July 15, 2016

If you’re someone like me who grew up riding horses, you know how personally rewarding it is to work with these intelligent and highly sensitive animals.

Many people with a passion for horses develop their interest at a very early age – well before thoughts of college and careers enter the picture.  As they approach college age, many of these young people (and their parents) wonder if it is possible to turn their love for horses into a viable career — and whether a specialized college degree in equine studies will help them pursue their dreams.

The answer to both questions is “Absolutely, yes!”

The breeding, showing, care and feeding of horses is a $25 billion industry in the United States that employs over 460,000 people who work directly with horses or in supporting businesses such as feed and equipment suppliers. There are a diverse range of jobs – from professional riders, to riding school instructors, to horse show managers, course designers, breeders, horse nutritionists, veterinarians and more. You can work with horses every day as a trainer or barn manager, or pursue a business career that keeps you connected with horses in your daily work, such as managing horse shows or working in veterinary pharmaceutical sales.

Clearly, there are many career options to explore in this large and diverse industry.  How do you find the path that will work best for you?  That’s where the right college experience can make a difference – exposing students to the many different aspects of the horse industry and providing the practical skills and in-depth knowledge that lead to successful, lifelong careers.

While there is no substitute for hands on experience gained by riding and caring for horses, the industry today demands a high level of professional skills and knowledge.  Horse trainers, riding instructors and barn managers must have management, marketing and communications expertise as well as horse sense.

Benefits of a Specialized Degree
Traditionally, people worked their way up in the horse industry, starting out as hired hands in the stables or on a horse farm, gaining experience and working their way up to bigger roles.  While there is no substitute for hands-on experience riding and caring for horses – and everyone starts out mucking out the stalls — the industry today increasingly demands specialized knowledge and skills.
For example, a barn manager is responsible for overseeing all aspects horse care, from arranging vet visits, coordinating the ordering and delivery of feed and supplies, hiring and training employees, managing exercise and feeding schedules, and more. Many barn managers or riding school operators I’ve met have told me they wished they would have taken more general management, marketing and finance courses along the way.   These skills are especially important to succeeding in an entrepreneurial business in a highly competitive field.

A generation ago, the academic path to a career in the horse industry might involve a college degree in animal science or biology. Today, some 450 colleges nationwide offer specialized undergraduate programs dedicated to equine studies.  Students learn about the care and feeding, breeding and anatomy of horses, horseback riding and horse training, taking care of health issues such as lameness and arthritis, and running horse-related businesses such as riding schools and stables.

Given the high degree of specialization, students typically enter equine studies programs with some idea of the post-graduation careers they want to pursue.  A robust academic program should help students refine their options by providing opportunities to explore every aspect of offer exposure to all practical experts of working with horses and in related businesses.

Many equine studies departments offer concentrated courses of study that allow students to focus on their greatest areas of interest. For example, students interested in working as professional riding instructors will study methods of teaching, course design, and judging. Students seeking business-related careers in the equine field will take courses in business administration, accounting, marketing and principles of management.  For pre-veterinary students, coursework will focus on the anatomy and physiology of the horse, diseases and emergency disorders, and animal behavior.

The right equine studies program should provide ample opportunities for students to work with horses and learn from experienced people with superior knowledge of horses and the industry. Among the important areas to consider when choosing where to pursue your degree:
• Does the equine studies department offer internship programs and connections to people in the field?
• Do the instructors have background working in the industry?
• Does the college have on-campus horses, well-equipped stables, and arenas?
• Will the program help you build a broad base of knowledge and skills?
• Does the college have active extracurricular programs, such as an equestrian team?

As I observed at the outset, many people who love riding, working and being around horses from an early age are interested in pursuing a career in this large, diverse industry.  That increases the pressure on individual job seekers to stand out from the many other people applying for the available openings. The combination of a strong academic program with hands-on experience will provide students with a competitive edge in winning their first jobs and getting a head start in their careers.

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