BY LUCILE VIGOUROUX, MSc
Equestrians who aspire to make a career out of horses are confident about one thing: their passion for the animal and the sport. But the path to success as an equine professional can take many forms, and the role of formal education remains much debated.
Making a Career out of a Hobby
Not sure if the horse industry is ‘legit’ enough to build a legitimate career? That’s a familiar concern for parents blessed with horse-crazy kids who’ve grown into devout, college-age equestrians. Is it really possible to make a successful career out of a childhood hobby?
The numbers are both reassuring and promising. Today seven million Americans are involved with horses, providing plenty of opportunities for young graduates to find their place in the job market or to start businesses and build strong client bases. Our horse industry employs 1.4 million people and contributes $122 billion in economic impact each year – that’s including the ripple effect on other industries like dining and entertainment. Bottom line: the equine industry is alive and well. Even better, we’re hiring.
Dr. Karin Bump, MS, Ph.D., has dedicated her 30-year career to promoting the growth of the equine industry, primarily by teaching and advising passionate equestrians in collegiate settings. At the 2021 Equine Affaire in West Springfield, Massachusetts, Bump shared down-to-earth advice about making a living out of a passion for horses, and the education it takes to get there.
More than Just ‘Barn Jobs’
A career with horses, in many dubious minds, looks like long days of back-breaking, low-paying, ungratifying manual labor. And for many admirable professionals, that’s the reality. This, however, does not mean that diverse and lucrative opportunities don’t exist within the industry. Bump categorizes equine careers according to their level of horse involvement:
- Direct position: that’s your trainer, barn manager, groom, veterinarian, and farrier. These dedicated people are at the forefront of the action and have their hands on horses all day, every day.
- Indirect position: the professionals who fall within this broad category deal with all things that go “in, on, or around the horse,” Bump says. Day-to-day contact with the animals isn’t guaranteed, but the focus remains on providing for the horse and rider. Indirect positions encompass everyone from the horse show photographer to the tack store associate.
- Induced position: the equine industry generates business spanning across other industries. Think of the hotel across the show venue, or the coffee shop in a ‘horsey’ town. Thousands of businesses thrive thanks to our equine businesses and events.
College: There’s a Right Way to Do it
Knowing what careers are out there is one thing, but qualifying for your dream job is where the real work begins. “Let’s be clear, you need an education,” Bump states. “Leaving high school with your GED is a start, but nowadays a bachelor’s degree is pretty much the ‘driver’s license’ of the equine world.”
Navigating college can be tricky and expensive, whether horses are involved or not. “Choose a school wisely, and – reality check – stay within your budget to avoid burying yourself in unrealistic amounts of debt that will hurt you in the long run,” Bump says. Is a competitive riding team important for you? Couldn’t picture going to a school without a pre-vet program? Do your homework before committing to a school: investigate thoroughly and pick according to what’s the best fit for you.
There’s more good news: with over 200 colleges and universities in the United States offering some form of equine studies within their academic programs, and a whopping 600+ schools with a riding team, there’s really something for everyone. To make it easier for students, families, and guidance counselors to explore options, Bump and her husband Tim Williams have developed a database gathering all equine-related academic opportunities. The Equine Education Network is available as a free resource at EquineAcademics.com.
You can Mix Horses with Other Interests
If ‘horse school’ isn’t an option for you, don’t lose hope. “A wonderful and unique thing about the equine industry is that it’s extremely interdisciplinary,” Bump says. “You can find a connection between horses and virtually anything else. Photography, journalism, travel, event management, insurance, fashion, sports therapy – you name it. Even something as seemingly-unrelated as architecture mingles into our horse world in the form of barn design, for example. The possibilities are endless – try to think of something you can’t relate to horses,” Bump challenged her audience.
The overlap between the equine world and other industries makes it very possible for equestrians following a more traditional education to marry their degree with their passion for horses. In other words, what parental units consider a ‘real job’ can be combined with horses without compromising job security or working conditions.
Final Thoughts: Happiness First
“What are you going to do with an equine degree?” Bump’s father warily asked her when the horticulture student sneakily switched her major to equine studies halfway through her freshman year. “I don’t know yet, she answered. “But I’m going to be happy.”
Lucile Vigouroux, MSc, has earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in equine science. She is a freelance author dedicated to sharing the latest equine healthcare research with the equestrian community via her publications and has taught Equine Journalism & Media as an adjunct at Centenary University. Lucile also owns ProPulsion Equine PEMF, LLC and offers Magnawave sessions to horses on the hunter/jumper circuit in the northeast and Florida.