Averett University: Preparing Students for Careers in the Horse Industry

Averett University Equestrian Team at the IDA National Championships 2022. Photo by KTB Creative

By Tyler Bui

For students looking to pursue a career in the equestrian industry as well as ride on a collegiate level, finding the right university that offers both may be rare. Averett University is a small liberal arts college with both Equestrian Studies Degree Programs and an Equestrian Team, and the university combines the two to create a comprehensive experience for their students. 

Averett University offers six different concentrations for students within their Equestrian Studies Degree Programs: Equine Science, Equine Management, Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy, Eventing Instruction, Dressage Instruction, and the newly instated Equine Sports Communication concentration. If at the simple university you can find some information about subjects on DoMyHomework123.com, in Avarett University for every concentration students need to be very attentive. Each student who is on the equestrian team is also a major or minor in the Equestrian Studies Degree Program. There are currently 15 students on the equestrian team. 

The team competes in the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) and offers dressage, eventing, and hunt seat intrustruction. 

“Part of the reason why every team rider is in the academic program is because everything we do is so embedded within the curriculum of our academic major,” says Ginger Henderson, head coach of the Averett Equestrian Team. “It’s almost impossible for a student to just come out and practice once a week and not be involved in all the other things that we’re doing because it’s such a comprehensive program.”

Aerial rendering of the Averett University Equestrian Center

Equine Science 

For students preparing for veterinary school, the Equine Science concentration offers a pre-vet track specifically focused on horses. These students are able to focus their studies on specifically equine science rather than large animals, and also are given ample hands-on opportunities to prepare them for veterinary school. 

“We’ve had great success with this program,” says Henderson. “We have vets on staff who teach all of the equine science-specific courses and they also help mentor our students in terms of getting into vet school.” 

Equine Management

The Equine Management Concentration is geared toward students who are looking to pursue a career in business administration within the equine industry. 

“This concentration is almost like doing a combined major within the business department. Students take accounting, human resources, and similar traditional business courses,” says Henderson. “It’s for students who want to graduate and pursue jobs such as marketing, retail, and sales, all specifically in the equine-specific sector.”

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Students looking to go into the field of mental health are able to pair their equine experience directly with their career. The program follows the EAGALA Model, which is the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. 

“We have an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy concentration  which is focused specifically on the mental health aspect, rather than the hippotherapy aspect,” says Henderson. “As part of the academic portion of that degree, students go through a training with the EAGALA and when they come out they have an industry certification as well. We try to pair a lot of our concentrations with things that students can also get industry certifications in to help strengthen them when they get out of school or try getting a job.”

Brie Riley competing at the Virginia Horse Center Starter Trials

Dressage and Eventing Instruction

The Dressage and Eventing Instruction concentrations specifically correlate to riding. For those looking to ride and teach professionally, they are able to focus both their studies and their riding toward their career. 

“Students in these instruction concentrations have to compete in their chosen discipline as part of their academic program,” says Henderson. “They are going out and doing things in the industry as well as on the collegiate level. And before students graduate, they will take the American Riding Instructor Association testing, so that when they graduate they will have an instructor certification that is industry-recognized, as well as their bachelor’s degree.”

Equine Sports Communication

The Equine Sports Communication concentration is the newest addition to the Equine Studies Degree Program, and students work with the Communications Department. 

“The program has developed a whole curriculum focused on sports communication and social media marketing,” says Henderson. “Those students will be doing practicums and internships focused around that subject.”

IDA national championship rings

The Averett University Equestrian Team 

Henderson has been coaching at the university since 2004. She is the National President of the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) and has her USDF “L” judges certification. Henderson is a graduate of Ohio State University, Averett University, and Lynchburg University, and has degrees in Equine Management and Production, Human Resource Development and a master’s in Agency Counseling. She is also EAGALA Certified. Outside of her coaching role, Henderson still rides and competes on several home-bred horses. 

She is accompanied by assistant coaches Shannon Stone and Kristin Kelly, with Stone specializing in dressage and Kelly specializing in hunt seat. 

“We really have a very strong team aspect for how we run this department. I think that really filters down through everything we do and what all of our students do,” says Henderson. “We say that we have an Equestrian Team, and all of our riders, regardless of whether they ride on IDA or IHSA, are just Equestrian Team members. We really stress the team aspect and believe that there’s value in everything that we all do and that we all work at it together.”

The Averett University Equestrian Center sits on around 100 acres and has a 40-stall barn, an indoor arena, two outdoor arenas, and a student locker room. All of the team’s horses are either donated or on lease, and range from school horses to upper level competition horses.

Within the two intercollegiate riding programs—IDA and IHSA—many riders compete in multiple disciplines. Prior to the pandemic, The Averett Equestrian Team was ranked either #1 or #2 in the country three out of the last four years. 

“Something that’s special about our program is that we’re a really small school and small department, so pretty much all of our students who want to be on a team get to be on a team and they’re showing,” says Henderson. “So even as a freshman, we make a point to make sure that every freshman gets to show at least once. You’re not waiting until you’re a senior to get a spot to compete.”

For students who are studying Eventing Instruction or ride in the discipline, Averett University partners with Sandy River Equestrian Center which is an eventing specialty barn. Students are able to board their personal horses and also ride horses that belong to the Equestrian Center, and they show their horses through their program. 

Alumni Jessie Hayes with “Pops”

A Day in the Life

Henderson described a typical day for a first-year student, as they have the most structured schedule to help them get acclimated to the collegiate environment. Most students attend their regular academic classes on campus in the mornings, and for two afternoons each week, they are at the barn from around 12:30-6:30 p.m.

“They will come out and have their riding lesson—one day is always dressage and the other day is always jumping. Following their lesson, they will do a lab class where they will learn about braiding or wrapping, facility design, anything and everything that has to do with managing and taking care of horses. After that, all of our students in their freshman year participate in running the barn so they’re going to stay, they’re going to feed, they’re going to turn all the horses out, clean the barn, and close everything down.” 

Each riding lesson that a student-athlete takes counts toward academic credit, so time in the saddle counts toward their degree.  

“We have no regular courses taught on Fridays, they are always for team practices. Students will be assigned time on Friday that they come out and practice, maybe for both IDA and IHSA,” says Henderson. “Anybody who’s on a team is automatically riding a minimum of three times a week, and there is opportunity for extra riding. Weekends are for horse shows. We have either an intercollegiate horse show or an open horse show almost every weekend of the semester. There are schooling shows for people to go to, and we host one open horse show at our facility every semester, so there’s that and then we also go to the USDF shows.” 

“We have a course for students in their junior year that is called advanced stable management,” Henderson adds. “It’s an academic course, but a piece also allows them to act as assistant managers out at the facility, so they supervise all of our freshmen workers, they manage on weekends, and a big portion of that class is applying what they’ve learned in their business courses about how to motivate employees. Everything we do in the department, they’re taking what they learn in their classes, and learning to apply it in real world situations at the equestrian center. It becomes very, very comprehensive.” 

Ginger Henderson preparing Liza Anikeeva for her test at IDA nationals 2022. Photo by KTB Creative

Personal Perspectives

Liza Anikeeva is a fourth-year student from Russia who is majoring in Equestrian Management with a concentration in Dressage. She is one of the team captains, and will ride and work at a dressage barn in Lynchburg, VA, after graduation. She has been riding for 17 years, and mainly competed in dressage. Since coming to Averett, she has also started riding hunt seat as well.

“I always wanted to study abroad because our equine industry back home is not as developed,” says Anikeeva. “I knew that I wanted to work with horses for my career, and so I started looking at schools in Europe and the United States and found that some schools even offered majors that had to do with horses, which I did not know was possible.” 

While Anikeeva said she definitely experienced a transition period coming to the U.S., she has found a second home at Averett and loves everything about her college experience. 

“I actually enjoy being in class now—I enjoy doing assignments for my classes, I love learning about all the topics we cover,” says Anikeeva. 

“For the team aspect, I love how close the team is. I’ve built so many relationships with my teammates. Traveling together, riding together, working out together, it’s just fun.” Juggling academics and riding can be challenging, she adds, “but since it’s something that I want to do for a living, and since it’s my passion, it doesn’t seem like work.” 

Anne Morgan is a third-year student majoring in Equine Management. She competed in eventing until attending Averett, and has now picked up dressage and has competed up to second level with the team. After graduation, Morgan plans to become a working student for an upper-level eventer, eventually looking to create her own business training and reselling Off-Track Thoroughbreds. 

“Since the minute I arrived at Averett, it’s like I have been put into a big family, everyone is so nice and I have made a lot of friends,” says Morgan. “I have learned a lot of leadership and time management skills—I am one of the captains of the IDA and IHSA teams, so I have learned how to guide people and help my teammates out, which will be helpful when I graduate and begin working. I’ve been able to get out of my shell and learn how to manage people and plan.”

In addition to her Equine Management major, Morgan is also minoring in Dressage Instruction. She says that being able to combine her academics with her riding skills is so rewarding, and that it’s exciting to see how the knowledge learned at Averett will help her build a successful career. 

“I really enjoy getting to learn and read more about the horse industry as a whole,” says Morgan. “Right now I’m taking a class where we build a business plan for our future business, and I love that class because it really makes me think about what I will need to do in the future, and how I’m going to use all the skills I’ve learned at Averett.” 

*This story was originally published in the August 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!