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My future

Hi, hope everyone is staying healthy and happy!

I am an upcoming senior in high school with the strongest passion for horses. I’ve been riding for over 11 years with all my experience in Hunter, jumpers, and equitation. I’ve trained countless horses along with my personal one that I have now. It’s now time to start thinking about my future, but I am clueless. I recently discovered Findlay University in Ohio, which has one of the best riding programs in the country. I know of quite a few people who currently go there and LOVE it. However, you have to study something equine-related in order to be a part of the program. This program helps people get internships and jobs once they graduate from college. In all reality, I would love to get an equine business degree and open up my own barn, managing it along with flipping horses. Though I think I might need a reality check. I would like to be successful and be able to easily afford my lifestyle.

So, what I am asking is if you were in my shoes, or have been in my shoes, what college/career route would you take? If you have an equine business degree, what is your career now? Are you financially happy with it?

Another thing, my parent’s arent supportive of this dream a single bit, putting me in the position to have to pay for college completely myself. I do have a college fund, and they would allow me to access it upon choosing another dream, which I have zero interest to do anything else.

Thanks so much!

There have been alot of threads on this.

Generally college equine studies programs don’t seem to be that useful in getting started in the business. What’s more useful is getting a good competition record and apprenticing to a good trainer. What level are you competing at as a junior?

There are two ways to do horses. One is as an amateur with a good paying nonhorse job.

The other is as a pro. In order to be a top pro you need to be very good in your discipline, you need connections, etc. You need some capital to get started on your own. Most pros honestly don’t make that much but you do get to be around horses 24/7. A business diploma is very useful.


@Scribbler has said it well. The professional horsemen/women I know didn’t get there going to college, but rather doing what Scribbler suggested – and to the last (I only knew/know 3 horse professionals who actually, “make a living” riding/training --leaving out my vet and farrier who also make a living “with horses,” but neither rides) -the three I know have “independent means” --ie, one is supported by a wealthy husband, family money kind of wealthy; the second is supported by parents (now in their late 70s but still shelling for the 50+ child to have a training stable – he shows occasionally now, mostly flies around the US judging), and the 3rd as a teenager gained a sponsor --a titled woman in England with a family fortune who buys horses and supports his riding career. He rides and trains and does clinics, but at the level he is, I suspect he’s still being supported. Haven’t talked to him in years, so could be wrong.

Careers that seemed to support horse ownership and allow enough free time for the person to ride have been well covered on this BB, what I saw most often when my kiddos were at the upper levels was medical careers --as in surgeons and anesthesiologists. Those folks could schedule jobs early in the week then afford to fly to the venue where the trainer had the horse ready to rock – both flew their own planes to the venue . . .

Unless you come from money, horses are a hobby that you need to get a good job to pay for. What are you passionate about? What are your interests? Majoring in horses is not lucrative. If you like working outside, explore other outside careers, such as agriculture or forestry. Not a lot of pay, but they put you in rural areas where it’s easier to keep horses. Other outside ideas are zookeeper (you need a degree in animal science), veterinarian (poor choice unless you have the passion of a scientist mixed with problem solving), or look at environmental careers. Field biologist, environmental scientist, or other “green” careers would be a wise path.


I agree that the equine science degrees aren’t particularly useful in finding gainful employment. However, something every working horseperson needs is a basic business education. So I think the best plan is to find a good trainer to apprentice with; and to get a business degree/take business classes.

The most needed skills for pro horsepeople are basic accounting and bookkeeping, customer service and marketing.

That way, if you burn out on the horses, you’ll have some marketable skills to fall back on.

Flipping horses can be profitable, but you have to do it on a pretty big scale to actually pay yourself a living wage. Overhead is high and so is risk. So consider what other horse related skills you can add to your resume. Teaching lessons is always a solid choice. Perhaps pick a trainer to apprentice with that will also mentor you as an instructor, and refer students to you? An easy way to get started is to be the instructor who is willing to travel to students; most established instructors prefer to stay at their own facilities so it’s an easy way to build a book of business.

Do you braid? Clip? Do leg work/rehab? Break babies? You don’t HAVE to do any of these things if you don’t want to, but you do need multiple revenue sources, and it’s ideal to have some they are not seasonal or weather dependent.

Some background on what forms my perspective:

I dropped out of college to ride, because the amount/type of riding I could do while in school wasn’t meeting my needs.

I apprenticed myself to a wonderful local trainer who was a terrifc mentor and taught me to train and to teach, and also refered a lot of business to me over the years.

I took a lot of different jobs to gain broad experience - worked at a breeding farm, an equine vet clinic, galloped racehorses.

One very hard winter I ended up waiting tables at a local restaurant because the weather shut down most of my other work. <<< This is something I am counseling you to avoid.

I ended up running a small, local boarding/lesson/training business, and I always had a project horse/flip in the barn, sometimes two. This worked well because I wasn’t dependent on the income from the project horses, if I sold one at a loss, it wasn’t the end of the world.

Things I wished I had done differently - the business education!!!

  • When I was running my own place, I finally took a basic accounting class and it was eye-opening. And I really could have used the customer service and marketing piece.
  • Avoid imposter syndrome. I undercharged for services because I was afraid that no one would hire me for the same rate as other established trainers/instructors. So know your market and know what the market will bear.
  • Pace yourself. Burn out is real.

Best of luck to you, whatever you decide.


OP, after you graduate high school go work at a show barn for the summer, I believe you will come to think that summer was two or three years long… at least the one summer I worked with saddlehorses in Kentucky seemed to be that long as it was at least one to two shows a week. I only had to care for six head, but my god the amount of tack that was always needing cleaning, preparation for the NEXT show or class was endless…then all the behind the curtain stuff, owners who were jerks and on.

Everyone here has advise but only you can decide your path.


Both my daughter and I had similar interests and met similar challenges when we were respectively approaching high school graduation. I also know of one person who went to Findlay, did an apprenticeship and made a living (or tried to) in the horse business. What gave us a dose of reality was, for my daughter and I, working student positions. For the Findlay grad, the realities of economy, at the time, a very depressed economy making being able to support oneself with horses alone as a source of income simply impossible. So for me, I went to college, vet school and after graduation and an internship, worked full-time while building my own breeding program. I simply continued, as a hobby, producing, training, showing and selling my horses on the side. This way I could afford the pleasure of it, not be forced or pressured to do it (thus still love it) and afford to raise a family. Everyone has to find their own path; so, there is no one way, no right way…there is just your way.


one issue is scale of operation… we were/are just a small time owners, but our stock is very competitive and desired by many… over time we had been offered considerable sums for a few of our horses… but they were not for sale nor ever intended to be.

By those in the business, we were considered Fools (well at least I was when I turned down a at the time an unheard of sum for my mare… told the buyer the horse was not mine by my kids’ …which was the reason we had that horse in the first place …and she was a very nice horse)

I suspect if we had been in “the business” then those horses would have been on their way much sooner than at the point of where they had become incredibly good as we would have been looking for the next great one.

What I am getting at if OP has great love for horses, if they enter into this in a small way the attachment to the horse(s) may prevent the sale of them.

(and the only way we made money with horses was the land that we bought to keep them on)


Here is how you can get that reality check.

Where in the country do you want to be? Take a look at real estate listings for farms in that area. How much do they cost to buy? Assume a 20% down payment.

Take a look at the websites of farms in that general area and look for their rate sheets. What services do they offer? What do they charge for those services? How many stalls do they have on the property? Compare the type of operation that they run to the one that you would like to run. What is the average income that would come in per stall?

Think about the cost of staff. If you will be managing the barn, who else will be doing the work? How many people would you need? Assume that you will be paying them a rate that you yourself would like to earn for that work- plug in $15/hr at minimum.

Think about the cost of hay and grain, of equipment like tractors, trucks, trailers, water buckets, pitchforks, and ongoing expenses like replacing the 5th board that Little Fluffy broke in a week.

This website suggests that the annual salary of a barn owner is $75k annually nationwide. That number makes me raise my eyebrows for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s not clear whether these folks were exclusively farm owners or farm owners who also had a separate 9-5 that supported their ability to manage the property. Either way, take the information that you just considered about the costs of operating a farm. Assume you can make $75k. Look at housing costs in your area. At $75k annually, taxed at the current rate, will you be able to afford housing in proximity to the farm (assume it will be 1/3 of your income,) a car, the rent or mortgage on the farm, groceries, clothes, home and farm insurance, health insurance? Is that going to fit in your definition of “easily afford”?

Then think about the additional cost of student loans on top of that.

What kind of salary would you need to bring in to “easily afford” the lifestyle that you want?

Is that feasible if you consider the costs of operating an equine business in the area you want?

I’m responding to you as I would to my sister- as I did respond to my sister when she was considering an equine studies degree. I know exactly one person out of easily 50 who completed an equine-focused degree and are also working in the horse world in a job that provides them with enough income to live on and health insurance. That person loves her dog and loves her job, but isn’t making enough money to feel secure in also owning a horse of her own right now.

You are going to be graduating college into a job market that will probably suck. Sorry. (I did too. It was not fun.) I would strongly advise you to minimize your loans and maximize your ability to work in multiple fields. An all-around business degree can be combined with different certifications to move into quite a few industries that can help you pay for the horse-owning lifestyle you’re passionate about. It can also help you run a horse business if you decide that’s what you want to do. Use your existing contacts in the horse world to look for internships and summer working student positions to get the hands-on experience you want, and something to put on your resume when you graduate. (You can also spin these on a resume for corporate jobs later! I used my experience managing horse shows when applying for personnel management positions at my corporate job.) Do not limit yourself to a horse-only degree when there are lots of degrees that can keep you in touch with or enmeshed in the horse world and also give you options outside of it.


One of my trainers got her degree from Findlay, 10+ years ago. She came in having already been an instructor, barn manager, and was working for Findlay as she completed her degree. As of now, of the the people she knew from her class, only her and one other person was still working with horses. Many had stopped riding entirely. Most had changed careers to something that would allow them to ride on the side. Both her and the other person had a significant other who could help with the health insurance and cost of living aspects. Only a very specific type of person will really make horses their entire life. And that degree is expensive enough already, you don’t want to have to go back later for something that will translate in the real world if your realize this is not for you.

I also highly recommend a working student position, both because it will really show you if this is what you want to do, and also because I feel like having that experience and the networking that would come from it is how you will really succeed in the equestrian world. If you still want to go into horses get a degree in business - its astounding how many professionals do not run their businesses well/correctly/professionally.


I am debt-free, my SO is still paying college loans. We are both 15ish years out of college. So from my experience and knowledge, please get a degree that allows you to use that college fund. I’m NOT saying give up “your dream,” heck I still have a horsey dream too and I’m nearly 40, but I AM saying get something with portability. Portability means it has use both in the non-horse world and in the horse world. Marketing, accounting, business, even a STEM degree could be useful.

What are your favorite subjects in school? Or what do you do well in? My crazy mother wanted free vet care, so she was pushing me in that direction. And I did/do have an interest in feeds and feeds research, so compromised on a basic animal science (production) path however… I well and truly suck at science. Like, walk out of an exam thinking I got a solid B, only to fail horrifically. I did not have a fund (said crazy mother had spent it) and was going to school on grants because I had zero financial support. I had to maintain a certain GPA and was taking various English classes as electives because I’m that nerd… After struggling through 3.5 semesters, I switched to liberal arts and graduated on time with an English degree and two minors.

My dream has changed as I got older. I’m comfortably middle-class and own my own farm, which I was able to design and build on my own, cue Destiny Child’s Independent Woman. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to buy another horse or piece of equipment or upgrade my vehicle, and I’m doing it as a police officer. Does anything in the paragraph above even come close to forecasting that career field? No. My dream at 18 and my dream now aren’t even close enough to shout “hello” to each other. Let your dream evolve and don’t paint yourself into a corner now with an equine studies degree.


Picking up on the funding.

Go to a good affordable college that’s not in the middle of a city. Get a degree in business with some agriculture or animal science courses as available. Use your college fund to pay for it.

During summer vacations go be a working student for the biggest name trainer you can find. Use that to decide if there is a place for you in rge horse world that will actually pay. If you have time during term take riding lessons near campus.

You are 17 or 18. You have been riding in some form since you were 6 or 7 but probably only with real focus for a couple of years. What have you accomplished that’s concrete? What height have you competed at, on what circuit, and with what results? Have you started green horses? Have you been a working student? Who is your trainer? What have they accomplished? What contacts do they have? What level is your barn at? What do other riders accomplish? Where do you rank among them? What kind of horse do you own and what’s his level?

People hire coaches to get results. Therefore you are better off showing you can get results via strong competition than taking an equine studies degree.

Honestly unless you have been a top junior hothoused towards the eq finals with tons of trainer support, most 17 year old riders are at best advanced intermediate with a few holes in their skill set, and most are coming from low key barns with only local competition.

If you want to go pro, you need to up your game considerably in young adulthood. I know it sounds like equine majors should do this, but they dont. They don’t produce the riding and credentials that matter on the equestrian world.

Competition scores and apprenticing to a high performance barn will do that.

Meanwhile get a useful degree that can be used in and out of horse world.

If you go to be a working student you might find life at the higher end is physically and emotionally tough, that you dont ride well enough to be allowed much access to good horses, and that doing horses for money sucks all the joy out of it.

Many people feel that way. They get a good job unrelated to horses and become amateur owners.


What happens to the college fund if you don’t use it for a degree they approve of?

Will they allow you to defer college while you spend 6 months to a year trying the horse life?

I recommend speaking to a financial planner who can help you model your future retirement with college debt and a a low income/higher health risk job vs no debt and a higher income, and a career analyst who can help find a horse adjacent field that actually inspires you, vs slogging through a boring degree to get a well paid job you hate.

These two people should give you a sharp reality check, and some great and exciting ideas on how you can avoid working hard physical jobs at well past retirement age…

I also recommend just taking the degree money and getting a degree no matter what, right away. You’re so young you have no idea what you’ll discover in those few years that might change your life. Good luck!



Pretty much any degree is more valuable than a horse degree.


I have an “equine business management degree” from a well-known and respected school with a strong equine program…I’m going on my 11th year as an active duty Air Force officer. I was in horses professionally for about four years and left due to burnout. You couldn’t pay me any amount of money to go back to that. I’m now an amateur with one horse, and my career comfortably pays for my horse habit. Horse and I are flying to the United Kingdom shortly for my next military assignment.

If you want an actual reality check, take a gap year and work for a show barn. Get in with someone reputable that will help you network. That should put a lot of things into perspective (long days, short nights, no weekends, living paycheck to paycheck, insurance costs, injuries, etc). If, after that year, you still want to be a horse pro, get a degree in something useful (ie. accounting, business management, STEM, etc) and use your college fund to pay for it. Then take the contacts you made from your gap year/employment at that reputable show barn and build your resume/client base working for an established pro.

SO MANY PEOPLE are horse crazy and insistent as 17 year olds (myself included) that all they want to do in life is horses. I wanted to be the next big hunter pro. When I was a senior in HS/freshman in college, that was the only dream in my head. Life has a funny way of turning itself on its head. Don’t marry yourself to a career at 17. Take a gap year and experience real horse pro life. Then take that time during college to explore other careers and paths you never knew about before. The horses will be there for you, either way.


I would add that a horse pro works primarily for other people. Your job is facilitating other people, paying customers, to ride. That means training other people’s horses, giving riding lessons, and taking them to shows. Your own riding will often go on the back burner and you may need to sell your most promising horses as part of your business model. You will deal with clients who may be unrealistic, entitled, nervous, trying to cut costs, etc.

If what you really want is to have a close connection with one or two lifetime horses that lets you escape from the pressures of the human world, get a good nonhorse career and be an ammie owner.


I’m a professional musician. Used to work with a young woman who was crazy talented: when she was 15 she took over her teacher’s studio when he left, has gotten to play with Slash, and has won a zillion awards & people actually pay to hear her play live & buy her stuff on iTunes. She got into Berkley School of Music. She decided it made no sense to spend a fortune & take out loans to get a degree there. And she’s right. While a music degree is nice, you don’t need one to perform. What she did instead was take a year between HS & college for a recording internship (strangely, we have two of the best sound engineers in the US living in our podunk county) while continuing tp teach & making a push to get her name out as a performer. The next year, she started at a local university as a Business major. I don’t think she even minors in music.

At 22, she’s light years ahead of anyone else I can think of in her music career. Honestly, if I could go back & redo it all I would do exactly what she is doing. Give yourself the gift of options in life. Of everyone I know in the horse industry, my boss is the one who makes the most money. And he didn’t even finish high school. I agree that (unfortunately) it is important to have a college degree in the US. It doesn’t have to be in horses to work in horses, though. I know of only one with an equine concentrated degree. She does work in the horse industry. However, she has her job based off connections made as a working student in HS & summers home from college. Not from the degree itself.

My daughter is 14 and is interested in schools with riding teams. Don’t get me wrong – I love the IEA & think it’s great. I’m just not totally convinced of the relative value of the IEA program for people that already compete extensively on the normal circuits like she does. So there’s that, too. And lots of colleges have teams & don’t require an equine major to take part.


First of all, I’m looking at their website right now and when you drill down to the individual pages it says you do not need to be an equestrian major to participate in most of the riding activities like the IHSA teams and the student clubs. So you could go to that school for some other major and still participate in the equestrian program. If you absolutely have your heart set on owning a barn, I would at least see what your parents would think if you major in general business and perhaps minor in one of the equestrian related areas. That would open up a lot more possible doors if you change your mind or if the barn owner dream doesn’t work out.

If you can, I would look for some kind of working student job this summer and see if you feel any differently after a few months actually living the life.

I can tell you right now that starting out with a bunch of student loan debt will not be fun for you and will make attempting to start your own business that much harder. If you have an opportunity to get some or all of your education paid for, do what you need to do in order to have that happen.


I remember how much it sucked to realize that both owning a barn/being a trainer AND having a big financial cushion were not generally compatible.

I work in healthcare, make very good money working less than 40 hours a week which blesses me with more free time than the average person. Do I sometimes wish I were a professional? Yes. But I’m much happier knowing I have a flexible degree that allows me to pursue horses seriously in my free time and get all my bills paid and retirement funded as well. It’s an option depending on your interests that will afford you the extra time to pursue a horse career if you still want it after a gap year as suggested above.

Nothing is saying you can’t get a more broad and useful degree, and work in something even unrelated to horses, and still land in the right place to become the trainer or owner you’d love to be. Just from personal experience, I am very grateful for my cushion so I can really enjoy my passion.


I know 4 or 5 Findlay equine program grads. Not one has a career in horses, 7-12 years after graduation. For example, one is a real estate agent, another “married well” and sells those pyramid scheme products and another bartends at a super fancy hotel bar…all to afford their horses as adult amateurs and all still paying down their college debt.

If this is a road you want to go down…

  1. I highly suggest getting at least a 2 year degree in business administration (community college is a steal when you start to compare costs). I don’t know who used the word “portability” up thread, but it would apply to your horse business as well as anything else you may choose to do in the future.
  2. As others have mentioned: get a working student or groom position at a barn. Long hours, low pay but you get actual experience…which goes a long way. Depending on the situation you are in this is also a chance to network. When I was a working student I got to hold horses for the vet, chiropractor, saddle fitter and farrier. Ask pertinent questions. My providers were happy to chat and show me stuff as they worked. Pay attention to the horse as they work, be efficient swapping horses (tuck Dobbin in his stall to get Charlie on the crossties for the farrier, THEN make the 10 minute walk to turn Dobbin out). I actually ended up using my vet and saddle fitter for non horsey job recommendations!
  3. When the pay isn’t enough as a groom/WS, get a job bartending or waiting tables. Builds on customer service skills, efficiency, and pays well if you can do it well. You will be exhausted…but you will have money for groceries. I swore I was done bartending 5 or 6 times…but always came back to it when life showed me who really was in charge. I was hired 3 times at the same restaurant over many years because I was good and reliable worker. Every time I gave my 2 week notice the manager would say: “Just let us know if you need to come back. We will get shifts, even if it is 1 night a week.”

Good luck…I would never want to be a junior or senior in high school ever again.