College For Equine Careers

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About this time of year, many high-school seniors announce that they plan to pursue an equine degree at college. Should a parent encourage it'

A college degree is supposed to prepare you for a career or to go on to a higher degree, and you need to weigh the cost of the education against the likelihood of becoming employed at a livable salary upon graduation. With private college fees around $22,000 a year, these are huge considerations.

Granted, a “horse” degree is a stronger education than it was a few decades ago. Curriculums have improved, worthwhile internships have increased, and the horse industry itself is booming. A capable horseperson can become employed — or self-employed — and earn a good living. But a degree isn’t the only requirement.

If my child insisted on an equine degree, I’d help them, since I believe we need to follow our hearts in order to achieve true happiness. That said, it’s pretty tough to be happy when you’re constantly broke.

Anyone considering horses needs a strong work ethic. Equine jobs come with grueling hours, hard, physical work and often low wages. A professional who trains and competes must stay in top physical shape. He or she will need strong people skills, too, because there will always be owners, students, farriers, veterinarians and more to deal with — those necessary people who can really try a horse profesisional’s patience at times.

I’d insist on hands-on work experience that builds solid references and, possibly, a solid competition record. I’d expect my kid to pursue working-student positions during breaks from college. The better the trainer you can get in with, the stronger the resulting resume. Like it or not, a working student at Sally B. Olympic-Rider’s stable will get more attention than one from Joe Rent-A-Horse’s barn.

Finally, I’d suggest a minor that enhances an equestrian degree but opens doors in other fields. A business minor teaches you to manage money. Communication skills are required everywhere, making journalism a good choice and adding freelance writing opportunities with horse magazines, local/village newspapers, and so on. You might also consider biology or education.

Strong kids follow their dreams one way or another. I know. My parents said no to a horse college, so I got a bachelor’s degree in a “normal” subject and then pursued what I then thought was my dream on a Kentucky horse farm.

-Cynthia Foley