Equestrian Education: Where it
The dream of getting paid for doing something they love is what attracts young people to the horse business. And what better way to start that career than with a solid education in equestrian studies. Education is, after all, concentrated experience, and two years in a good horsemanship program can be more valuable than 10 years out there trying to figure it out by yourself.
The increasing number of horsemanship programs, whether college affiliated or not, makes choosing a school baffling. Let me offer this starting place: the single most important factor for the serious horseman to consider in comparing programs is total number of hours spent on horseback. This may sound obvious, but it's not. More than a few schools offer curricula of horse-related activities, but only two or three hours per week on horseback. But horsemanship is a sport requiring unique physical and mental skills, and there's only one way to develop those skills: on the back of a horse. A good school will pair students up with a variety of different horses over the duration of study; and to maximize individual attention, will maintain a teacher/student ratio, in riding class, of around 1/6 (one teacher for every six students). The outside limit for riding class size in my opinion is seven students. So while several prestigious universities are entering the equestrian field, the programs that can give you the most saleable skills are the ones that keep you in the saddle the longest.
Directly related to this is the matter of theory. The body of knowledge of the average amateur horseman is generally a patchwork of insights, tips, and hints gleaned from books, clinics, and the many disparate experiences of the show ring. But a school producing professional horse people must provide a unified central philosophy of horsemanship enabling students to organize and use their knowledge. To that end, a strong core of theory classes directly supporting the riding time is a must. Inquire into the nature of the theory classes, and how they support the riding time.
A well-rounded school must offer courses in practical skills such as Business Management; Teaching Techniques; Public Relations; Stable Management, Horse Health, or Facilities Maintenance courses. Whether you own your own facility, or manage someone else's, advancement in the horse business depends on these real world skills. Additionally, a few schools offer studies in related fields such as farrier science, leather working, breeding, judging, and the like, which can be taken as a major or a minor. Here again, the more you know the greater your chance of earning a living in the horse industry.
Ask about a school's room and board situation if the student is to live on campus, and stable space if the student will take their own horse. Personal preference and individual circumstance applies here: I suggest narrowing your choices down to a few, and then touring the campuses, if possible.
The school should be accredited by one of the various accrediting agencies listed with the United States Department of Education such as the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET). Accreditation with such an agency certifies, among other things, that the school's program is sound and up to date; that the program is continually evaluated and improved; and that participants have reported gaining worthwhile benefits. Such accreditation is also a prerequisite to Federal student financial aid in the form of loans and grants. (Veterans note that not all schools authorized by the VA to provide Veterans Benefits are accredited by an accrediting agency. So if you want college credit, and/or federal student aid, be sure to look very closely at this.) A job placement service at the school, with an impressive record of placement is a must.
Finally, investigate the career records of some of the school's graduates. Talk to some graduates, if possible. Ask how they felt about the school in general, and the instructors in particular. Was adequate attention paid to developing their skills? Have those skills enabled them to distinguish between innovations in the horse industry, and the many fads that come and go. The answers to these questions will prove a good indicator of whether you will be getting the most education for your money at any given school.
Be assured that there will always be a place for excellence in any field. If you know without a shadow of a doubt that working with horses is your calling in life, then commit yourself to be the best you can be, through hard work, dedication, and keeping your mind open to always learning as much as you can.
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Updated: October 2005.