If you aren’t 100% sure what you want to do when you get out into the real world, choosing what to study at university, or even deciding what GCSEs and A levels to take can feel like an impossible task. Instead of worrying about the future, instead think about what you enjoy doing and what you find interesting and make your decisions based on that. Perhaps with your love of horses, an equine related degree could be for you. Ruby Butchers of www.equipepper.com gets up close and personal with what’s out there and what you can expect to learn if you decide to go this route after school.
There are currently 40 colleges and universities around Great Britain which provide Higher Education in equine related subjects. Each of these offer different types of qualification and different experiences. Some of these are very practical and hands on, preparing you for a practical role in the industry. Whereas other courses have more theory, teaching you why a horse moves and behaves a certain way, giving you the skills for a more specialist job within the industry.
Some of these courses are at big, mainstream universities where you can experience city and student life to the full, whereas others are agricultural colleges in the countryside with smaller, quieter campuses. So with higher equine education, there really is something for everyone.
So what will you learn?
Despite what many people seem to think, studying an equine degree isn’t just riding and mucking out for three years. No matter the type of degree you decide to study, you can expect it to include some science, business and practical skills.
Practical Horse Husbandry
You will learn about the correct way to handle and care for horses, often following the British Horse Society (BHS) guidelines. Most courses will expect their students to be able to put a headcollar on and lead a horse safely as a bare minimum. On a more practical course students will likely also learn how to:
- Correctly fit tack and rugs
- Perform general yard duties to a professional standard
- Lunge, long rein, ride
- Handle young horses, broodmares and stallions
- Clip and turnout
Even if you have worked at several yards or owned your own horses, don’t be surprised if you are told you are doing something wrong. Each university will have a set of guidelines they will teach and expect you to follow. There might not be anything wrong with what you are doing other than it isn’t how they expect you to do it. This can be the same throughout the industry and you need to learn to adapt your practices to suit where you are at the time.
One of the best things about the equine industry is that no matter what you are interested in doing, you can nearly always do it employed by someone or working for yourself. Because of this, most equine courses will help give you the skills you need to build your own business and to help you be successful in finding a job in the industry.
During business based modules you could learn how to:
- Build and Design Websites
- Supervise staff
- Organise events/shows
- Sell Yourself
- Write a good CV
- Build a portfolio
- Improve your organisation
- Advertise a product/brand/company
- Work as a team
- Stay within a budget
- Perform well in interviews
Everything you learn will link back to the equine industry, also improving your understanding of the equine world. However most, if not all, of these skills are important for jobs in other industries too.
Training, Riding and Coaching
No matter how academic or hands on a degree is, it will still cover the basics of training and riding, such as the use of the scales of training and why they are so important to building up the horse correctly.
A practical degree will not just be about improving your own riding. It will cover training methods, common exercises and how useful they are for different types of horse. Riding modules will often include a level of coaching, lesson planning and rider psychology. Some courses might even offer you the chance to take your BHS riding and teaching exams at a cheaper rate as part of your degree.
More technical courses will go on to look at what different exercises and technologies do to the horse’s body and how this information can be used to improve performance. During his career Valegro regularly used the water treadmill and massage therapy is becoming hugely popular in event horses. You could find out why top riders are choosing to include these ideas in their training and learn how it improves a horse’s performance.
Breeding and Genetics
On any equine degree you can expect to cover the basics of breeding such as; the reproductive cycle, the breeding season, basic reproductive anatomy and differences between the thoroughbred and sports horse industries. However on breeding specific modules you could also cover:
- Reproductive Technologies
- Inherited Diseases/Conditions
- Selective Breeding
- Breeding Strategies
- Studbooks and Grading
- Breeding Practices
If the university has access to a stud you could have a lot of practical experiences and demonstrations. Some courses will allow you to witness and maybe even take part in; stallion collections, teasing, inseminations, scans and the birth of foals!
Feeding and Nutrition
Correct nutrition is vital for a happy healthy horse so you can expect every equine degree to cover the basics of feeding horses. This may include learning why forage is so important to the horse, how much a horse should be eating and why parasite control is needed.
If a degree has a lot of nutrition based modules you could also learn the following:
- Common feed ingredients and what they do
- Different types of hay/grass and what they are good for
- What essential vitamins and minerals do
- How the horse’s dietary needs change drastically from birth to old age
- What components make a good feed
- How to choose feed for individual horses
- How to work out how much to feed different horses
Even if you aren’t interested in working in the feed industry in the future, this knowledge can help you make the best feed choices for your horse and any other horses in your care. Which can only benefit you in the future.
Injury and Disease
All equine degrees will cover the most common injuries and diseases. You will learn what causes them, the symptoms, how they are diagnosed and how they are treated.
For diseases you can expect to learn about biosecurity, quarantine and isolation. It is important for anyone involved in the equine industry to have a basic knowledge of common diseases and how to prevent them spreading. On more scientific courses you could also learn about the immune system and specific diseases in detail.
Injury is one of the most common reasons for a horse having time off or retiring. An equine degree will teach you how to recognise an injury or lameness as well as giving you a basic understanding of why certain injuries can occur and how they are treated. You will look at how muscle, bone and tendon break and heal differently and how many wear and tear injuries can be prevented with good management from an early age.
Behaviour and Welfare
Every equine degree will include some behaviour and welfare modules or lectures. This is important as no matter what your future role in the industry is, the horse’s welfare is always extremely important. You will learn about current issues in the industry and what is being done to improve them.
Understanding horse behaviour is very important when working with horses. Not only can it keep you safe, but it can tell you if something is wrong with the horse. On any equine degree you will cover how to recognise different emotions in horses such as; happy, content, angry, stressed and scared. Most courses will then expand on this to also cover:
- Why horses exhibit certain behaviours
- How horses learn behaviours
- How horses interact with each other
- Behaviours which might be caused by health issues
- How management can affect behaviour
What subjects and grades do you need?
The entry requirements for equine degrees change drastically between universities and largely depend on how technical and scientific the course is. However, this does mean that if you don’t get your first choice, you always have a good chance of getting one of your reserve choices!
Most universities ask for at least 4-5 GCSEs at C grade or higher. These should include English and maths and/or a science. If you didn’t get C or above in the core subjects at GCSE you might want to consider resitting these before applying for university. Your teachers will be able to help you with this.
Most equine courses ask for BCC-BBC grades at A Level. They usually like to see at least one science subject (Biology, Human Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Further Maths, Psychology) but many don’t require a science A Level. A few courses ask specifically for Biology or Human Biology at A Level.
If you haven’t chosen your A Level options yet, it is worth looking at some universities and courses you like and what subjects they like you to have. Some universities will even let you on the course with slightly lower grades if you have done multiple sciences at A Level.
Typical BTEC entry requirements are DMM-DDM, usually in a relevant or related area.
The equestrian industry is huge with so many different types of job available to an equine degree graduate. A degree can give you the practical skills and contacts to work for top riders on the show circuit, or give you the marketing skills to work for one of your favourite brands from the comfort of a warm office and everything in between!
Here is a list of jobs you could end up with after graduating with an equine degree, but there are plenty more out there:
- Riding Instructor/Coach
- Equine Body Worker
- Feed Specialist
- Head Groom/Stud Groom
- Yard/Stable Manager
- Journalist/Freelance Writer
- Vet Assistant/Nurse
- Work Rider
- Sports Psychologist
- Saddler (only on specific courses or with extra training)
- Equine Dentist (only on specific courses or with extra training)
Did You Know? A good grade in a scientific equine degree could also get you into veterinary school.
It’s also important to remember that just because you have an equine degree, that doesn’t mean you can only ever work in the equine industry. If in 5 years time you decide you want to do something completely different with your life, many employers won’t care what your degree is in, just that you had the ability and dedication to complete a degree.
Extra Curricular activities
Extra curricular activities are a huge part of any university. But if you decide to study somewhere which has equine courses, there are bound to be horsey clubs and activities you can take part in, even if you aren’t studying an equine course yourself.
There might be an equestrian club which has social nights as well as organising trips to horse shows and events. Or there could be riding lessons to take part in and riding teams to try out for. There might even be opportunities to take part in courses, demos and workshops being held on campus to broaden your knowledge and understanding of the equine world.
Going to University is can be a very daunting step to take, so make sure you choose to study something you think you will enjoy at somewhere you feel you can be happy.