Lake Erie College: Where Equestrian Career Dreams Can Become Reality

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Originally from the September 2020 issue.

By Elyse Schenk

Contrary to popular belief, the start of college doesn’t have to mean the end of horses. In fact, higher education is a jumping-off point for an equine-based livelihood. A career in horses is no longer a foolish suggestion, but rather a practical endeavor made possible by highly concentrated knowledge studied behind university gates. The days of an inaccessible equine industry are coming to a victorious conclusion with opportunities provided by Lake Erie College in Painesville, OH.

Maddie Pilz on Lake Erie College’s school horse LEC Redtail Finnigan; Photo © Ron Schwane. 

On this campus, paths are offered to all equine enthusiasts who don’t necessarily have years of extensive (and expensive) show experience or pre-formed connections to top industry professionals. Standards for access to the college’s opportunities are based on intellectual merit, as opposed to financial fortune. Lake Erie gives a leg up to anyone with proven intellectual curiosity. With inclusivity as a core value of the college, everyone is qualified to chase their dreams.

The dream begins as soon as a freshman arrives for their personalized academic journey. They’re welcomed by a friendly campus filled with historic charm, complemented by the modern, up-to-date George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center. The 86-acre EQ center boasts pristine facilities complete with a brand new, massive indoor arena. On August 14, 2020, the college cut the green ribbon to premier its 250 x 90 feet of indoor riding space – doubling their previous ring dimensions. Now, equestrians of every level have generous room to advance their skills.

The new indoor arena symbolizes Lake Erie College’s ongoing investment in their equine programs. Unlike other receding equine colleges around the country, Lake Erie’s faith in educating future professionals is embodied in their infrastructure. This is evidenced by two beautiful barns capable of stabling up to 133 horses, acres of hunt fields to gallop and natural obstacles to jump, and two well-maintained outdoor arenas. The facilities are equipped with WiFi, classrooms, three climate-controlled tack rooms, a computer lab, and student lounge—completely prepared to foster learning.

These amenities make it uniquely possible to totally immerse students in their education. Unlike other colleges, whose stables are often miles from the classroom, a Lake Erie Equine Studies student attends class at the barn. With comfortable and clean classrooms at the eq center, students are surrounded by hands-on opportunities to learn. A planned lecture often turns into a step out into the barn for a real life example of the theoretical information taught in class. This is the environment necessary to grow a professional horseman.

However, skeptics worry that a job in the horse industry is limited. Will a career in horses support me financially? What can I do with an equine studies degree besides run a boarding barn or become a horse trainer? The thought of making money from a horse passion feels like an unattainable fantasy. The goal is compared to one of becoming a famous actor  or athlete in the NFL, perhaps even a lottery winner.  It has to be too good to be true.

Morgan on Luna

Fortunately for horse lovers, this pessimism is rooted in misunderstanding. The horse industry is massive and continuously expanding. A dedicated and educated horseman has every opportunity to develop a lucrative and fulfilling career.

“Those who wish to turn their passion for horses into a profession are limited only by their imagination,” says Wendy Burtt, the Coordinator of Equine Studies at Lake Erie College. She lists “tack design, riding attire design, nutraceuticals, equine physiotherapy, equine insurance, horse show management, horse show photographer, social media management, web design, barn design, and equine appraisals” as just some of the list of niches to consider.

Plentiful opportunities exist to have an equine-related job. However, they require a bachelor’s degree for expedited success and career security. For example, nutraceutical companies such as Smart Pak require a 4-year degree to be considered for hire. Big companies, employers, and clients understand the value of a degree and recognize its consequential critical thinking, writing, collaborative and professional skills.

Additionally, a degree allows graduates to be qualified for a diverse range of career paths. An Equine Studies major is trained in psychology, marketing, and accounting, just to start. Students transform into well-rounded professionals with the skills to embark on any path. If life throws a curveball, graduates will have the tools to adapt and recover. The safety net of a bachelor’s degree inspires equine professionals to take risks in their career, to push hard, innovate, and realize the full potential of their professional creativity.

Lake Erie College stands out among the nation’s other equine programs. As the first college in the USA to offer a major in Equine Studies, Lake Erie has dedicated 50 years to preparing students for the horse industry. They adapt the program each year to ensure the most up-to-date information is being taught and that the highest standards are met. Lake Erie College helps students to stand out in a crowded industry. In fact, in 2018 and 2019, 100% of graduates were hired!

Lake Erie College educates the next generation of equine professionals through the following offered Equine Studies majors:

• Equine Facility Management

• Equine Business Administration

• Equestrian Teacher/Trainer – English

• Equestrian Therapeutic Horsemanship

    – Instructor Track

    – Administrator Track

• Pre-Veterinary Advising Track

Starting this fall, Equine Studies students have the chance to take courses to earn a certification in Equine Massage Therapy. Prerequisite anatomy and physiology courses prepare students for massage training. This exciting program is the first of its kind, as no other 4-year college offers an Equine Massage Therapy Certificate Program for college credit. Graduates will have the skills to immediately earn income after graduation in this increasingly popular therapeutic massage treatment.

Lake Erie College is also known for its national and international internship opportunities. The following are offered through the school and frequently result in post-graduate positions:

• Mullender & Wylde Horses, Florida and NY

• Stal Steeghs, Netherlands

• Johnson Sporthorses, Germany

• Calumet Farm, Kentucky

• WinStar Farm, Kentucky

• C. Jarvis Insurance, Ohio

• Equestrian Sports Productions,  Tryon NC

• Havensafe Farm/Adrienne Lyle,  Ohio and Florida

• Good Hope Equestrian Center, Florida

• Camp Cheerful, Ohio

• Plus many other opportunities

All Lake Erie students have a chance to represent the school by trying out for the equestrian teams. The college offers an IHSA Hunt Seat team, IHSA Western team, and an IDA team. Riders of all levels and experiences are welcomed and encouraged to participate in one of the repeatedly successful competitive programs:

• IHSA Hunt Seat:

    – 2019/2020 Zone 6 Region 1 Champions

    – Cacchione Cup Rider for Zone 6, Region 1 for 8 of the past 10 years, including the 2019/2020 season

• IHSA Western: 2019/2020 Zone 6 Region 1 Reserve Champions

• IDA: 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 Region D Champions

Perhaps the greatest testament to the strength of the Lake Erie College equine program is the caliber of donated school horses. The George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center boards 50 to 60 school horses at a time, ranging from safe walk/trot horses, to those with impressive show backgrounds at the highest levels. Hunter Derbies, Grand Prixs, WEF victories, and FEI dressage fill up their resumes and provide students with rideable and reliable mounts necessary to develop skills in the saddle.

Owners continually donate horses knowing they can trust Lake Erie with the highest standard of care. Compassionate care extends into retirement even, as Lake Erie ensures loving homes once a horse has finished his contribution to the riding program. Unlike many other college riding programs, donors are guaranteed the first right of refusal. Lake Erie is unwavering in their standard for equine well-being—a characteristic students graduate with and represent for the entirety of their careers.

The equine industry is no longer impenetrable, but rich with various opportunities, all within reach through the advantage of attending Lake Erie College.