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  • How to Compare Equine Colleges: A Guide for Students Interested in Working with Horses

December 19, 2019
There’s a good chance you can pinpoint the moment when you first became fascinated with horses. Whether it was seeing a movie with some friends or feeding a Thoroughbred at a breeding farm, the experience had an impact. You’re confident that you want to devote your professional life to the equine world. While you have a leg up on many college-bound students in knowing what you want to study, you might not be as familiar with where you should pursue your degree. There are a surprising number of undergraduate programs designed for students interested in working with horses. So, how do you compare all those equine colleges to choose the right school for you? Comparing schools isn't as complicated as it first seems. You just need to gain a better sense of what makes for a quality equine studies program. Consider this your comprehensive guide.

7 questions to consider when comparing equine colleges

It can be intimidating to decide which equine studies program to choose, so you might find it helpful to hear some expert perspective. Dr. Janice Holland, associate professor and chair for the Equine Studies program at Midway University, has some suggestions.

1. Does the curriculum prepare students for their intended career?

In order to be successful in the industry, you need to draw from several areas of expertise. This is why every quality equine studies program emphasizes a handful of foundational courses. Dr. Holland says you should expect to learn about the basics of horse care, including farm management and anatomy. Good programs also emphasize hands-on experience through internships and other types of experiential learning. “There is really nothing that can beat working with horses on a daily basis to learn skills,” Dr. Holland says. Let’s say you don’t have much first-hand experience working with horses. Perhaps you just didn't have the type of access other students do. It’s worth looking into whether any college you’re considering is prepared to get you up to speed. Midway University, for example, is used to educating equine studies students who have little — even no — experience handling horses. Or maybe you’re not interested in a role that involves hands-on work with horses every day, such as a farm manager. In that case, you want to make sure you’ll still have access to the resources you need to be successful. Dr. Holland suggests looking into whether faculty and staff are in touch with professionals who’ve traveled a path similar to the one you’re pursuing.

2. Where is the program located?

Many students think to attend an in-state institution for financial reasons — it’s typically more affordable. This certainly makes sense, but make sure you’re thinking about life after college as well. Consider your proximity to employers and professional development opportunities. “In choosing a college, students should look at internship and experiential learning opportunities,” Dr. Holland urges. “Here at Midway, we are fortunate to be located within a thriving horse industry.” Having different facilities — hospitals, racing operations and horse parks — nearby makes it much easier for students to get involved. And it’s never too early to start building your professional network.

3. Are there opportunities to pursue your specific interests?

Many equine colleges offer multiple concentrations for students. There’s a program for everything from facility management to horse rehabilitation. That said, there are probably more careers in the equine industry than you realize. You might be perfectly suited for a profession that’s still unknown to you. It can be incredibly helpful to have some time to explore before deciding what path you want to pursue. Freshman students at Midway University are fortunate enough to take a course that devotes a considerable amount of time to highlighting different equine professions. “We bring in as many guest speakers as possible to talk about what it takes to be in their field,” Dr. Holland explains. Because this introduction takes place so early in the program, students are able to explore a bit before committing to a concentration.

4. What are the facilities like?

It takes a lot more than technology-enabled lecture halls and online resources to support a quality equine studies program. Much of your learning will be done working with animals outside the classroom. It’s essential that you research the equine facilities at every college you’re considering. “They should meet the needs of the horses,” Dr. Holland suggests. “Students might also want to evaluate how close the facilities are to campus.” It’s obviously a lot easier to access a farm that’s within walking distance than one that is across town. From an ethical standpoint, students should also make sure the college is providing adequate care for the horses that live there. Dr. Holland recommends asking about the veterinary care provided and what the horses are fed.

5. How qualified are the faculty members?

A program is only as good as its instructors, so you’d be wise to look into faculty credentials. Dr. Holland recommends researching instructors’ educational backgrounds. Do they have advanced degrees in animal science, equine science or a similar field of study? It’s also smart to see what types of equine-related pursuits faculty engage in outside the classroom. “Research, training and competing, or serving on boards of state and national organizations, would also be a good indicator,” Dr. Holland offers.

6. What types of extracurricular activities are there for equine studies students?

If you’re anything like other students who pursue equine studies, you’re probably interested in getting involved in activities that provide even more exposure to horses. Maybe you’re an experienced rider looking to compete. Or perhaps you simply want to meet more students who share your passion for all things equestrian. “We have a hunt seat and a western team that compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA),” Dr. Holland notes. “We also have a club called the Midway Horse Association (MHA), which does field trips and hosts other equine-related activities.”

7. Does this equine studies program feel like a good fit for me?

College visits are common for a reason. Setting foot on campus is really the best way to determine whether you could see yourself attending a particular institution. It’s all about finding the right fit, and there are ways you can investigate. “If at all possible students should meet with faculty and try to sit in on a lecture or two to see if they like the teaching style,” Dr. Holland suggests. “They should also meet with some students.” Speaking with current students is especially important. They can offer perspective on instructors, specific courses and what they think about the student experience. Their insight could be just what you need to make a final decision.

Take the reins

There’s clearly a lot that goes into choosing the right school, but you can start to narrow your options by making sure every program you’re considering meets some basic requirements. State-of-the-art equestrian facilities and excellent faculty are non-negotiable. And then you can look into criteria based on your own preferences. Soon enough, you’ll be able to determine which equine colleges can best help you reach your goals. Perhaps your research has led to you to include Midway University on your final list of equine colleges. To learn more about how you can set yourself on the path to a rewarding career, familiarize yourself with different concentration options and even request further information, visit our Equine Studies program page.