs around the country offering courses that can culminate in everything from a two-year certificate to a master's degree. The offerings are broad, ranging from business administration to hands-on training. Some of the institutions provide horses for their students, others offer accommodations so students can bring their own horses, and still others concentrate on equine business, science, and marketing with no hands-on experience with horses.

To provide an overview of what is available around the country, we have contacted five institutions. While this is a limited number, they are a representative cross-section of the different types of equine education programs that are available.

The five are Central Wyoming College in Riverton; Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.; William Woods University in Fulton, Mo.; Meredith Manor in Waverly, W.Va.; and the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Central Wyoming College

Central Wyoming College concentrates on hands-on education, but it also includes a classroom-based program. The two-year program has been around for 30 years, and Patti Stalley is its architect and "one- woman band" in the teaching department.

The program's goal is twofold--teaching students the basics so that they can find employment in the equine world after two years, and preparing them for further education at a four-year institution.

"I tell students that when they have finished the two-year program, they have barely scratched the surface," says Stalley. She urges them to continue their studies at a four-year institution, such as the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

There normally are 50 to 60 students at Central Wyoming College who are listed as equine majors, with another 60 taking one or more courses. Students can pursue several avenues, ranging from an Associate of Applied Science degree in Horse Management to an Associate of Science Degree in Horse Science. Also offered are credentials in Equine Training Technology, Horse Management, Farrier Science, and Riding Instruction.

While Stalley teaches most of the riding and training classes, she brings in adjunct instructors to help out in specialized fields. Students seeking an associate degree take required academic classes on campus.

In addition to learning how to ride and train horses, as well as how to teach equitation, the students put on a number of competitive events, ranging from team roping to English-oriented classes. The students are in charge of planning and handling everything from advertising the events to managing them.

Any profit from the events goes into a special fund, says Stalley, and the school uses the money to bring in special speakers or provide outside experiences for the students. This past spring, for example, the funds were used to finance a student group's trip to the Kentucky Horse Park.

School officials track graduates of the equine program after they leave school, and the majority of "majors," says Stalley, are either making a living with horses or are at least using their equine education to supplement income.

According to Stalley, women in the program outnumber men two to one.

Stephens College

Providing a contrast to the Wyoming program is Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. Stephens is an all-female college that instead of providing a two-year associate degree, offers aspiring students the opportunity to earn a bachelor's or master's degree in the equine program.

Heading up the equine program as department chair is Ellen Beard, who graduated with a B.A. in business administration at Stephens College in 1984. A Kentucky native, she grew up working with national-caliber show horses in the heart of horse country. She is a nationally recognized U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) judge and clinician.

The degree programs offered at Stephens include a B.S. in Equestrian Business Management, which is designed to prepare a student to work professionally in a horse-related business; a B.S. in Equestrian Instruction and Training, designed to help a student prepare for a career as a horse trainer or teacher; the 3:2 Equestrian Instruction and Training Program, which allows a student to obtain a master's degree in five years--a B.A. in Equestrian Instruction and Training can be earned in three years, with the student then being eligible to enter a two-year master's program; "Plus One" Master's Programs, which allow students to continue immediately into a master's degree after receiving a four-year degree; and a Cooperative Animal Science Program, which allows students pursuing veterinary school or a science-related aspect of the equine industry to supplement a B.S. degree from Stephens with an Animal Science degree at the nearby University of Missouri, Columbia.

Stephens features one of the nation's oldest college equestrian programs, which was founded in 1925. The equestrian center is located on 16 acres on the main campus. It features an indoor arena, a lighted outdoor arena, seven turnout paddocks, stables, and a cross-country course. Classes are offered in saddle seat, hunter/jumper, driving, dressage, and Western riding. There are 60-plus horses on campus, representing a variety of breeds. All of them have been donated to the school and are college-owned.

The past year's enrollment was typical-- 58 majors, five minors, and 35 in the joint education program.

Beard has to this to say about the equestrian program's relationship with its students: "We tell prospective students that if they want to be closely involved with faculty members who might call them if they miss a class, this is the place. If they want to lose themselves in the college atmosphere and be anonymous, this probably isn't the place for them."

William Woods University

Not far from Stephens College is William Woods University, which established its equestrian program in 1924. It is a coed institution, but women outnumber men by a fair margin in the equine program.

Serving as chair of the equine program at William Woods is Gary Mullen, MS, who joined the faculty in the fall of 2006. He is a veteran of the show ring, having competed on nearly every breed of horse in almost every discipline. He received an M.S. degree in animal behavior at Colorado State University.

Some 200 students are involved in equestrian studies on an annual basis. Students in the program receive both theoretical and applied hands-on experience through required course work. In the riding phase of the program students are exposed to saddle seat, hunt seat, Western, and dressage. Theoretical course work involves such topics as equine anatomy and nutrition, teaching methods, horse evaluation and selection, and stable management.

William Woods, says Mullen, in 1972 was the first school to establish a four-year degree in equestrian science.

The school owns and houses 150 horses on campus, with some of them being retired show horses that have won world and national championship honors. All of the horses are donated.

The equestrian center at William Woods includes two heated indoor arenas, four heated barns with 150 box stalls, a USDF regulation dressage arena, and a 40-acre cross-country course.

Many of the graduates find employment in the equine industry. A number of them work for breed organizations, Mullen says, and others make their way into management and administration, as well as teaching and training.

University of Kentucky

One of the newest equine programs at a four-year institution is the Equine Initiative at the University of Kentucky where school officials launched a B.S. degree program in Equine Science and Management in the fall of 2007.

Heading up the program is Bob Coleman, PhD, associate director for undergraduate education in Equine Science and Management, and equine extension professor. The program differs from the two other four-year programs discussed, in that it does not offer any riding programs with horses (although the school does have an equestrian team).

On the other hand, the school is located in the middle of Thoroughbred and show horse country, and there are plenty of opportunities to work in internships on horse farms and veterinary hospitals.

During the past school year 120 students were enrolled in the program. About 50% of the students hail from Kentucky, Coleman says, and the other 50% are from other parts of the country. Females outnumber males in equestrian studies at the university--about 80% percent of the students are female.

Coleman believes that many of the program's graduates will be involved in all aspects of the equine industry, including business and marketing capacities.

Meredith Manor

A two-year program (nine months for farriers) is offered at Meredith Manor in Waverly, W.Va. In 1973 the school's namesake, Ron Meredith, created the program, and today he and his wife, Faith, continue to manage it.

The school has been operating at its maximum capacity of 100 students, who come from 36 states and the Virgin Islands. The focus is strictly hands-on with horses. There are no math or English classes to attend. However, through a cooperative program with West Virginia University, students can study for an Associate of Applied Science Degree in technical studies with emphasis on equestrian studies or equine management.

Normally, there are 150 horses in the riding and training programs at the school. Having horses on-site is a strong advantage for farrier students, Faith Meredith says. "They can trim or shoe a horse and watch its way of going in whatever discipline it is involved as the riding and training students perform with it."

The majority of graduates of Meredith Manor enter directly into the equine field as trainers, teachers, or farriers. Students can also enter the equine massage therapy program and, if they successfully complete it, can be certified in that field.

Take-Home Message

There are hundreds of equine-related higher education programs available in the United States. Those listed above are just a sampling.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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