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Your Turn: So I got an Equine Studies degree… Now what?

As college kids go back to school, we’re asking: what’s an equine-related degree good for?

(top image: Jen on graduation day with the Welsh Cob she broke for her Training & Handling II course)

Last week we interviewed the manager at a therapeutic riding center to find out how an agribusiness major got her to where she is today. This week, we flip the tables: what happens when you get an equine degree and end up working in a totally non-equine field?

Welsh Cob aficionado Jen of Cob Jockey fame shares how an equine studies degree helped her to succeed in a job she never realized she’d love.

What did you study, and what do you do now?

I went to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana, and double majored in Equine Studies (and Digital Media Communications.  I like to say that I also got a third degree in Information Technology as a result of working in the IT department at the college for four years, and now I’m an IT systems administrator for a large county government.  I’m primarily responsible for managing our VMware virtual desktop infrastructure, but I do a little bit of everything, from sheriff’s department squad car laptops to 911 dispatch computers to courtroom recording PCs.

What kinds of classes did you have to take?

My favorite classes were the science-based ones taught by the chair of the department, Dr. Chris Marks, such as Equine Nutrition, Equine Lameness, and Conformation.  I also took classes such as hunt seat riding classes, Training and Handling I (in which we halter-broke young Mustangs), Training and Handling II (in which I broke a Welsh Cob to ride for an outside client), and Farrier Science, which was taught on two consecutive weekends by a professional farrier.

What was a typical day like for you as an Equine Studies major?

As part of a class we took every semester, Stable Management, we were responsible for the stall cleaning and turnout of one of the school horses and were graded on how well we kept his health and farrier records and whether or not our stalls were clean by 10am.  So I would wake up an hour and a half before my first class in order to clean my stall and turn out my horse depending on his riding schedule.  Then I would go to class and/or work.  All of the equine classes were in the classroom/lab at the barn, all of the normal classes and my job were on the other side of campus.  We would have no choice but to go to normal classes in our barn clothes sometimes due to our schedules, which our non-equine classmates didn’t understand or appreciate.

I was also a barn worker, so on days that I had to feed, I was up at 6am in order to feed the school’s 40 horses plus boarders, dump the manure wagon, provide medication and clean additional stalls.

What was your favorite part of your major?

My favorite part was the focus on the care of the horse and the management of the stable, not just on riding.  Some schools I looked at turned out great riders who couldn’t back a tractor with a manure wagon around a cones course on a hill or who only had to get involved in horse care for a semester or two.  With supervision, the students run the barn at SMWC, so that they get to put the lessons they learn in the classroom into practice every day, whether it’s through injury care or getting really efficient at stall cleaning.

Have you been able to use aspects of your equine major in IT? 

First, my major made me detail-oriented.  I don’t have to tell the Horse Nation audience that details in stable management matter a lot.  Overlooked details can quickly turn into a major crisis in both IT and the equine industry.

Second, I learned how to deal tactfully with others.  SMWC is a women’s college, so imagine being in what’s similar to a self-care board situation with sixty 18-25 year old girls.  And you get graded on it.  And there’s a highly competitive equestrian team with scholarships.  And you all live in the same dorm.  90% of the time it’s a whole lot of fun living with a bunch of equine girls, but to solve the occasional dispute, you have to learn to develop your people skills.

Last, good critical thinking skills and problem-solving apply just as well to a mysterious lameness or a horse stuck in the fence as they do to a database with a performance problem or a critical server being down.  Different tactics, same thought process.

I really love what I do in IT, and couldn’t see myself doing anything else now.

Any advice for college students majoring in equine studies?

First of all, good for you for getting a four year degree in anything!

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re crazy for majoring in Equine Studies, but also understand that you need to make yourself stand out to equine employers with both scientific and hands-on knowledge. You need to prove your value through your knowledge of subjects such as nutrition, lameness and health.  Accompany that deep scientific knowledge with lots of real-world experience, both through outside internships and hands-on work at college, and you will be in great shape. If you can supplement your studies with tech–related classes, so much the better—for example, a class on digital media skills for sales, such as photography, or a web design course for future stable owners.

Think hard about the possible return on investment for a field like equine studies if you have to take out student loans for the degree, since student loans could force you to take a job outside the equine industry after graduation.

Finally, don’t be afraid to admit it if you’re just not into horses as a career, and be open to trying something new and maybe falling in love with something else – it’s okay!

HHF

When she’s not at her office job, Jen’s spending time with her Section D Welsh Cob Connor. You can follow their adventures in eventing here!

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