The Horse Course State
Kentucky offers equine-focused academic programs and is becoming a destination for equine industry careers
Before beginning her college career, Cathrin Walker scoured her native Germany and most of Europe for an academic degree program that would allow her to combine her equestrian talents with her mission to promote mental health, with no result. Then, acting on a tip from a recruiting representative from another American college, Walker visited the Asbury College Web site and learned she could earn a bachelor of science degree in equine facilitated therapy.
Now Walker is just three semesters shy of earning dual bachelor of science degrees in equine management and equine facilitated therapy. This time next year, she expects to be getting her master’s in psychology and helping people recover from conditions such as eating disorders, addiction, and depression at an equine assisted therapy mental health services facility in New Zealand.
“If I hadn’t found out about Asbury, I would have had to take numerous courses in Europe, and it would have been much too expensive without financial support and taken me 10 years to get a degree,” Walker says.
It’s not surprising that Walker found a suitable equine-focused degree program in Kentucky. The state’s racing, breeding, and training industry is a lynchpin in the state’s economy, representing $4 billion in revenue annually and between 80,000 and 100,000 jobs, according to the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), a nonprofit organization that promotes equine business statewide.
With at least 10 schools, colleges, and universities around the state offering a myriad of equine-focused academic programs, Kentucky is also becoming a destination for young people preparing for equine industry careers.
Across the state, equine academic options range from degree programs in equine assisted therapies, equine farm management, and horseback riding instruction, to associate degrees in professional race riding, and certificate programs in horseshoeing and equine hoof care. All are designed to prepare students to assume leadership positions in the industry, says Gary Atkerson, equine program coordinator at Murray State University.
According to Atkerson, Murray State University students prepare for equine industry careers through traditional equine science courses such as selective breeding, farm management, and Western and hunt seat equitation (riding) classes. Internships at equine veterinary clinics and the Kentucky Horse Park complement the coursework. The real-world experience is critical, he says, because thanks to recent economic conditions, the equine industry has become increasingly competitive.
“We’re very hands-on,” he says. “If our graduates are going to get jobs in the equine industry, they need to make contacts in the industry.”
Other schools provide a competitive edge by expanding equine science programs to include coursework designed to prepare students for careers beyond traditional farm operation and horse training positions.
At Morehead State University, equine science students can minor in computer science, journalism, and business, says equine science program coordinator Dr. Judy Willard.
“We try to get kids to think outside the box so they can put their degrees to work in less traditional segments of the industry, such as equine journalism or marketing,” she says. “We also know that people operating training barns need to know about running a business. Our business minor is a way of preparing them for that.”
Meanwhile, the Equine Scholars Program at Georgetown College offers students a way to pursue traditional liberal arts and science degrees without sacrificing their equestrian interests. Georgetown does not grant equine science degrees. Instead, it allows qualifying students to participate in equine-related internships and job-shadowing opportunities while pursuing degrees in fields outside the horse industry.
The option figured significantly in Morgan Coffey’s decision to attend Georgetown.
“I wanted a program that allowed me to prepare for a career as a pharmacist and still experience various aspects of the equine industry,” says Coffey, 22, who is set to earn a biology degree from Georgetown this May. “After graduate school, my plan is to practice pharmacy in a retail setting while gaining additional experience in the equine industry, then become an equine pharmacist and practice in Kentucky.”
Ultimately, training and retaining talent through effective and diverse academic programs will be key to Kentucky’s continued success as a global equine industry leader. Educators are mindful of their role in the industry’s future.
“There are many equine education programs in Kentucky. Every one is different; even though we compete for students, we’re working together,” says Sarah Coleman, executive director of Georgetown’s Equine Scholars Program. “We’re developing the next generation of leaders in the equine industry.”
KENTUCKY EQUINE STUDIES
• www.asbury.edu (search for equine studies)
Bachelor of science degrees with majors in equine management and equine facilitated therapies. An equine management minor is also offered.
• www.georgetowncollege.edu (search for equine studies)
Combines traditional liberal arts and science bachelor degree programs with equine studies through the Equine Scholars Program.
Bachelor of arts degree in equine studies with concentration in equine management. Bachelor of science degrees with concentration in equine health and rehabilitation. Equitation instruction minor. Associate of arts in equine studies with a concentration in equine management; certificate in applied equine studies.
Morehead State University
• www.moreheadstate.edu (search for equine studies)
Bachelor of science in agricultural sciences with an equine science option, and an associate of applied sciences in agricultural technology, with an equine technology option.
Murray State University
(search for equine studies)
Bachelor of science degree in animal science. Studies include equine management, breeding, selective breeding, Western and hunt seat equitation.
University of Kentucky
Bachelor of science degree in equine science and management. Equine science program includes animal biology and biochemistry studies. Equine management program includes business, agricultural marketing, and hospitality studies.
University of Louisville
Bachelor of science in business administration with an equine business major. Certificate in equine business is also offered.
Western Kentucky University
• www.wku.edu (search for Department of Agriculture courses)
Bachelor of science degree in agriculture with concentration in horse science. Studies include equitation, equine training, and equine management.
Kentucky Horseshoeing School
Offers 2-, 12-, 24-, and 40-week farrier training courses along with internships and independent study.
KENTUCKY LIVING KEYWORD: NORTH AMERICAN RACING ACADEMY
Programs include race rider training, farm management, horse training, and other racing industry studies. Associate of science degrees are granted through Bluegrass Community and Technical College. For more about these programs, click on NARA
KENTUCKY LIVING KEYWORD: INTERPRETING FOR THE WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES
Volunteers fluent in 12 languages will help bridge the language gap at this fall’s World Equestrian Games in Lexington, and will receive special training in equine-specific terminology. To learn more, go to equine interpreters.