Want to be an Equine Professional? Consider a Gap Year

I’ve touched many times before upon the subject of becoming a professional horse person and I suppose it’s only fair to preface this entry by saying that this will be yet another.  But there’s a bit of a twist to this week’s entry and I hope that students who are strongly considering this career path will value this latest addition.

I took part in on a higher education webinar last week and the conversation turned at one point to gap years and how they’ve changed recently.  (For those who’ve heard the term but don’t know exactly what it means, a gap year is a one-year time period during which recent high school students delay starting college in order to dedicate a year to exploration and/or service.  These students then enter college one year later than their peers.)

Britain's Prince William famously took a gap year before entering university.
Britain’s Prince William famously took a gap year before entering university.

Previously viewed as only an option for the extremely wealthy or students from the United Kingdom (and made somewhat famous by Prince William’s gap year in South America, Australia, and Africa), gap years have become increasingly common for all types and nationalities of students recently as tuition prices have increased and undecided students seek to stabilize their career paths before entering college.  During the recent webinar, the conversation surrounding the “new” gap year focused on the way a gap year can provide much-needed hands on training that a college education may not provide.

As a prospective equine industry professional, is it possible that a hands-on gap year is just what you need?

I think that a lot of high school students want to be professional horsemen and women because they love to ride and they love to spend time at the barn.  (Who doesn’t?)  The difference between riding as a hobby, however, and working as a professional is enormous.  Riding as a hobby is fun but riding professionally is a job that often isn’t.  It’s the truly passionate people who can roll with the punches and find the joy in even the most difficult of days at the barn who are going to be successful at the professional level – and what if you could find that out ahead of time? Wouldn’t a year of experience help shape your career and college choice far more effectively than a year of class work similar to what you’re already used to in high school?

If you think that a gap year sounds appealing, you’ll need to formalize a plan.  Firstly, is it possible for you to secure a working student position for a year following high school?  Can your trainer take you on – or better yet, recommend someone in a different state (or country!) from whom you can learn a different way of doing things?  (In particular, if you already work for your trainer now, it’s incredibly valuable to go to another barn for your gap year so that you can view the profession through fresh eyes and with a different perspective than you would at your home barn.)

Next, you’ll need to speak with your parents about the financial side of a gap year – what the projected costs will be, who will pay them, and what other considerations might be unique to your situation.  Will you move out or continue to live at home?  Will you keep your horse and take it with you or try to sell it?  Will you compete during your gap year or focus on stable management?  All of these variables need to be discussed.  As you do so, bear in mind that the most important thing about a gap year is that it is supposed to be educational – it isn’t a vacation where you get to sleep late and ride whenever you feel like it for 365 days.  A gap year is a break between schools (high school and college), but it should also fill gaps in your education and teach you things you never knew before.  It should be intensive and hands on and should also be the type of experience that you cannot find within the walls of a college classroom.  Your gap year needs to be your job for 365 days and you need to treat it as such – keep a journal of your experiences (or start a blog), ask the trainer you’re working with to evaluate you periodically so you can see how you’re doing, and don’t lose focus as to why you’ve chosen this path.

You also need to remember that, traditionally, a gap year ends when you enter college.

In most cases, you’ll complete your college applications during your senior year along with the rest of your class and then defer your acceptance to the school of your choice for one year.  Each school approaches deferment differently, so you’ll need to work directly with their admissions office to work out a plan.  (Also know that some schools will not allow you to defer and that you’ll have to reapply and be accepted during the year you’re taking as a gap.)

A gap year certainly isn’t a fit for every student, but it isn’t an unreachable and unattainable opportunity either.  With careful preparation and planning, it could even be the best year you ever spend!

(Want to talk about all things gap-year related?  Contact me!)

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