By Seth Burgess
There are lots of good reasons to attend a college or university, but impressing a potential employer in the horse industry with your degree may not be one of them. In general, horse industry employers are much more concerned with practical experience than with a college degree. If you are interested in being a vet tech, veterinarian, or college level instructor, a degree is most likely required. But, if you want to work hands-on with horses in jobs such as a trainer, riding instructor, farm manager, or exercise rider, a degree may not be a requirement. That doesn’t mean you should turn your back on a college education. It does mean you have to understand what that degree will, and won’t, do for you. Seth Burgess, a Parelli Foundation volunteer and the founder of Equimax –Where Jobs and Horse People Find Each Other, a popular employment service for horse people, has some great advice. “Did you know that most horse industry employers have very little idea what students learn in an equine studies or other equine related degree programs?” he asks. “Unfortunately, lots of students spend time and money obtaining an equine related degree without understanding the value of the degree in the job market.” So what should you know and consider?
For most horse jobs, getting an equine related degree will NOT:
1. Avoid the need to start at the bottom in the job market and work your way up.
2. Impress employers with what you know.
3. Teach you a full set of skills for most hands-on jobs.
4. Get you a higher salary right off the bat.
5. Avoid the need to prove yourself to your employer.
Getting an equine related degree WILL:
1. Give you a chance to make mistakes and improve in a protected environment.
2. Develop your maturity before being exposed to the “real world.”
3. Improve your general skills with communication, research, and problem solving.
4. Provide potential employers with confidence in your ability to accomplish difficult goals.
5. Teach you useful skills related to horses (which you can also learn through on the job training.)
“Most employers want to know about your job experience,” Seth explains. “Job experience with another employer who they know and respect is the best reference you can give them. If the employer is known and respected, it does not even matter very much what you did for that other employer. If you have a degree, be grateful but be aware of any skills you may not have been taught, such as: pulling a horse trailer, operating a tractor, and being handy with maintenance. These are common skills needed for many horse industry jobs, and they are often not taught in degree programs.”
But don’t be quick to dismiss the value of a college degree, as Seth explains. “An equine related college degree is quite likely to help you rise higher and faster in a horse industry career than someone who does not have a degree. However, this rising career path will only happen if you build a solid track record of performance on the job. It will not happen automatically just because you have the degree.”
So what course is the best for you; what subject will do the most for you when looking for a job in the horse industry? Seth’s answer is: English! “People will judge you by how well you communicate,” he says. “If you are a sloppy communicator, employers will assume you are a sloppy worker – and they might be right!” The other area of study that is important is business. He explains, “You may be great with horses, but you also need to understand how business works: how to manage a budget and how to manage people. Even if you never own your own ranch or equestrian program, you will need to understand the pressures of being a business owner and how to manage personnel.”