A College Degree in Back Country Horsemanship

Ohio's Hocking College offers an unusual degree that prepares students for riding careers at dude ranches or with wilderness outfitters.
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Ohio's Hocking College offers an unusual degree that prepares students for riding careers at dude ranches or with wilderness outfitters.

Ohio's Hocking College offers an unusual degree that prepares students for riding careers at dude ranches or with wilderness outfitters.

College championships

If you envision a riding career that features wilderness rides and pack horses, rather than beginners bobbing endlessly around a schooling ring, check out two-year Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio. It offers Back-Country Horsemanship as one of several majors leading to a Recreation and Wildlife associate's degree.

The program requires 23 riding-related and 36 other "technical" credits--including basic horseshoeing (taught by a Certified Journeyman Farrier), basic veterinary care (taught by a practicing veterinarian who also teaches packing), and leather-working--plus 24 "basic" (in such courses as botany, zoology, and ornithology) and 21 "general" credits (including computer skills and a natural-resources-oriented math course).

Second-year students can learn to train young horses, teach riding, or drive a team of draft horses. In the optional summer-quarter Advanced Packing and Wilderness Skills, students work for three weeks with the U.S. Forest Service in Montana's Grand Tetons.

What's the Riding Component?
You needn't be a rider to enter the program; in fact, whatever your horse experience, you must take all the riding courses.

Program director Tina Romine promises you won't be bored: "Whatever your experience, we can challenge you"--with the varied horses in the program, with wilderness riding, and with the courses' coverage of equine health and behavior. Riding instruction is personalized; although up to 30 students attend the classroom lectures, only seven to 12 ride in each "lab session."

Who's Signing On?
Because the program is so hands-on, Tina says, it draws many students who learn best by activity, rather than by books and lectures. The instructors aim not only to teach, but to help students develop the responsible attitudes that make successful employees.

For career-changers who may not need or want a two-year degree, last year Hocking added an 18-credit summer certificate program in Back-Country Horsemanship. And for two-year program graduates, it now offers an advanced "Equine Technologist Certificate."

Where Do They Wind Up?
One Hocking graduate works at Claiborne Farm--"the first woman ever hired" for the famed Kentucky Thoroughbred farm's broodmare operation, Tina says proudly. Others work for the Forest Service, cattle ranches, dude ranches, or wilderness packing operations here or abroad--and at least one now runs his own dude ranch.

This article first appeared in Practical Horseman magazine.