A “Major” Decision
by Gabrielle Sasse
You know you attend a college with an equine program when: the mandatory fine arts course has more pictures of horses than any other subject matter.
My decision to go to an “equestrian school” was not an easy one. Would I find a job after college? What would my major be? Did I want to go to a hunter jumper or western school? Jeez, why are there so many all-girls schools?! I’d had ideas of being a teacher, an artist, a graphic designer, a vet. But there was something about the idea of being able to further my education while learning more about horses that was too good to pass up. Plus, no way was I going to spend another eight to 12 years at school to be a vet. I love seeing the progress in my own horses, it would be great to be able to make a career out of it progressing other people’s horses.
It was in talking to my family at our recent reunion that I realized just how big of an industry the horse show world is. Trying to explain to them what I was working towards at school quickly became an hour long discussion about what exactly I would be doing and how I would go about doing it. There is a lot more involved than just riding horses, contrary to what most non-horse people seem to think. We have our vets, our riders, our grooms, managers, breeders, farriers, stall cleaners and everyone else who makes an impact.
A lot of teens who aspire to be trainers or breeders or to have any impact on the horse world aren’t quite sure how to get started. Many are involved in horses through family, which would certainly be any easy way to break in. Others work from the ground up, working for trainers cleaning stalls and lunging horses before they are able to ride or assistant train for them. Some are able to break in through their successes in showing. Another option is always higher education.
There are a surprising number of equestrian schools out there, once you begin looking. And many people believe that nowadays you need a degree for just about any job. There are even degrees for flower arranging! Stands to reason that a college major in training horses is a logical thing. There are western training degrees, hunter jumper training, dressage training, blacksmithing, dentistry, chiropractic, massage therapy, equine business management… you think of it and you can probably find it. A friend of mine is even at jockey school in Kentucky.
Not to say that you need a degree to do most of these jobs. Apprenticeships are common, and even encouraged while at school. I myself am spending my summer in New Jersey working for Glenn Gieschen Quarter Horses who has halter horses and huntseaters. I know only the bare minimum about halter, so it’s been interesting to see all the different things they do. Not to mention getting the chance to see how different farms run their businesses, and to see different regions of the country. This Midwest girl has been loving the East Coast.
If you want to begin a career in the horse world, start looking for someone to work for. Gain experience by learning how they do things, and maybe see how you would definitely not do things. Take a few classes at one of the many colleges that offer them. I’ve learned about equine reproduction and nutrition (among other things), while also taking classes at the barn at my university. We spend time in the classroom watching and listening to PowerPoint presentations and taking notes, and then we have the classes that last three hours or more at the farm that involve cleaning stalls, feeding and riding. Both of these are helping me along my chosen career path.
I should also mention I’m taking a “backup” major or two. It’s a good idea to pair your riding major with something else to compliment it. Business is always a good fallback, and good business skills are important in this industry. Marketing is another good idea, as is computer sciences or biology. But I also have a friend who is taking children’s book illustration. In the end, it’s all about what you love. Do what you love and your job will never be a chore.