Experience is usually the best education for barn managers, but what better way is there to begin a lifetime of learning than with a two- or four-year degree in equine science, equine studies or stable management? As more colleges and universities begin to offer such programs, more graduates are entering the workforce. These graduates tend to be very knowledgeable from their intensive classroom studies and textbooks, but not from hands-on experience. Students can only be taught so much, at college.
Prospective employers should be aware that while all graduates may hold the same diploma in their hand, no two will be equal in their actual horse and stable skills. Equine graduates may have a solid foundation for further learning, but are a long way from being masters of the horse world.
The Goal of Equine Programs
It is not the general goal of equine college programs to prepare every student for a career in the barn. According to Andrea Wells, the director of the Equestrian Center at Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J., the goal of college-level equine programs is to “try to turn out viable and good professionals, no matter what their avenue of choice.” This avenue may be to work for an equine supplier, a horse-related publication or some completely different equine field.
Every college will require its students to complete a variety of core requirements in horse classes, such as riding instruction, stable management and horse training and care, but they also must complete general classes in business, English, science and education. The results are going to vary greatly. One program may require summer internships while another requires students to give full care to one or more horses for a semester. Still, other programs may require very little hands on experience. Schools can differ so much that it may be wise for employers to research exact programs when hiring.
Graduates, even those from the same college, can have very different educational backgrounds. One student may arrive for their first semester with years of show experience, while another may arrive with little more than a summer or two at horse camp. Even after a degree is earned, it is not expected that both of these students will have an equal knowledge of horses.
Graduation is Only the Beginning
As graduates, they should be aware that even for the most seasoned students, they have only just begun their experience in the horse world. “When it comes to students in equine programs,” says Karin Bump, a professor at Cazenovia College, in Cazenovia, N.Y., who recently retired from her 12-year position as the director of the Equestrian Program, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
“An honest equine program will tell the student they can’t give them all the information,” says Laura Ward, the division chair for Equine Studies at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. “Students must back up their education with their own blood, sweat and tears.”
And when graduates start a barn career, they must be able to demonstrate their skills. “Students need to make their own luck,” continues Ward, “They may get a sheepskin, but the degree still needs to be proved in the horse industry. They can’t hide behind a diploma.”