Although my back porch thermometer says 102, I know that the dog days of summer are coming to a close. Soon my family will be racing the clock five mornings a week to make it to the school bus stop on time. My kids are too young to wonder where they will go to college, but for many high school seniors, the coming months will be filled with major decisions - one of which may be choosing a horse-friendly college.
Whether your interest is obtaining an Equine Science degree, working toward veterinary school, competing on the rodeo, horse show or judging team, or just having the opportunity to keep your horse at school, there’s more to choosing an alma matter than ever before.
Determine Your Needs and Interests
Many schools offer equine opportunities, however, some are in the classroom and some are considered extra-curricular. Before choosing a school, it helps to have a major in mind. Do you want to go to school to learn more about horses? Or is a career in accounting going to “pay the bills,” so that you can afford to play with your horses on the weekends?
Schools that offer an equine curriculum may or may not offer an Equine Science undergraduate degree. Some schools have a variety of equine courses, like introduction to equine science, equine nutrition, equine reproduction, horse training and horse judging, but they fall under an Animal Science degree. Other schools offer specific degrees for equine studies. If you are interested in veterinary medicine, see if they have a pre-vet or similar degree program that will meet the requirements to apply to vet school.
Most schools with an agriculture department offer some horse-related extra curricular activities. Collegiate horse judging teaches students how to evaluate horses based on their conformation and how the horse performs in a variety of classes. Some colleges offer judging scholarships and the chance to compete on a traveling collegiate horse judging team.
If rodeo is more your style, over 200 schools compete in college rodeos through the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). For some schools, the rodeo team is an extra curricular activity. But other schools, like Vernon College in Vernon, Texas, consider rodeo a collegiate sport. It is part of the athletic department and scholarships are available. Vernon College employs a full time rodeo coach and has practice facilities on campus. The school also provides a place for team members to stall their horses. Numerous rodeos are offered throughout the year, with some participants earning the chance to compete at the Collegiate National Finals Rodeo.
The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) offers students the opportunity to compete in horses shows, riding in equitation over fences and on the flat, western horsemanship and reining. Horse shows are hosted by member schools, and participants ride horses provided by the host school. Just before each class, riders “draw” for the horses they will show. Classes range from beginner to advanced, and top riders qualify to participate in the national championships each year in May. There are over 300 member schools in IHSA.
A handful of schools consider Equestrian an NCAA sport that is administered through their athletic departments. At Texas A&M University, women’s equestrian team members can earn scholarships and receive the same benefits of any student athlete. “Our team members lift weights at the gym three times a week with a trainer. They also have access to tutors, just like any student athlete,” says Texas A&M Assistant Equestrian Coach Pam Bruemmer. Coaches scout for riders at top-notch horse shows like the AQHYA World Championship Show. Prospective team members also submit video tapes and try out for the varsity team each season.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices based on your interests and degree plan, go visit your top picks. Check out the equine facilities. What is the quality of horses provided by the school? If you plan to compete on a rodeo, judging or equestrian team, how competitive is the school? Does the school offer facilities to keep your horse?
Now – more than ever before – college bound horse lovers have tremendous opportunities to continue their education without leaving their horse background behind. With some research and road trips, finding a “fit” for your academic and off-campus interests shouldn’t be hard to find.
For more information on college rodeo, visit the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association at www.collegerodeo.com.
For more information on the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, visit www.isha.com.