September 2015 - The Right College Awaits
Written by Randi C. Heathman
Wednesday, 02 September 2015 01:50
PDF Print E-mail

A few questions at the outset can improve the effectiveness of the college search.

by Randi C. Heathman

When it’s time for students to begin the college search, it often seems that everyone – from parents and teachers to guidance counselors, coaches, extended family members, and friends – has an opinion about what factors must be considered.

Location is commonly listed – as are criteria such as cost, academic offerings, scholarship opportunities, student body size, type of institution, and freshman admission standards. Each element is important in its own right because it’s only when the right balance between them is struck that a student finds his or her ideal college fit.

For student equestrians, however, the list of considerations tends to increase.

New and different questions also arise:  What college competition format fits your riding skills and goals? Should you take your horse to school with you?

Will you have time for outside horse shows during the school year or just during summer break? Is an equine major or minor something you should pursue?

Most importantly, where should you begin your search?

Like any other student, it’s imperative to examine the traditional college search criteria (location, cost, size, academic programs, etc.) before you investigate riding and other horse-related opportunities. (Don’t worry - with nearly 500 colleges and universities in the U.S. offering equestrian options, you’ll have plenty of choices!)

Ask yourself: What are my personal riding goals after high school?

Perhaps you have one year left in juniors and plan to follow the indoor circuit. Possibly you plan to bring along a young horse you’ve just purchased. Maybe you crave the camaraderie and challenge of competing on a college’s varsity or club team – or would it be better for you to concentrate solely on academics during the school year and save your competitive goals for summer?

No Right Or Wrongs

There are no “right” or “wrong” answers here; the main idea is to decide which experiences will be the most valuable to you in the future and pursue admission to the schools that will best facilitate them. As you examine your riding goals, however, don’t forget to put plenty of time into researching what your academic and career aspirations will require of you too.

For example, if you hope to pursue study in the healthcare field, you’ll spend a lot of time in the lab or doing hands-on training as part of required clinical hours. If you plan to major in a subject that will require international immersion or is designed to be anchored in an internship or co-op experience, the number of hours you’re able to spend in the saddle may likewise be reduced as a result.

If this is the case, it might make the most sense to join a low-key equestrian club on campus and ride a few times a week so you can have the best of both worlds. Regardless of your chosen major, however, bear in mind that college coursework is more demanding than what you’re accustomed to in high school and requires more study time outside of class than you may be used to.

Author Randi C. Heathman is The Equestrian College Advisor and author of Horses for Courses – The Definitive Guidebook for the Prospective College Equestrian. For more information, visit

Conversely, if your priority is to work toward a particular competitive goal with your own horse or advance your skills on a variety of mounts, you’ll seek a college and riding program (whether based on campus or a short distance away) that is able to support these efforts. Should you wish to take things a step further and work in the horse industry after graduation, you must decide if an equine major or minor is the right course of study or if you’d prefer to major in another area.

Professional horsemen and women come from all backgrounds so it isn’t required that you study horses in college in order to become a trainer or stable manager; in fact, Olympic show jumper Peter Wylde has a degree in history and Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye studied literature.

The key consideration you must examine when choosing whether or not to become an equine major is what specific skills or knowledge will best facilitate your future career.

If you need to know more about horse care, equine breeding, the day-to-day running of a stable, or learn specific horse training methods, an equine major can be a good fit. If you’ve grown up with horses in your backyard and are well-versed in their daily care, however, you might prefer to focus on accounting, marketing, or even psychology – fields that are related to running and promoting a stable or teaching lessons but aren’t directly affiliated with the equine industry.

Finally, as you examine the aspirations you have for your college years, don’t forget to have fun!  One of the best parts of the experience is meeting new people and trying new things and college freshmen soon discover that the number of outside clubs and organizations are easily double or triple the extracurricular activities available to them in high school.

You’ll have options to participate in everything from Greek life to intramural sports, music and arts groups, political and religious organizations, and pre-professional associations. With a mere 24 hours in a day (many of them dedicated to homework, remember!), you’ll need to prioritize commitments if you want to have a full, balanced, and fun college career.

The college search is certainly a stressful time and it often seems as though there are more questions than answers as your list of potential schools continues to grow. As long as you take the time to carefully research not only your school options, but also your personal goals and interests, however, you’ll be sure to find the place that will enable you to fulfill all of your goals and dreams, both in the saddle and the classroom.