For many of a certain generation, it was horses or college? Not both.
Happily, that's not the case for today's high school-age equestrians. Opportunities abound to both continue riding in college and/or pursue academic tracks relevant to myriad career possibilities in the very wide world of horses.
According to the National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics (NAEAA), there are 196 universities offering courses in horse-related subjects. In California, these include Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU Fresno, UC Davis, Mt. San Antonio College, Pierce College, Santa Rosa Junior College, Shasta College, Merced College, Sierra College, Feather River College and College of the Sequoias. Canyonview Equestrian College is one of many such programs beyond California (see story).
Horse-related academic tracks take many forms. These schools' offerings range from full-fledged four-year degrees, two-year associate degrees, certificate programs and specializations to simply a few courses on subjects that involve horses. "Equine studies" and "equine science" are the most common labels for horse-related academic tracks, but what each actually means in terms of course work and the emphasis of the degree, certificate or knowledge they deliver varies widely.
As a general rule, equine studies and equine business programs prepare students for riding, training, coaching, show management, communication and sales aspects of the industry. Programs with "science" in their title point toward work in the veterinary world, including feed, nutrition and pharmaceutical paths.
Careers run the gamut from hands-on-the-horse paths, like riding, training, coaching, stable and breeding management and veterinary services, to designing and marketing equestrian apparel or selling supplements. The range even includes one profession that's on the U.S. Department of Labor's list of top growth fields through 2020: veterinary technician, which ranks sixth.
Outside of the veterinary sciences, many of these jobs don't necessarily require a college degree but there's universal agreement that higher education is important for success and growth in any field. The life of a self-supporting professional rider or trainer involves customer service savvy, accounting know-how and marketing skills at a minimum. In less hands-on horse-related professions, degrees deliver both specific expertise and the breadth of knowledge needed to be competitive in today's crowded job markets. Most schools also give graduates a jump on the job trail with internships and connections between faculty and employers.
Experience Counts, Too!
Landing a job after school is not all about the college degree, however. A balance of education and experience is critical for job seekers, says Sloane Milstein, author of The High School Equestrian's Guide To Riding In College and a veteran collegiate riding coach and professor. Too often, she's seen students believe a degree alone will land them a job. She advises students to study the job descriptions for available posts in fields of interests, then address gaps in education and/or experience to build a relevant resume for them.
Students with many years of riding and horse handling experience, for example, should consider college courses or paid or volunteer work in a non-horse related business. This will help with the customer service, money-related and communication skills needed to balance their resume and, more importantly, improve the odds of success in a hands-on equestrian career. For the student who didn't spend their youth at the barn, finding ways to gain practical experience is important. "That's not to say you can't learn more in school, but from a practical standpoint, there's no substitute for having spent eight years going to the barn everyday."
"Bundling" knowledge and experience is a trend throughout higher education, notes Karin Bump, a Cazenovia College professor and founder of the National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics. The bundling trend is fortuitous for those on any equine path.
"The wonderful thing about the equine discipline is that it's one of the most interdisciplinary subject matters out there in terms of what you can do with your degree." For example, a major in psychology and an equine minor could open doors in the sports psychology field. Early childhood education and physical therapy tracks, combined with an equine degree, can be an entrée into the growing fields of therapeutic riding and horsemanship programs for the mentally and physically challenged and for wounded warriors.
Options for bundling your education include majoring in an equine track and minoring in something else, or vice versa. Certificate programs, specializations within a major and simply taking a few equine-related courses are more ways to mix and match an education tailored to the requirements of various career paths.
National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics – www.naeaa.com
Intercollegiate Horse Show Association -- www.ihsainc.org
National Collegiate Equestrian Assn. – www.varsityequestrian.com
Intercollegiate Dressage Assn – www.ida.org
Tip: Schools with IHSA, IDA, NCAA, NAIA teams often have equine studies curriculum offerings.