Equine Education

Many professional horse people combine their vocation with their avocation, and many other horse people would like to do just that. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, an avocation can be defined in the following manner: ‘An activity taken in addition to one's regular work or profession usually for enjoyment; a hobby.’ Yet within that word that connotes pleasure and relaxation lies the word that brings to mind the eight-to-five work week that most people view as drudgery--that which we must do in order to enjoy the things we want to do. The average work week is 40 hours, fifty weeks a year, until retirement. This block of time amounts to a large percentage of a person's adult life, enough that one's goal should be to choose a career in which there is a sense of satisfaction and of joy.

For those who love horses, a wide range of opportunities exists to combine a vocation and an avocation. Careful scrutiny of the many programs that are available will allow anyone interested in equine employment to select the program that best suits his or her career goals. Or, if you already are an equine professional, perhaps you are interested in expanding your basis of knowledge. The following information offers an overview of the types of educational opportunities that are available to professional horse people, and those who want to become professionals.

Bachelor and Associate Degree Programs

So, you've decided to go for the gusto and you're willing to spend the next two to four years working to complete a certification or degree in Equine Sciences to insure your future in the equine industry. Whether you aspire to work in equine management, become a trainer, equitation teacher, veterinarian, farrier, or an Olympic rider, you will need to complete a rigorous equine program tailored to your specific needs.

Equine programs that offer bachelor degrees might be time-consuming and demanding, but they also offer many benefits to the committed student. One of the main benefits of the following programs is the ratio of teachers to students. This low ratio is beneficial to the student, with most classes being small to provide for more interaction between the students and teachers. Other benefits include extracurricular activities such as having the opportunity to participate on an intercollegiate riding team--Western or English--judging team, polo team, rodeo club and team, or to become part of a riding instructor training program, or a horse training program. Most schools also let their equine program students bring their own horses with them, although some schools have a lottery to determine who can bring their own horses because there are more horses than the facilities can house.

The schools offer valuable industry networking that will aid tremendously in the job search upon completion of the program. The name of the school and the many hours of ‘hands-on’ training that have been earned are of importance when one is searching for a career in the horse industry. Most schools provide a placement service that will help a student locate a job in the industry after graduation. With placement at all of the following schools hovering near 100%, there is an obvious demand for equine professionals.

What exactly does a professional program have to offer? Lots. From a two-year certification to a four-year degree, a program in equine sciences can be tailored to fit your needs and desires. These programs allow concentration on the aspect of the horse industry in which the student has an interest.

The following schools offer some samples as to the kinds of programs that are offered, and the degrees or certifications available after completion of an equine program.

According to its literature, Colorado State University offers the following undergraduate courses to the student working on a Bachelor's degree in Equine Sciences: Equitation--English and Western; Equine Disease Management; Equine Nutrition; Equine Behavior; Equine Production and Industry; Equine Management; Equine Practicum; Equine Reproductive Management; Equine Evaluation; Farrier Science; Packing and Outfitting; Horse Training; Horse Judging; Internships; and Special Studies.

At CSU, the Equine Sciences program is administered by the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and provides the flexibility for balancing a rigorous biological science program with practical experience. Students have the choice between two concentrations, industry or science, that focus on different career objectives.

The industry concentration emphasizes management and business aspects for students who wish to pursue a career in equine production. The science concentration stresses basic sciences and provides a background for students who plan to pursue veterinary or graduate programs. Whichever concentration a student chooses, it will have an appropriate balance of mathematics, biological, chemical, and agricultural sciences, as well as social sciences and humanities.

At Midway College in Kentucky, several majors are organized in the Equine Studies program. At this all-womens' college, the following Bachelor of Arts degrees are available to those looking for a major in the equine studies program: Bachelor of Arts in Equine Studies with a Concentration in Equitation Intruction; Bachelor of Arts in Equine Studies with a Concentration in Management; Associate of Arts in Equine Management; Bachelor of Science in Equine Science.

There, as at CSU, the curriculum requires a mix of general education, business, and equine studies courses. Equitation courses are available from beginning to advanced levels of hunt seat, combined training, stock seat, and saddle seat. Practical experience and required internships help students work toward job opportunities after graduation.

The University of Louisville's College of Business and Public Administration's Equine Industry Program graduates receive a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in Equine Administration. With their training in marketing, finance, management, communications, and computers, students can go on to executive positions in all areas of the industry, including, but not limited to, racing, showing, and breeding, as well as commercial activities such as sales, insurance, and banking.

Otterbein College in Central Ohio is yet another four-year school that offers degrees in the Equine Sciences. Otterbein College now has four Equine Science majors and the Equestrian minor. They are as follows: Equine Science Pre-Veterinary Medicine or Pre-Graduate Studies; Equine Health Technology; Equine Facility Management; Equine Administration; Equestrian Minor (for those with an interest in becoming riding instructors).

Otterbein also offers undergraduate research opportunities in the areas of equine nutrition, exercise physiology, and molecular genetics. Some of these projects are done in cooperation with nearby The Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital, and a large Standardbred broodmare farm.

According to literature from Otterbein, the majority of students majoring in Equine Science complete at least one internship, and many do more than one. Internships can be arranged at any location throughout the United States and abroad, as long as they meet faculty and staff approval. Students in the past have worked for veterinary hospitals and clinics, including The Ohio State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. Others have had internships with the U.S. Olympic Team, breeding farms in Ohio and Kentucky, and the United States Trotting Association.

Yet another college that has equine training is Cazenovia College, located in New York. It offers two equine degrees, Bachelor of Professional Studies in Management with a specialization in equine business management, and an Associates Degree in Equine Studies with a specialization in horsemanship and stable and farm management.

As you can imagine, the cost of these programs can be expensive. However, according to Karin Bump, Director of Equine Sciences at Cazenovia, the prospective student will most likely be able to offset the cost of tuition with student loans, scholarships, and grants, which the schools' staffs can discuss on an individual basis.

If you only want to spend two years in school, you still can get an Associate degree in an equine science program at most of these universities.

There is yet another avenue you can follow, and that's earning a Certification that can be applied to a degree, if so intended.

Meredith Manor's International Equestrian Centre in West Virginia offers a two-year program that certifies students to become trainers, instructors, etc.; basically the same as what's offered in the four-year degree program offered by the other schools. Meredith Manor does offer bachelor degrees, but its courses are college affiliate programs. What this means, according to Faith Meredith, President of Meredith Manor, is that the school works with nearby colleges in order to provide students with an associate degree, if that's what the students would like. This school is considered a trade school, which enables its students to take full advantage of financial aid packages available at four-year schools.

Meredith Manor's objective is to produce professional riders for the international horse industry. The core of the program is riding and the ways it can be marketed. In the program at Meredith Manor, students acquire knowledge in general and specific areas of the horse industry, which will enable them to understand and apply principles to careers with horses. Students take required core courses relating to the care and maintenance of horses and facilities. The choice of career areas provide specific knowledge and skills to develop an area of specialization, which the student chooses.

Riding skills are developed in Western, jumping, and dressage. Students progress through a carefully designed and executed program that takes them from their current riding level through a sequential riding skill development program. Professional skills are developed in career areas that enable students to become employed in the area of their choice.

Whichever road is chosen, jobs in the equine industry do exist and qualified candidates are always needed. The ‘hands-on’ training and internships will provide an edge, so to speak, to the graduate looking for job placement in the horse industry.

Non-Traditional Education Programs

For those graduating from high school who might not want to pursue a more formal education in the form of college, there are equine education programs available. These types of programs also are suited for people who are interested in changing careers or for non-traditional students, those who are older and have decided to seek the skills that match the interests of their avocation.

One such program is the Kentucky Horse Park's Equine Management Program. Originally begun as a non-baccalaureate vocational education program with the cooperative efforts of the Kentucky Bureau of Vocational Education, the State Department of Economic Security, the Kentucky Department of Parks, Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky, the Farm Managers Club, American Saddle Horse Breeders Association, American Horse Council, and the Kentucky Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association in 1972, the program has undergone many metamorphoses. Yet it has always maintained its original vision: providing trained workers for the horse industry. As the horse industry has grown over the past twenty-five years, so has the need for workers in the horse industry and its ancillary industries.

The Equine Management Program in its present evolution is a work/study program that lasts for five months. There are two programs a year, one beginning in February and lasting through June, the second running from July through November. During the course, the students spend approximately two hours a day in the classroom. The remainder of the time is ‘hands-on’ curriculum involving the 40 different breeds of horses found at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Barbara Dietrich, Director of Education, says that the emphasis of the program is on the work/study aspect. The students have responsibilities-daily activities that would be involved in any horse operation such as grooming and mucking stalls. The students work with all breeds in areas such as stable management, horse handling, equine anatomy and physiology, herd health, reproduction, mare and foal care, as well as have training and riding opportunities.

The program also has added to its original goal. Dietrich said that although the major goal of the program is to meet the horse industry's needs, the program is also in place to prepare people to have their own horses and run their own operation, to teach people how to care for and handle horses, and to show what opportunities exist within the industry and to help the students to decide what areas hold their interest and what areas do not.

Internships and part-time jobs during the course of the program allow students to explore other avenues related to the horse industry. The internships also allow the program to tailor itself to the students' needs. Spending one or two weeks in different areas allows the student to see if that area is the place where he or she wants to spend the rest of a working career.

For example, students in equine science can find out through an internship at one of the veterinary clinics if that is the career for them. Internships also provide a taste of the economic realities of the industry. Working at a Quarter Horse farm can teach a student that there is more to the job than handling horses. Dietrich feels these kinds of real-life situations are as valuable as classroom experience.

The fact that the course is held in the heart of the Bluegrass is a plus, according to Dietrich. In that area, there are many different breeds and shows. A person who goes to Kentucky for that program can, through the internships, take core samples from many different areas, then by analyzing the results, can make a more knowledgeable decision about a career.

Dietrich has seen a change in the type of students over the last five years. She says that today there is a greater variety of student. From what was once a fairly homogenous group of people who came to work on the farms in the area, the class is now filled with all kinds of students, including people in animal science programs, single mothers who want to be able to support themselves, and retired people who are seeking new career opportunities. Some want to teach riding, some want to open a training facility, some want to work in the business aspect of the industry, and some want to be involved in those areas that are directly related to the horse industry. However, what they have in common is the desire for the basic knowledge and the experience in the industry that such a program offers. They also want to combine that which they love doing with their career choice.

In addition to the Equine Management Program, the Kentucky Horse Park offers community education classes. These short courses and seminars are geared to those who want to increase their own equine knowledge. The courses include basic driving, hoof care, lameness, basic horse care and handling techniques, basic health care, transportation and trailer loading, and riding. These courses provide a chance to learn new skills, hone old skills, and discover the possibilities that lie within our grasp. Community education classes like those at the Kentucky Horse Park are found throughout the country. Those programs offer a tremendous opportunity to participate in interactive learning with an equine companion or to gain knowledge that will assist students of all ages in caring for their horses. Local stables, riding clubs, breed associations, and magazines are a good source for listings for these courses.

There are other educational opportunities for those who might not wish to involve themselves in the more traditional kinds of programs. In this age of specialization, someone who is looking for a career in the equine industry might prefer a more focused training. The D'AL School of Equine Massage located in London, Ontario, Canada, provides such an opportunity by providing an internationally accredited equine massage therapy program. What sets this program apart from other massage programs, according to their literature, is that this program is a diploma program registered with the Ontario Ministry of Education.

This program is unique because the students must complete a rigorous 2,200-hour course program containing formal, clinical studies as well as ‘hands-on’ field work. At the conclusion of the two-year program, the student must successfully complete exams before he or she can apply for registration with the International Federation of Registered Equine Massage Therapists.

The course work is divided among several components. There are 600 hours devoted to massage theory and techniques and massage treatment. The other hours are divided among conformation and movement, equine behavior, hydrotherapy, business management and terminology, and ethics.

The goal of the program is to prepare students to work with veterinarians. In fact, some of the inquiries for the class have come from students currently enrolled in the veterinarian technician program who are interested in taking this course upon graduation from the vet tech program. Their objective is to be able to provide additional services to the veterinarians for whom they work.

In addition to the class work, the school also has established relationships with several farms in the area that can provide students with exposure to horses from a variety of disciplines. These facilities act as ‘outreach clinic’ settings. There, the students can gain exposure to the animal with no focus on any specific breed or discipline. The program is designed so that the students can gain exposure to a variety of breeds and disciplines, resulting in a better understanding and greater respect for all types and uses for horses.

Still in its incipience, the program is filled with a variety of students. Most of the students are women in their 20s. Although the students come from a variety of backgrounds, they have a common denominator--most have been involved with horses. Having a basic knowledge of horses is not a prerequisite for the course; however, this experience does indicate that those enrolled are combining what they love with how they want to make a living.

Choosing a career is a difficult decision, and one not to be made lightly. Often we do not know whether we will be happy with our choice until we have had some practical experience in the chosen field. By that time, it is often too late to turn back since so much time and money have been invested. There is an advantage to finding a career that is an adjunct to a hobby: We already know if we enjoy doing the work. The remainder of the discovery process involves investigating the many opportunities that lie within the equine industry and determining the best way to get the skills necessary to make the most of those opportunities.

About the Author

Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a former English professor with a BA from Georgetown College, a JD from the University of Kentucky School of Law, and an MA in English from Western Kentucky University. He is an assistant editor for Eclipse Press.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners