Alphabet Soup

Equine studies.  Equine science.  Equine business management. Equestrian studies. Equine facilitated therapy.

The above listed terms are all (obviously) horse-related college majors and are offered at a variety of colleges and universities nationwide.  High school students who wish to become professional horsemen and women often hope to begin their careers with equine-specific majors in college and many do.  But often the terminology surrounding these programs is confusing when students begin to research what college might be the right fit for their academic goals – what is the difference between equine studies and equine science?  Is equine business management a preferable major to equine science if you want to run a training business?

Moreover, what is the best program for you?

Discerning between types of equine college majors is often like reading a bowl of alphabet soup!
Discerning between types of equine college majors is often like reading a bowl of alphabet soup!

Now, I would be remiss not to mention the longtime debate that continues to be waged between college and university programs and many professional horsemen and women over the topic of whether or not higher education is the right path for students to take if they wish to become horse trainers, Olympic competitors, or top breeders.  Some education experts also question the value that equine majors receive for their educational dollar, arguing that the debt load that students incur in order to obtain narrowly-focused equine degrees will not be made up for by their earning potential once they graduate.

This blog entry will not enter this debate; instead, it is my goal to help break through the alphabet soup of equestrian-related college degrees so that students looking for equine programs will have a better understanding of what the educational goal of each specific major is.

It’s a tricky proposition, to be sure.  Some of the program names are more self-explanatory than others; others are used in one way at one school and in a completely different way at another.  But below is a general overview of each major:

  • Equine studies.  The most common major offering for equine programs at both two- and four-year schools, equine studies offers a broad overview of horse care, stable management, riding, and equine business over the course of a student’s enrollment period.  The idea with this major is to verse students widely in aspects of the horse species and the equine industry as a whole; variations in program offerings are therefore rampant and differ by region/location as well as by the strengths and experience of the faculty and staff who help make up the teaching force at a particular school.  The majority of schools with generalized equine studies majors offer tracks within them to address students’ specific goals, such as horse training, teaching riding lessons, or stable management.  Students can follow these tracks as part of a pre-professional curriculum or as part of a specific minor offered by the college or university.
  • Equine science.  This second most common major is closely related to the animal science major (another common major for budding horse industry professionals) is common for pre-veterinary students and those who are most interested in understanding the health aspects of horse care as related to nutrition, parasite control, and breeding management.  Most equine science majors take heavy biology and chemistry courseloads in addition to their equine-specific classes and universities with animal science programs may also encourage students to take courses involving other species (sheep, cattle, pigs) to better understand the differences necessary for correct care of livestock of all types.  Riding is also part of the curriculum in many programs.  The most common career fields that equine science majors move into after graduation are veterinary (both as veterinarians and vet techs), nutrition (working for feed or supplement companies), and breeding management (working at breeding farms or in lab settings).
  • Equine business management.  With a more explanatory title,  this major seems fairly straightforward – and for the most part, it is.  Students who major in equine business management learn in a more focused way about the equine industry itself, with courses in accounting, marketing, economics, and organizational management in addition to equine-specific courses like nutrition and anatomy and physiology.  Equine business management majors often complete formal internships either with horse trainers at their farms, with horse show management companies, or within large equine-related companies or firms.
  • Equine facilitated therapy.  Another more descriptively-titled major, equine facilitated therapy is a growing major across the country as more and more doctors and therapists encourage patients to seek riding and other horse-related interactions as part of the healing or rehabilitation process.  Riding for developmentally disabled children became quite popular in the 1980s but since then, the explosion in Para Equestrian sport following the 2010 World Equestrian Games and the Horses for Heroes program has necessitated the training of more therapists who are able to work with both horses and the people who need assistance from them.  Students who acquire equine facilitated therapy majors take a lot of psychology courses in addition to courses in both human and equine anatomy and physiology.
  • Equestrian studies. Equestrian studies is perhaps the most general and confusing term of all, which is why it has been left for last.  In fact, at most colleges and universities, equestrian studies is not a major unto itself, but is instead an umbrella under which that school’s individual equestrian offerings fall.  In other words, it’s a program heading, not a major.  Students who are interested in a school that lists equestrian studies among its academic course offerings should investigate further to find out what specific majors, minors, and/or concentrations fall into that particular category.

Now, I’m certain I have missed a handful of equine-related majors that are floating around out there at the moment as the field continues to grow and expand (equine journalism is a recent addition that seems to be really taking off), but as I previously stated, the idea behind this blog posting was just to offer an overview and define the terminology inherent to the field.

It should go without saying that the best way to learn what type of college or university program (equine-related or not!) is to research that particular school and visit campusThere’s a famous quote out there that we educational consultants frequently pass along to our students and it goes something like this:

“No college is right for every student, but every college is right for one student.”

And if you need assistance to determine what college (and major!) are right for you, contact me.


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