Story and photograph by ROSS HECOX
If you’re seeking a career in the horse industry, prepare yourself for a competitive job market.
Those who work in the equine industry enjoy a multitude of unconventional perks. Such a career path may lead to daily interaction with horses, performing duties outdoors rather than in a cubicle, and working with individuals who share your passion.
According to the American Horse Council’s latest statistics, there are approximately 9 million horses in the United States, and 4.6 million Americans are somehow involved in the industry. However, the industry directly includes only about 460,000 full-time positions. When considering employment indirectly related, such as feed companies, pharmaceuticals, products and service providers, the horse industry accounts for roughly 1.4 million fulltime jobs.
Thousands of young adults would love to build their careers around horses. And with the rising number of trade schools, horsemanship courses and college programs designed to equip students for an equine job, it’s more important than ever for prospective horse industry workers to pursue higher education.
“I think that a degree definitely opens doors for you,” says Jennifer Bormann PhD, an associate professor at Kansas State University. “In some cases it doesn’t even matter what kind of degree—just the fact you’ve gone to college appeals to employers.
“We visit with a lot of high school students. I tell them that nobody is going to pay you to ride your horse all day. You need to develop some sort of marketable skill.”
Bormann teaches several animal science and equine courses at Kansas State. The university offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate equine courses related to business, bioscience, communications, management, products and pre-veterinary medicine. It also fields a horse judging team, a horseman’s association, a rodeo club and a varsity equestrian team.
Like Kansas State, many other universities throughout the country offer a full slate of academic coursework and activities preparing students for careers in the equine industry. There are also a large number of trade schools, two-year college programs and short courses that certify students for vocations as auctioneers, farriers, equine-assisted therapists, ranch managers, reproduction specialists and riding instructors.
While touting the benefits of a degree or certificate, Bormann doesn’t discount the value of gaining hands-on experience and building professional relationships as early as possible.
“There are a lot of internships where our students can work in the industry and get their feet wet,” she says. “We also have lots of undergraduate research projects that they can help with.
“If you want to be a trainer, that’s fantastic. But honestly, you need to apprentice with a trainer. We’re not going to teach you to be a world-class reining horse trainer, and no college is going to. Still, getting a degree is going to allow you to have a fallback plan.”
Bormann adds that the horse industry offers a variety of jobs, which allows students to apply their unique skill sets and interests. As an example, she points to the many different professions associated with producing a bag of feed, including nutritionists, graphic artists, marketing professionals, distributors and managers.