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Experience or Education for the Equestrian?

I have always loved horses, but when I was younger I could have never imagine having an equestrian career. Physically demanding work, extreme hours and work emergencies are big, big, huge! Employees with a more routine lifestyle or those who work in offices might consider a copy machine breaking down or a laptop crashing a normal work emergency. But when a horse or student gets hurt or becomes ill, well that is a real emergency! I just couldn’t imagine that sort of lifestyle. That being said, from mucker to groom, exercise rider to trainer, coach to clinician, secretary to steward, I do have an equestrian career, actually lots of them.

So for those of you who ask whether experience or education is more important when considering and equestrian career, I would say it depends on the specific career but likely you will need both! Every position I have ever held was a result of my various skills, some acquired through a formal educational experience while others came in the form of hands on experience.

Out of college I had obtained an accounting degree because I was hoping to go into the FBI. During college I was in a car accident that permanently changed my career path. Not knowing what to do with my life I returned to the horse world to work until I figured out what to do next. My first job out of college was on a farm in Pennsylvania as a working student. While I worked off my room and board and riding lessons through daily barn chores, I used my computer and accounting skills acquired through my formal education to receive a paycheck from that same facility.

This pattern would reoccur over and over during every phase of my life. I would work for a year or two in the sports or business world and then return to the equestrian industry, until one day I decided that I should stop fighting it and just accept that the equestrian industry is where I belonged. This is when I took the two positions at Sacred Heart University. First was as the part time head coach of their NCAA Division I equestrian program. Knowing that wouldn’t pay the bills, I again used my accounting degree as well as my M.Ed. in Sports and Recreation Administration to secure an Assistant AD position as well. It was because of both my education and my experience that this program was a good fit. It was also because of my formal education that I was able to write and demonstrate that the growing program was in need of a fulltime coach, and my position was changed as well as my job description, allowing me to devote the majority of my time to my equestrian athletes.

My advice for the student who is trying to prioritize college and working is to spend time and effort now considering the career you want and those employers you might want to work for. Ask them what skill sets are needed to obtain a job with them. If you are fortunate enough to talk to someone in person, make sure to have your current resume available. Some of those skills might be taught in the classroom while others are obtained through time spent in the industry. Remember fulltime work or fulltime school is not mandatory. But while you are prioritizing one in a fulltime way, you might consider the other part time to help you stay rounded and grounded.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you are considering a career:

  • What is the average starting salary of the position you are interested in?

  • Does this position come with benefits (medical, dental, life insurance)?

  • How much will I need for housing, utilities, phone, internet, transportation, gasoline?

  • How much should I expected to spending on work related items such as insurance, work specific clothing and equipment?

  • Other expenses such as animal care or competition expenses?

Sloane Milstein the a former NCAA and IHSA College Coach, an USEF Steward, and the author of The High School Equestrian’s Guide To College Riding. To purchase the book or seek additional guidance go to

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