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Looking toward college?

by Ann Bullard

Editor's Note:

Researching this information turned up more programs - of all varieties - than one might imagine. This article is not intended to be the definitive “how to find a school,” but to introduce you to some programs you may not know - and show you where to find others.

Spring is here! Horse shows have started - and for many young people, planning for college is top of mind.

Many teens that have enjoyed riding and showing dream of a career in the horse industry. Getting there is not as easy as it easy as it seems. Pursuing a degree - or at least an associate's program not only introduces a student to the reality of the 24/7 world of being a professional horseman, but to the financial, marketing and legal questions involved.

Are you looking for a program where you can learn to be in the horse business - or one where you can ride as part of extracurricular or physical education activities?

Do you want to go East - to storied colleges such as Sweet Briar where you can bring your horse to college in central Virginia or the University of Vermont, where the Morgan Horse is researched and revered?

Would you prefer to go West - out to the Arizona desert in the heart of Arabian and Western horsedom, to Colorado's mountains or Nevada's changing scenery?

With the explosion of interest in the horse industry -- in therapeutic riding programs, stable management, even equine journalism and photography, a student doesn't have to be a “rider” to succeed. Yet those who pursue the college road to becoming an instructor or a trainer gain much more than most might have by spending those four years in an apprentice program.

Saddle Seat Plus

For Saddlebred and Morgan enthusiasts, several schools may be appropriate. William Woods and Stephens College not only turn out excellent graduates, but are well-known on the show circuit as well. Both merge outstanding, traditional liberal arts programs with the opportunity not only to ride and show, but to learn the business side of the horse industry. Neither school needs much introduction to the horse industry.

Stephens College, Columbia, Mo.

Stephens, the only four-year women's college in the state, has spent 170-plus years educating young women for leadership roles. Today, students may enroll in one of more than 40 undergraduate programs.

The equestrian program offers two majors: a B.S. in Equestrian Business Management and a B.S. in Equestrian Science. Equestrian business management is geared toward students who wish to work in a horse-related business. The Equestrian Science major is designed for students interested in becoming trainers, riders and teachers. It emphasizes care and management of show and school horses and techniques for teaching adults and children.

Students also may choose to enroll in a dual-degree program in Equestrian Science at Stephens and Animal Science at the University of Missouri, Columbia. A 3:2 partnership with Washington University in St. Louis allows students to earn a B.A. in equestrian science from Stephens in just three years followed by a master's degree in occupational therapy from Washington University in St. Louis in an additional two years.

The equestrian center occupies 18 acres on the campus and features an indoor arena, a lighted outdoor arena, seven turn-out paddocks, stables and a cross-country course. Students are able to board their own horses at the Stephens College stables.

Students also gain hands-on experience through the Prince of Wales Club. Established in 1926, the club is one of the oldest continually active riding clubs in the country. Club members may earn independent study credit while actively managing all aspects of the annual spring charity horse show. This show draws horses and riders from three states to the campus and raises funds each year for a chosen charity. Members learn to organize volunteers, put a horse show on the computer, design and set up hunter-jumper courses, manage the paddock, keep the show's books, and develop a media public relations plan to promote the show.

While best-known for its saddle seat riders aboard American Saddlebreds, Morgans, Arabians and National Show Horses, Stephens' students work with Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Quarter horses in both hunt seat and Western riding, combined training and dressage.

The list of Stephens' graduates who have made a mark in the horse business - as amateurs and professionals - is more than impressive. Jane Bennett, Fern Bittner, Liz Kinney, Ellen Beard Arnold, Lisa Hilmer, Margaret Cowgill, Shirley Parkinson, Sally Lindaberry, Sally Jackson, Kathy Berger, Anna Marie Knipp, Cindy Willimon, Dorothy Dutel, Jean Meade Lewis, Barbara Woods, Cecile Hetzel Dunn, Wendy Johnson, Deborah Hagerman, Anne Stafford … and Gayle Lampe, now head of the program at William Woods.

“I'm a Stephens graduate and proud of it,” said Lampe.

Instructor Shirley Hardwicke and her staff made a lasting impression on their students. Anne Stafford looked back on what was the toughest year of her life - and good ones that followed.

“Mine was probably a little different experience than most people. My father died when I was a senior in high school. I thought my world had ended,” the daughter of David and Bess Neil said.

“I did not want to go to school, to leave home; I was heartsick. My mother didn't see that as an option. She said, 'You will go to school.' She shipped me out to Missouri.

“I made great friends who were very kind to me. Most were seniors and very heavy in the horse business like Gayle [Lampe] and Maxine Gill. If it hadn't been for Shirley Hardwicke, I probably would have been just miserable.”

Hardwicke gave her students what Stafford called “pretty nice project horses,” quite a change for the young lady used to working colts and young horses.

Stafford said she had never ridden equitation in her life.

“We didn't do it here [at Blythewood.] At the Prince of Wales Club horse show, she made me ride equitation; I was ready to kill her. I just sort of bucked up and went on.”

She had never ridden without stirrups until that night. She won.

“It was a total hoopla for everyone who was there,” Stafford said.

Times were different when Stafford was in school. Only seniors had automobiles on campus; to go visit her father's friends Lee Fahey or Art Simmons she either had to ride the train to Kansas City or catch a ride with a senior.

Stafford's friends, her instructors and her father's friends helped her get through that first year. This was the first time she was on her own; with both her parents knowing as many people as they did, she still had a strong support system.

“I never was a great student, but always got along,” she said. “Mrs. Hardwicke didn't just let you do what you did well; you had to ride every division. That made us all more well-rounded.”

It also developed friendships which have lasted until today. Having gained practical training at Stephens, graduates work in horse show management, urban planning (trails and stable sites in the urban setting) and management in both the public and private sectors. Many students begin their equine career early by working for individual owners who hire Stephens College students to assist with riding and training.

Saddlebred people are enthusiastic about renewed interest from the breed in Stephens.

“The UPHA has gotten behind the school,” alumna Sally McClure Jackson said. “They're helping develop the saddle seat department to get it back as it used to be. Alumni have donated close to $100 thousand to refurbish the school, building new fencing, iron electric gates, with alumni doing cleanup and repair.

“We feel we owe a lot to Stephens. We had a place to go where we could ride saddle seat, could take our horses with us. It gave us a good foundation,” Jackson said.

William Woods University, Fulton, Mo.

William Woods University is a far cry from the Female Orphan School, the school's name and purpose, when founded in 1870 in response to the needs of female children orphaned during the Civil War. By the end of the century, it moved to Fulton, Mo., and expanded its elementary and secondary programs to accommodate young women who wished to become teachers.

After offering a two-year college program for many years, the school became a four-year college in 1962; in 1993 it changed its name to William Woods University, offering graduate degrees and admitting men.

Today, William Woods is a bustling campus with approximately 185 students enrolled in the equestrian program. Students wishing to pursue careers as trainers, instructors, equine managers and ride may obtain a B.S. in Equestrian Science. Those more interested in the business side of the horse world major in Equine Administration, which includes courses in the techniques of facility management, equine law and taxation and equine entrepreneurship. The riding component is an elective.

Despite its reputation in the Saddlebred world, William Woods students work in five disciplines: dressage, hunt seat, saddle seat, western and the newly-added driving program. Morgans, Quarter horses and Arabians join the American Saddlebreds in the school's program.

Gayle Lampe heads the saddle seat team; she needs little introduction to the industry. She spoke about her program, crediting much of their success to “all the good horses we have - the wonderful horses people donate.”

Lampe sees herself and other teachers as “facilitators, more than teachers. I teach students how to be successful in the horse business. We get them jobs. There's a lot more to the program than teaching students how to ride; it's more about psychology, getting along with people," she said.

It's far from an easy program. Just ask Renee Biggins. The trainer, instructor and partner in Biggins Stable in Simpsonville, Ky., grew up on a Morgan farm. She rode in 4-H programs, but hadn't taken a formal lesson until she enrolled in William Woods University. She soon attracted Gayle Lampe's watchful eye.

“What Gayle teaches you throughout the four years is to be able to make it in the horse business,” Renee said of her teacher and friend. “She helps you get to be smart enough, talented enough and willing enough to do it. You get a realistic picture. It's not an easy program and if you're not serious, you don't graduate with the major.”

Renee was young - and eager to learn. She tells would-be students “to stick it out for four years. Whatever Gayle is asking of them, be willing to do it,” the William Woods graduate with an equine science major and minors in business and physical education said.

“Gayle has a point to prove; if a student isn't willing to do what she asks, they won't make it in the business. I needed all three areas of study. I learned how to teach classes and organize in phys ed.; athletics really is so much a part of riding. That was the way I rounded out to feel whole.”

One thing that sets William Woods apart from similar schools is the barn being right on campus, seconds away for most students.

“Students with an hour between classes come watch a riding class. When they get out into the real world, a lot of networking has been done for them. Doors open because they are a William Woods graduate,” Lampe said.

Who are these professionals? They include such trainers as Sarah Byers, Betsy Webb, Michelle McMahon (a 1995 graduate who has hired two other graduates,) John Field, Mary Marcum-Orr and Evan Orr (of Cash Lovell Stables.)

University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.

Morgan exhibitors already are familiar with the excellent program at the University of Vermont. They offer a four-year B.S. in Equine Science. Located atop a hill overlooking the shores of Lake Champlain at the foot of the Green Mountains, the university is home to 8,000 students.

Students earn a B.S. in Animal Science with concentration in Equine Science, a four-year, broad-based science and technically-oriented program.

Josie Davis directs the campus equine program, one she calls “unique” because the teaching program is on campus, with the UV Morgan farm 40 miles south. The university uses the farm for such classes as genetics and animal reproduction, although in a limited way because of its distance from the main campus.

“We use blocks of time,” she explained, spending all day or two days there. “Another part of the program that's unique is that we have a cooperative barn on campus with students’ and our own animal science horses. Students apply to the barn to work with their own horses; they learn to work together to run a boarding stable, to make decisions and do the work. If they don't bring their own horses, they care for animals that belong to the university,” she explained.

The school has no equitation program per se, although students do ride. They attend training, instructors' classes and those on equine issues such as reproduction. General science programs, such as nutrition and anatomy and physiology have equine components.

The university is small compared with large land-grant schools, Davis explained, adding the animal science program is one of the largest on campus. It's not too large, however.

“It's small enough to be family. Students get a lot of hands-on work and contact with the faculty - and the opportunity to take other courses.

“I like to see students minor in the entrepreneurship area,” the professor said. “Another part of my job - of any college professor - is a reality check. I try to tell students they do need to work toward what they want. In the horse business, you have to be ready for hard work. It's not an eight to five, five-day-a-week job.

“A four-year degree gives students other options,” Davis said. “If a student decides when she [or he] is 45 that she's tired of being dragged around by colts; tired of arguing with hard work, equipment, with people, she will have a good broad-based science education. A lot of students go into other fields, into the nutrascience area for equines and other good related jobs. It's an employable area,” concluded Davis.

Midway College

Students wishing to study in Kentucky may choose Midway College, the only all-girls school in the state. Located just outside Lexington, the school offers a two-year associate program as well as a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Equine Studies or Equine Science. Although Sally Hayden, the program director, has a strong Saddlebred background, at this point the school offers only hunt seat, eventing and western riding.

The school is in an ideal setting for students majoring in equine sciences because of it being located in the heart of the horse industry. Many area experts in the industry present educational seminars, assist in placement of interns and graduates and as horse advisory committee members.

Students may choose the two-year Associate of Arts degree in Equine management, a Bachelor of Arts in Equine Studies or Bachelor of Science in Equine Science. Students seeking a B.A. in Equine Studies may concentrate in equine management, equine therapy or equitation instruction.

Courses in horse training, schooling, hunt and stock seat equitation and teaching equitation are available. Required equine courses common to all majors provide the student with general knowledge of equine breeds, anatomy and physiology, diseases and unsoundness, treatments and prevention of illnesses, nutrition and feeding, farm management and record keeping systems. In addition, courses in horse training and schooling, hunt and stock seat equitation, and equitation teaching are available.

Equine facilities include two large modern indoor arenas, a large outdoor arena, 24 stalls, 65 acres and approximately 60 horses. Most of the horses are thoroughbreds of hunter type in various stages of training.

For many years, Hayden drove students to study with Helen Crabtree at her place. “We intended to build a barn and try to have saddle seat on campus. After she [Mrs. Crabtree] was unable to help our students, we drove students to Biggins, Premier or Walnut Way on Tuesday nights; on Wednesdays we would go to Melissa [Moore] or Nancy Becker. While Hayden is unable to keep this level of commitment to saddle seat riders, students still work in Saddlebred barns.

“We put students in what basically is an apprentice program with some of the best Saddlebred trainers in the country,” she said. “We provide service to every aspect of the horse industry in central Kentucky and across the country. Students are required to do at least two internships, working in every aspect of the industry - from banks and insurance companies to farms, breed associations, magazines and law firms. You name it. The industry here depends on us for qualified employees.”

The school boasts several riding teams, which usually are in the top 20 in hunt seat and western disciplines in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. They have an open hunting team, an event team and a team that has shown internationally at an intercollegiate event in England.

Midway College has two other majors no other U.S. college has: equine therapy and psychology, concentrating on equine-assisted psychotherapy.

“Physical therapy on horses is a growing field,” Hayden said. “In psychotherapy we use the horse as a tool for behavior modification. Mental health facilities are using horses for rehabilitation with patients suffering from such problems as learning disorders and autism.

“In response to requests from mental health organizations, we have established a brand new program, geared to people going straight into graduate school for psychology or social work.”

In July, Midway will offer some components for an equine studies major on the Internet, with students coming to the school in the summer to complete the practical lab components of a class.

“A lot of people can't come to college; they have to work,” Hayden said. “For students who have a lifelong background with horses, we can give credit for prior life experiences.”

Morehead State

Morehead State in Morehead, Ky., tucks their equestrian program inside its College of Science and Technology. Students may choose a two year Associate’s in Agricultural Technology with an option for equine studies or a four-year Bachelor of Science with an equine option.

“Our program is primarily a combination of production and equitation classes,” Dr. Judy Willard who heads up the central Kentucky program said. “Students can go in either direction.

“Morehead State is the only school in Kentucky where students can study Saddle Seat,” Willard said, adding the school teaches hunt seat and Western riding as well. “We have American Saddlebreds, Quarter horses and some Thoroughbreds.”

They also stand “a couple” of stallions, giving students the opportunity to learn how to collect, inseminate and operate a breeding program.

The school's riding teams compete on the intercollegiate show circuit. During the summer, students hit the County Fair Circuit with the school's Saddlebreds and horses of their own they may have brought with them.

“We are close enough to Lexington [60 miles to the east of the city] for students to take part in other types of horse-related affairs,” the director said. They also offer a coop program in which students can work at area farms and get credit for their summer work.

Colorado State University

This college offers an opportunity to learn about equine reproduction and other aspects of horse care at a school that pioneered many of today's breeding technologies. It also happens to be one of the country's most beautiful university campuses.

Located in Ft. Collins, Colo., the university is nestled against the Rocky Mountain foothills and alongside the banks of the Cache La Poudre River in the northern part of the state.

“Colorado State is the only major land-grant university offering a degree in equine science,” James C. Heird, dean of the school's Agricultural Science program explained.

“Approximately 400 students are studying equine science with 100 others taking a double major in equine science and ag business.”

The school is redirecting parts of its focus, something about which Heird is excited.

“We went through the curriculum last year and increased our business classes,” he said, adding they are considering offering a business minor.

Students' choice between the industry and science concentrations depends on their life goals. The industry concentration emphasizes management and business aspects for those who wish to pursue an equine production career. The science module stresses basic sciences and provides a background for those wishing to pursue veterinary medicine or other graduate programs.

The school is backing off from teaching equitation, something students can learn at area stables. They also are getting “out of the horse show business, although it certainly is a popular way to recruit students,” the dean said, adding they are creating western and hunt seat horse show teams. They also have a polo team.

“We teach things others don't teach,” he said, pointing out the school is considering adding polo classes in conjunction with the team.

“Professionals tell us that a student's understanding the issues of reproduction, nutrition and behavior - the science of the industry is essential. 'They need to help us understand how to make a living,'” Heird said explaining part of the reason for the school's redirection.

This spring, 50 Colorado State students will fly to Nashville, tour Shelbyville, Tenn., and Tennessee Walking Horse country, then move on to Lexington and Louisville to learn more about American Saddlebred and Thoroughbred programs.

Each year, a Texas Quarter Horse ranch sends 25 to 30 yearlings, each of which is assigned to a student. Young horse training and packing and outfitting are important parts of the curriculum.

Centenary College

A small college located in the New Jersey countryside about an hour outside New York City, Centenary offers a Bachelor of Science in Equine Studies as well as a minor and two-year associate’s degree.

The program focuses on development of professional technical skills. During their sophomore year, students select one of four degree tracks: general equine studies, riding instruction and training, equine business management or communication.

A series of therapeutic riding courses prepares a student to take the Registered Instructor examination offered by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). Course work covers a number of disabling conditions and the theory of how to adapt the riding situation for the individual needs of each client. A two-semester instruction practicum is required to gain the instructional skills needed to meet NARHA's standards.

A 65-acre Equestrian Center, located seven miles from the main campus features a USET, 220-foot by 100-foot heated indoor arena, indoor and outdoor arenas, a small outside course. The college owns 80 horses for students with a variety of riding levels in hunt seat equitation, hunters, jumpers and dressage.

Virginia Intermont

Virginia Intermont's academically-accredited four-year Equine Studies degree attracts students from throughout the United States and several foreign countries. More than 1,000 students are enrolled on the Bristol, Va., campus.

While the curriculum allows for a great deal of riding, the major emphasis of the Equine program is developing the skills to prepare students for careers in the horse industry. Courses in teaching, schooling, barn/show management, anatomy, first aid, and equine nutrition, combined with an excellent liberal arts core, are all part of that preparation.

Beginning with a strong commitment to traditional horsemanship, an emphasis on the mechanism of the horse, and the workings of rider position, students continue to gain expertise in hunters, hunter seat equitation, jumpers, dressage, combined training, barn management, and health-related issues.

The school also offers a pre-vet program, with students taking more science classes to go with their degree.

“We encourage a double major,” staff member Margaret Jones said. “Most students want to do horses in some fashion - to ride, train or have their own place. Before they leave here, they know what they are in for.”

The school hosts a Class “A” horse show at the Virginia Horse Center, with students bearing the responsibility for its production.

VI is the only college in the country with all three varsity show teams in the top three at 2004 Nationals and in the top five the previous year. They fielded the 2004 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association's National Champion team.

Hunt seat and dressage are the program's major focus.

Scottsdale Community College

Breathtaking desert scenery as well as a broad-based equine program attracts students to this Scottsdale, Ariz., school. The two-year program emphasizes management and the business nature of the horse industry, with horsemanship classes as electives. Students also may bring their own horses.

Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar College has been educating young women since 1906. Located on 3,250 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, its strong academic programs attract young women from across the country.

Equestrian sciences are rarely students' focus, although the school does offer an equine study certificate emphasizing management or teaching and schooling.

They have an “enormous” riding program, with 160 women taking hunter-jumper, equitation and field riding classes. The school has several show teams and offers riding lessons for students of all abilities. Students have the opportunity for many types of riding outside of the lesson program, including guided trail rides, recreational events and eight open competitions held on campus.

For further information, these web sites could offer some assistance:,, www.horses123 or

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