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The Right College Degree for a Horse Career

Planning a career that involves horses? The opportunities are there, and so are degree programs that qualify you for your area of interest--while building in additional options for the future.

The horse business is big business. It produces annual goods and services valued at $25.3 billion, according to a recent study commissioned by the American Horse Council (AHC). It directly employs more than 619,000 people, many of them in challenging jobs--such as marketing, facilities management, or equine health care--that require specific technical credentials. And it embraces growing fields in which horses have a therapeutic, rather than recreational or commercial, role.

In other words, you need to prepare just as thoughtfully for a career in the horse industry as in any other business. And you have more choices than ever before of college and university programs designed to provide technical knowledge and practical experience that qualify you for where you want to be in that industry.

Two-Year Degree Programs: A Springboard
If you're considering an associate, or two-year, degree in Equestrian or Equine Studies look for a "hands-on" program that requires several hours a day in the barn in addition to classroom time for General Education and core equine courses. The degree can provide:

  • a foundation in basics of riding, training, care, and management (plus core Liberal Arts courses) that helps you find an entry-level job--such as assistant manager or assistant trainer--with a good barn, where your education can continue. "We get a lot of calls from employers who've hired our graduates in the past and think they have a good work ethic and the horse experience to match," says Robin Koehler, assistant professor and advisor to about 100 students in the University of Findlay's Equine program (Findlay, Ohio). "Even if they want to eventually work on their own, we encourage new two-year graduates to seek some sort of apprenticeship. It's a very competitive market and you need the experience of working with a good trainer to see what it's about."

  • internships and summer jobs that acquaint you with additional opportunities in the horse industry, helping to shape your educational plans.

  • a chance to find out if you really enjoy working hands-on with horses full time. If you realize early on that this isn't the career you want, some or all of your equine credits can be applied toward a four-year (or more) degree that widens your choices. "I started with a two-year equine program at State University of New York's Morrisville College; I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I wanted more hands-on," says Dr. Jennifer Nadeau. The experience helped her decide that equine veterinary practice's grueling physical demands were not for her; she transferred to a four-year University of Kentucky program, then continued her studies (in comparative and experimental medicine) at University of Tennessee. Now a Cooperative Extension equine specialist, she has a Ph.D. in equine nutrition and teaches in the University of Connecticut's Equine Program (Storrs, Connecticut), which offers two- and four-year Equine Science degrees. (The university also has an active equestrian program.) "It's great to work at a job that you love."

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Four-Year Degrees--Broad-Based Preparation
Riding, Training, Teaching: "Nearly every student coming into our program hopes to become a trainer; few of them also want to teach," says Laura Ward; she's chair of the Equestrian faculty at William Woods University (Fulton,Missouri), whose four-year degree in equestrian science is designed for students interested in careers in training and managing horses, and/or teaching equitation. But as seniors, those students realize that the job market for four-year Equestrian Science graduates and would-be trainers consists largely of entry-level positions where "you end up being an instructor and a trainer and a barn manager and the person who buys feed and makes show entries."

"I can almost promise concerned parents that there will be a job out there when their child graduates with this degree," says Sue Coen, Associate Dean of Equine Studies at Lake Erie College (Painesville, Ohio). "Salaries in the Equestrian field aren't high, but you're also getting a lifestyle that you love." Still, she encourages graduates from Lake Erie's four-year program (which offers majors in Equine Facility Management, Equestrian Teacher/Trainer, and Equine Stud Farm Management) to continue their educations with a Master's degree in business--"They can even work on an MA at night school." As well as opening the door to business-related horse industry jobs, an MA can make graduates eligible to teach in a college-level equine program if their priorities change in the future. (More on both education and business opportunities below.)

The University of Findlay is one of the many schools that advocates (and offers) a four-year double major--in Equestrian Studies (English riding, Western riding, or Equine Business Management) plus Business, Technology Management, or another area of interest--as a way of ensuring career options. "Few of our students do only the Equestrian degree. In addition to the traditional training and barn-manager positions, our dual-major graduates take jobs with (for instance) breed associations, or marketing departments of equine companies," says Robin Koehler.

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