If you want to prep for a horsey job in college, an equine science degree is a no-brainer, right? Wrong.
Rachel Neff scored her dream job after graduating from Murray State University–she manages Great and Small, a therapeutic riding center of over 45 students and eight school horses nestled in the rolling hills of Maryland horse country. As back-to-school season rears its ugly head this month, I thought I'd ask her a few questions about how she got there.
“I went to Murray State kind of by accident,” she told me, “I saw they were having a college search thing so my mom and I thought well, why not–it was just another stop on our Spring Break school search extravaganza.”
She started talking to the recruiter there, and mentioned that she was thinking of majoring in equine science because she wanted to be a barn manager.
“I'm actually really glad he steered me away from that,” she said, “There's not many jobs you can get with just an equine science degree unless you go on to grad school.” Instead, he counseled her to major in agribusiness, a course of study that involves a combination of business classes like macro- and microeconomics, marketing and entrepreneurship in addition to ag science classes from plant science to anatomy. She also ended up minoring in equine science and Spanish.
What does the typical day in the life of an agribusiness major look like? Not all that different from any other college student. She went to class (though perhaps that's not so typical) and had an office job on campus. She also took a few riding elective classes and participated in IHSA, which she remembered with a laugh. “I was terrible at it,” she said, “but I had so much fun.”
She uses the skills learned in class on a regular basis now. “It's great because when I get my soil report, I understand what I'm looking at, and when I talk to the vet I can describe a problem with accurate terms. I think it makes people take you more seriously as a professional.”
But the question on every would-be barn manager's mind is: how do you actually go about getting a job once you're done with school?
“College is what you make of it,” Rachel explained. “I learned just as much about barn management by doing and watching as I did in the classroom, maybe even more.” Rachel interned and worked at Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding Center in Indiana and Equest in Wylie, Texas, where she did everything from mucking to ordering feed and bedding and being a crash test dummy on prospective school horses.
“Having a fairly wide range of experience worked for me,” she said, “and being really honest about what I was and wasn't good at.”
She also noted that when you're fresh out of college, you need to be flexible. “I was willing to move anywhere, which helped. But in my three months of job searching, I only saw four listings in the entire country for the kind of therapeutic barn management position I was looking for–one of which was unpaid. I would have gone hungry if I was only open to one particular kind of job. ”
But sometimes things do work out just the way you planned–especially if you've put in the legwork to get there. Thanks for sharing your story, Rachel!
All images courtesy of Rachel Neff.