In My Boots: Riding through college

So you know you want horses to be part of your college life? Good for you! Now what? Alfred University trainer Kristen Kovatch shares some tips.

From Kristen:

The choices in equestrian colleges and universities today are overwhelming–do you want to major in equestrian studies or business? Do you want to compete on a team? Do you just want to have access to horses while you complete your studies? In two parts I’ll be providing a guide to shaping your equestrian college search–if you or a young rider in your life is starting to go college shopping, keep reading!

Part I will provide you with some questions about equestrian academics to help shape your college search. Part II will detail a similar list of questions to help you narrow down the options for competitive teams.

First, ask yourself some questions:

1. Do I want to shape my career full-time around horses?

Ultimately, nothing will prepare you better for an equestrian career than hands-on experience–but a college degree can help fill in some other gaps. If you want to be a trainer or barn manager, look for a program tailored for those careers. Certain jobs, like breeding managers, require a specific degree which only a select few colleges or universities may offer. You might also want to diversify your skills and focus instead on an equestrian minor, paired with a business major; students who intend to go on to veterinary school could pair equine minors with biology or chemistry majors. Perhaps you’re not intending to build a career on horses but just want to learn more to fulfill your hobby–skip the full equestrian degree and instead focus on specific courses to expand your knowledge.

2. Are my interests discipline-specific?

You might be pretty certain that you only want to ride reiners for the rest of your life–but hey, you might be interested in dabbling in hunt seat equitation for a semester. Are you looking at schools that will allow you to try new things? Some colleges might only offer classes in one or two limited disciplines; others might have horses and facilities capable of handling an array of classes. Some programs will require you to declare your discipline while others have simply a general equestrian program allowing students to cross-train. Who knows? You might not know you have an affinity for draft horse driving until you try it, and college is the perfect time to explore. Maybe you’ll want to keep some options open.

Then, bring some questions with you on your tour:

1. What are your academic offerings?

This is a good time to ask about course offerings. If you’re looking into a degree program, will the classes suit your goals? If you’re focusing on a minor, how does it complement with a major degree? Can you take one or two classes just to learn some information without enrolling in a major or minor degree program?

2. Are classes offered on class standing?

Some comprehensive programs will offer freshmen one set of courses and juniors a different set of upper-level classes; other programs might offer all classes to all students based on ability rather than class standing. Will you be allowed to take classes of your choosing regardless of your academic year?

3. Are there any scholarships available?

Some schools might be endowed to give academic scholarship to equestrian students–it never hurts to ask! If no equestrian-specific scholarships are available, are there other scholarships for which you might be eligible?

4. Can you work at the barn?

Most of us are used to working at the barn anyway–why not get paid for it while at school? Some college barns will offer a work/study program based on financial need where students can choose to work their designated hours to help turn in or turn out horses, feed, take care of the facility or do the various odds-and-ends jobs that keep a barn running. Other schools will incorporate this work into an academic program, so be sure to ask.

5. Are there recreational riding opportunities?

Can you ride with a club, or is all riding done in a lesson or class format? Can you pick up private lessons at your leisure or do you need to be enrolled in a class? Some schools might restrict the use of horses, limited just to team practices, classes or private lessons; other schools offer various club options with time set aside for recreational riding.

6. Do you need to bring your own tack? Can you bring your own tack if you want to?

Some schools require you to bring a saddle; other schools will outfit their own tack and would prefer that you not use your own on a school horse. Most schools do require you to provide your own riding attire, though some will loan helmets. Check with the specific requirements as you tour the facility so you can plan ahead!

Any questions you’ve always wanted answered and never asked?

Ask them here!

Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team and teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving. She has shown reined cow horse, reining, western pleasure, and draft horses, as well as dabbled in hunt seat equitation. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian, Take the Reins and Ranch and Reata.



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