BY HAYLIE KERSTETTER
While I spent a lot of time debating colleges, degrees and career paths, I always knew that I wanted to do something with horses. Many young people who want to work in the horse world have the idea that a college degree is unnecessary. They think it’s ultimately a waste of money and four years that could be spent working and riding. But as a third year student majoring in Equine Studies, I can say that higher education is not a waste. As I reflect on insight from college graduates and experiences of my own, here are some of my takeaways.
You have something to fall back on.
The equine industry can be volatile. Even though you may think you’re invincible, there is a good chance that at one time or another, you might get injured and find yourself unable to work or ride. You’ll need a backup plan. Nicole Mandracchia, a graduate of Centenary University, discussed the importance of this with me saying, “For those of us who work in the equine industry in the barns (trainers, riders, grooms, vets, farriers, etc.) it’s not a question of “if” we will get hurt, but “when.” I believe everyone should have a degree of some sort to fall back on when the inevitable happens. For years I believed that it would never happen to me, but a knee injury last March finally caught me and I needed surgery. During my recovery period I was able to use my Equine Communications degree to do some blog writing for Excel Supplements—an opportunity that I am grateful for. Always have a back up because things change quickly!”
You need the communication and business knowledge that working in a barn can’t always give you.
Yes, many of these classes might seem pointless at the time, but you will use their teamwork and problem solving skills everyday. Learning to persevere through something that is difficult or not ideal will only help you when you have a client that you struggle to communicate with or a horse that you just can’t seem to get through to. They will teach you how to keep your books in order so your business doesn’t fail, the best ways to advertise for yourself, and what goes into running an effective social media account or writing a solid sales ad.
You will be involved in real-life situations everyday with experts to show you how to handle them.
Cori Babcock of Centenary University noted “Going to school allowed me to learn a lot of ‘on-the-job skills’ in a safer environment. I learned how to handle colic, injuries, illnesses, and even about postpartum complications where I had someone experienced helping me along the way. I didn’t have to learn on the fly in an emergent situation where important decisions need to be made quickly.” Many schools have a large number of horses on property (some have 100+!), each with their own individual needs and problems to be solved. Whether it’s learning to ride many different types of horses, or practicing what to do in emergency situations, having this many horses at your disposal will help you develop strong skills anywhere in the barn.
College teams give you exposure and lifelong friendships.
Not only are college riding teams, such as Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) teams, a great way to get in some extra ride time, but they are also able to help you get your name out to more people in the industry. Riding on these teams allows you to meet equestrians from all over the country, some of whom are likely to be your mentors, peers, or employers some day. Aside from the professional benefits, these teams are where you are likely to meet some of your closest friends. There’s nothing like 3:30 AM wake-up calls to bring a group of people closer together.
It will help you decide what niche of the industry is for you.
There are so many areas of the industry that you can go into. It can almost be overwhelming once you realize how many options you have! Your college professors are there to help you find what you like through their own experiences, jobs and internships, and different types of classes that the school might offer. A former Centenary University student, Lauren Buettner, now works for Zoetis as an Equine Inside and Digital Sales Specialist. She explains, “From a young age I knew I wanted to do something heavily ingrained in the equine industry, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. With the help of my professors at Centenary, I devoted a lot of time to trying out jobs in so many facets of the horse world. Everything from grooming and riding, media, veterinary technician work, to pharmaceuticals… until it clicked! Equine Pharmaceuticals is where I was meant to land, and I am convinced I would not have found this career path any other way.”
You are going to make so many connections.
This ultimately is the biggest reason why your education will be worth your while. Your professors in college are going to give you connections with people you otherwise would only dream of working with. And who knows, if you work hard enough and meet the right people, you just might end up being their peers a few years down the road. Odessa Thacker, graduate of Emory and Henry College, explains, “The equine industry generates $102 billion dollars annually in the US alone. There are, quite literally, always horse related jobs available and never quite enough people to fill them. One of the most important things you learn with an Equine-related degree, however, are the connections. Being able to graduate and immediately go work for the Tori Colvins, the Scott Stewarts, the Maddens, the Havens Schatts, etc because of the connections that professors and alumni of the college have with them is pretty incredible, and personally as a high schooler, not something I had connections or the knowledge to do immediately after graduating. College was absolutely essential in my journey as someone who works in the equine industry, no matter the job, the education, friends, and connections I made will absolutely travel with me through the rest of my life. I never regret a single minute of earning a degree in Equine Studies.”
Haylie Kerstetter is currently attending Centenary University, where she is the captain of the Hunter/Jumper Team and is majoring in Equine Studies: Communications for the Equine Industry. She has been riding for 15 years and enjoys showing Centenary’s horses during the school year, but particularly appreciates riding Off the Track Thoroughbreds as they make their transitions to their second careers. Following her graduation, she hopes to work as a writer for equestrian-focused publications.