Thirst for Knowledge

Horse people are always searching for new ways to learn about their passion: the horse. Perhaps it is because our relationship with the horse is just that--a passion--that we are continually looking for ways to expand our knowledge base. It can be seen in the increasing subscription numbers for publications such as The Horse, the success of equine events such as horse expos, owner education opportunities from organizations such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), and the increasing number of universities offering equine programs.

Thousands of people make their living teaching others the joy of horses, and many of those learn "on the job," going from student to instructor, often to support their own "horse habit." For professionals, continuing education keeps them sharp.

This article will hit some highlights and, perhaps, introduce you to some opportunities for continuing education that might be just what your horse ordered.

Train the Trainer

A number of opportunities focus specifically on the professional trainer. Two that you might be unaware of are the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) and the American Youth Horse Council (AYHC).

The CHA provides certification for riding instructors, trail guides, facilities managers, seasonal equine staff, and more. It also offers skills clinics. CHA's purpose is to promote excellence in safety and education for the benefit of individuals and group riding programs in the horse industry.

Even though the CHA's certification is perhaps more of an evaluation process, Polly Haselton Barger, program director for CHA, says, "There is a real synergistic experience that goes on in the CHA clinics, and there is a tremendous amount of knowledge to be gained."

CHA stresses the importance of correct education and strives to provide educational resources and teachings to the riding public through its programs. Certification like this can be a real marketing advantage, giving you an edge over the local lesson competition. More information can be found at

The American Youth Horse Council's Annual Symposium each spring offers a broad range of speakers and workshops that focus on youth programs. It offers tracks for industry professionals, adult leaders, and teens. AYHC also strives to keep the youth horse industry abreast of current issues in the equine industry. This year's symposium (held in March in Denver, Colo.) featured speakers addressing equine welfare issues. The teen project was for participants to develop methods of teaching their communities about equine welfare and the serious issue of the growing number of unwanted horses in this country.

"Perhaps one of the best things that this symposium has to offer is an opportunity for leaders to network and learn from one another," says AYHC Executive Director Cindy Schonholtz.

The symposium experience is consistently given high ratings by participants. You can read more about it at

Continuing Education and Clinics

Continuing education opportunities, such as seminars and clinics, are continually offered by local veterinarians, university extension programs, equine associations, local riding stables, and many other groups. For education on a grand scale, Equine Affaire is an event you might want to experience.

Equine Affaire is a multiday, education-oriented equine convention that has expanded to include three shows annually: Massachusetts, Ohio, and California. Attendance has grown year after year, and the education provided is a primary draw.

This year there were more than 50 presenters during the Ohio event alone (April 12-15). Those presenters offered more than 300 clinics, seminars, and demonstrations during the event.

Angela Ryan of Equine Affaire's marketing department says, "The science, theories, and (training) techniques used are always changing and evolving. Equine Affaire keeps you tapped into that." Check out the details at

Everywhere you look, more equine education opportunities surface. Many states have horse expos that provide a variety of educational opportunities. Some of the largest are in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and many are organized in conjunction with the state's horse councils.

The AAEP has recognized horse owners' ongoing thirst for knowledge. A few years ago, the organization developed a strong owner education program, which includes two conferences. One is an owner education day that follows its annual convention for member veterinarians, and another is held during its annual practice management meeting in the summer.

The AAEP maintains a dynamic Web site that provides a library of articles and an opportunity for monthly interaction with member veterinarians using its "Ask the Vet" feature. The organization selects a topic monthly and a knowledgeable veterinarian in that subject area will answer questions via e-mail. The AAEP has also developed a number of ready-made tools available to member veterinarians that are experiencing an increasing demand for presentations to their area owners.

Dana Kirkland, owner education director for the AAEP, has seen continued growth in the demand for educational opportunities and materials over the past few years. "Our newsletter alone has grown to have a subscription base of 15,000 and gone from a monthly to a biweekly publication," she says.

The AAEP strives to make resources available and approachable to facilitate education. Recently it developed an Alliance Partners program that assists associations in developing educational components for conventions. You can learn more and access resources at

Lynn Palm, an internationally respected clinician, has fulfilled a longtime goal by introducing the first Women LUV Horses educational retreat (held May 18-20 in North Carolina, Focused on women and girls who love horses, Palm created a venue to target womens' issues.

"Women represent the majority of horse owners in the United States, and perhaps the world," says Palm. "They drive the horse industry in horse purchases, buying products, attending shows, and enjoying the trails. Women are also matriarchs in the family unit. Blending family and the love of horses proves challenging at times." This retreat was designed to help women learn the secrets of how to achieve a healthy balance within their busy lifestyles.

How about a unique educational horse vacation? The Equine Research Foundation (ERF) out of California has a public outreach education program offered through equine vacations. Participants can learn about the human-horse relationship and work on horsemanship skills on the trail and on the beach. They can relax and enjoy a southern California ranch atmosphere. For an interesting twist, ERF conducts noninvasive equine behavioral research as a part of the experience.

There are also a number of educational horse vacations in the United States and worldwide. Conduct an Internet search and explore the possibilities.

Collegiate Education

According to U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges 2007, the following schools offer Equestrian/Equine Studies as a major.

Many other universities offer equine- related courses and seminars. Many schools also offer equine curricula as part of their Animal Sciences programs, so don't be turned off of a school just because equine studies is not listed as a major.

More universities are expanding their programs in response to a growing interest in the equine industry. For example, the University of Kentucky (UK) just announced a new Equine Science and Management undergraduate degree program comprised of two tracks--an equine management option that focuses on management of the horse and farm enterprise, and an equine business option that focuses on business and organizational management within the industry. The decision came about from recommendations from UK's Equine Initiative. The mission of the initiative is to discover, share, and apply new knowledge to enhance the health, performance, and management of horses.

The University of Kentucky's Equine Initiative has found an increasing demand for equine information.

Nancy Cox, MS, PhD, associate dean for research at UK's College of Agriculture, explains: "The most recent example of this repackaging and refocus of existing knowledge came through the pasture management program. UK had a strong extension pasture management program, rich in both knowledge and people geared toward livestock. We built on that existing knowledge base and retooled it to meet the different needs for horse farms. All of these efforts and new programs fit our mission to expand knowledge and access."

On-the-Job Internships/Training

You can read lots of books, ace tests, and still get knocked on the ground the first time you work with a horse. Theory is great, but there is no substitute for on-the-job training. That is why so many university programs offer a wide range in internship opportunities.

The University of Tennessee provides a helpful list at

One fairly new program that has met with success is Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI). According to its Web site, "KEMI is a curriculum intended to recruit an educated, enthusiastic work force with an affirmative, lifelong participation in the equine industry."

KEMI works with educators and farm managers to provide a unique "hands-on" training experience. A beneficial component to these internships is KEMI makes a point of introducing students into a network of equine professionals covering a wide variety of careers in the industry.

More information can be found at

On the Horizon

New learning opportunities develop daily in the equine industry. Chris McCarron, a Hall of Fame Thoroughbred jockey, is fulfilling a dream by spearheading a new educational program with the North American Riding Academy (NARA). Still under development, "The mission of NARA is to develop and operate a world-class racing school that will provide students with the education, training, and experience needed to become skilled in the art of race riding, proficient in the care and management of racehorses, and knowledgeable about the workings of the racing industry as a whole."

Believe it or not, such a school does not exist as of yet. Read about the dream in progress at

Take-Home Message

There are many opportunities for equine education regardless of your experience level. The horse industry understands the old adage, "If you are not growing, you are dying." Go ahead, try a new clinic, take an education vacation, or get a collegiate degree and begin a career in the horse industry. Opportunities await.

About the Author

Liza Holland

Liza Holland is a freelance writer and voice talent based in Lexington, Ky.

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