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Finding Your Stride: Advice, tips, and tricks for identifying and pursuing your ideal equine career
For a young person just starting out in the horse industry, career opportunities are as numerous as stars in the sky. But, figuring out how to reach one of those stars can seem like an impossible task, spawning countless questions. How do you translate a love of horses into a job? What sort of job do you want? What’s involved in becoming qualified for that job? And how can you develop a career that not only supports you (and your horses!), but enables you to give back to your equine community?
While the ways in which you can progress towards your goals are as varied as the career possibilities available, nothing will help you more than being willing to learn, to acquire new skills, and to pursue life experiences of your own. The process of deciding what you want to be – whether that’s a horse show photographer, a horse trainer, or an equine dentist – can take several forms, but it cannot be a passive journey. Here are a few of the ways you can actively work towards achieving your desired career.
Ready, Set, Go
Not everyone knows their ideal career right away. As an active student, there is no better place to put yourself than in a position where you can learn from others. Joining a 4-H club, becoming part of FFA, or volunteering at a local stable are all wonderful ways to jump-start your career path. Getting acquainted with equine professionals in your area can also be an invaluable method of learning about various careers and finding out if they would be a good fit for you. For example, if you are interested in veterinary medicine, ask a local veterinarian if you could shadow him or her for a day. Find riding instructors in several disciplines and ask them about different styles of instruction. We all carry preconceived notions and it would be a shame to dismiss the right career for you – or to pursue the wrong one – out of simple ignorance.
Get An Education
Many career paths in the horse industry start with attending college. In the United States, more than seventy colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in animal science, equine science, or agriculture. Equine science degrees usually include classroom and practical laboratory instruction, enabling students to learn by doing – just as they would out in the field. In an equine science degree, common courses range from scientific classes like equine health, reproduction, and nutrition, to industry-based curriculum, like stable management, event management, and business courses. Some schools also provide riding classes, ranging from introductory walk-trot-canter to more advanced jumping or reining courses. Taking a variety of classes in college (including non-horse-science courses) is a good way to learn about new careers.
Christine Henry, a young equine professional from Marietta, Georgia, chose to attend Middle Tennessee State University largely because of its horse science program.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do specifically,” Henry says. “During my freshman year, I would have told you a variety of answers: horse trainer, vet, riding instructor, 4-H extension worker, camp director… you name it!”
Henry graduated from MTSU with a bachelor’s degree in horse science in 2012, and says she made the most of her college career by taking as many hands-on courses as she could and spending countless hours attending shows of all different disciplines at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum, an MTSU horse show venue.
“Some of the most career-relevant courses in my major were ‘Equine Event and Facility Management’ and ‘Equine Industry,’” Henry says. “However, I believe the nuggets of wisdom and piles of knowledge I picked up came from each class and each professor. Since so many of our classes were so hands-on, it gave me, as a kinesthetic learner, a great opportunity to immediately practice what was learned in the classroom – whether it was identifying coat colors and breed types, weight-taping horses, practicing riding techniques, or taking a pulse.”
Because you are hoping to work in the horse industry doesn’t mean you have to major in horse science. Depending on how much you already know about horses, majoring in other areas of study, such as business, law, biology, or journalism, may be beneficial to you. If you already know what you want to do, checking out relevant job postings is a great way to find out what qualifications employers are looking for in new hires.
Find A Mentor
While attending college and graduate school is invaluable for its educational opportunities, the chance to develop a relationship with a mentor, such as a college professor, can be a great advantage. Sometimes, one simple conversation or classroom experience is all it takes to launch a mentorship that lasts a lifetime – one that profoundly affects you and your career goals.
When she first set out to pursue her undergraduate degree at Kansas State University, Caitlin Kaiser of Wichita, Kansas, planned to become a large animal veterinarian. But as she progressed through school, Kaiser encountered a number of professors who inspired her with their talents in the classroom. Once she had finished her bachelor’s degree, Kaiser decided to pursue a career as a teacher, and she couldn’t be more pleased with her choice.
“My equine professor at K-State, Dr. Kouba, was the most influential mentor I encountered during my undergraduate career,” Kaiser says. “She was greatly responsible for lighting the fire within me that allowed me to find my true passion: teaching equine studies at the collegiate level. It is because of the courses I took with her that I am a college instructor today.”
After earning her master’s degree in equine reproductive physiology from MTSU, Kaiser quickly found work as an adjunct instructor at Fort Scott Community College in Paola, Kansas.
“My advice is to do the research and make sure you have the necessary passion and drive to reach your career goals,” Kaiser says. “Don’t shy away from hard work, and don’t get caught up in your ‘plan’ because sometimes life has something better planned. If I had ignored my desire to teach and continued with my vet school plan, I wouldn’t be as happy with my career as I am today.”
Christine Henry also credits a college professor’s mentorship for her success during a post-graduate internship with the American Paint Horse Association.
“Anne Brzezicki, director of equine laboratories at MTSU, played a huge role in molding me into the horsewoman I am today, both in the saddle and out of it,” Henry declares. “I took it upon myself to be a sponge in her presence and learn everything. When my senior year rolled around, I had a mentor who encouraged me to apply for some internships. I was hesitant at first, but she took me aside in the stalls and told me that I needed to accept this position, and if I was useful, they’d keep me!”
During her internship with the APHA Performance department, Henry repeated her mentor’s words like a “mantra.”
“The Performance Department internship at APHA was the best thing I could have ever done,” Henry says. “I was terrified about moving to a new state and starting over! But Anne gave me a pep talk, and I was ready to go. I was able to show the folks at APHA how hard I could work, my attention to detail, and my customer service skills. After about 4 and a half months, I was hired on full-time as the Show Events and Awards Coordinator.”
There Is No Limit On Learning
Don’t underestimate the power of learning outside the classroom. Whether you attend college or not, make it a personal goal to learn something new about horses, the horse industry, or your chosen career path every day. Attending horse shows, researching online, or reading relevant books, magazines, and scientific journals are easy and effective ways to learn about your industry. Many students also find internships, apprenticeships, and volunteering to be effective learning and networking tools. Internships and entry-level jobs can help build your reputation in the work force.
Towards the end of her college career, Anna Caruso of Cowan, Tennessee, worked as a summer intern at the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas.
“That internship was the most influential of anything I could have ever done,” Caruso says. “I worked hard, sweated a lot, and learned a lot during those twelve long weeks. I was able to meet and work alongside some of the best reproductive veterinarians, and I further developed my interest in veterinary medicine.”
The young veterinary student cites her internship at the ranch as one of the main reasons why she now works at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where she also attends vet school.
“I currently work in the Large Animal ICU as a veterinary technician, and they told me that they hired me because they knew I had the ability to handle large animals quite well and deal calmly with emergency situations,” Caruso says. “[They said] anything that I didn’t know clinically they could teach me, but the handling skills had proven much harder to teach. If it weren’t for the combination of my horse experience growing up, my experiences through MTSU, and my internship at the 6666 Ranch, I doubt they would have hired me.”
In the horse industry, a willingness to work hard will often carry you further than anything else. But taking the steps to learn everything you can – and accepting every opportunity that comes your way, no matter how small – will also help you in your search for a career that combines your love of horses with a way to support yourself.
“The equine industry is a vast and wonderful thing,” Anna Caruso says. “We’re all in it because we love horses, but that’s not enough to make a career. It’s a matter of finding a niche within the industry from which you can contribute your skills.”
The Mid-South Horse Review offers internship opportunities in several aspects of equine newsmagazine publishing – writing, photography, graphic design, website and social media, covering equestrian events, sales to horse-related businesses. Check out our opportunities; call us at (901) 867-1755 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alltech has an array of attractive and stimulating career paths for students from around the world through the Alltech Career Development Program. From August 15 – September 30, 2014 Alltech is accepting applications for recent graduates of bachelor’s or master’s degree programs and will screen applicants with a view to commencing work in February 2015. The program offers opportunities for ten high-calibre university graduates who wish to work with experts in the fields of science, aquaculture, agriculture, marketing, veterinary science, information technology, business and biotechnology. The 12-month, salaried mentorship program will begin with an intensive training period at Alltech’s global headquarters in Nicholasville, Kentucky, Interested graduates may apply during the application window of Aug. 15 – Sept. 30 at the Alltech website: http://www.alltech.com/about/careers/alltech-career-development-program
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