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Classroom to stable: The life of a UNH equine major

As summer nears and the end of the semester looms on the horizon, UNH students are beginning to prepare for finals, including those in UNH’s equine studies program. Students in their final semester of equine studies are required to take a capstone class to prove that they are truly worthy of an equine degree.

To do so, students must meet competency in a wide variety of areas, including veterinary knowledge, first aid, horse and equipment maintenance, as well as identifying the type and quality of hay that is best for horses. And those are just basic skills that all equine students are expected to have—each of the three equine studies concentrations has additional competencies in which students are tested.   

However, despite the rigorous testing, for many the choice to join the equine program was simple.

“It was just like, [I’d] really rather not sit in an office nine-to-five,” said Christina Long, a freshman equine major, adding, “I’ve been riding since I was four.”

Long is currently an equine industry and management major, which is one of the three concentrations within the program.  UNH also offers equine science and therapeutic riding majors, the latter being the only collegiate program in New England.  The therapeutic riding major, which was added to the program about a decade ago, is just one reason why UNH’s equine program has been experiencing steady growth.

“We had about 24 students 10 years ago,” said Sarah Hamilton Rigg, director of the equine program, “We now have 92 students in our four-year program.”

Horses have essentially always been a part of UNH, stemming back to when working horses were used in everyday agricultural life, though the class-based equine program only dates back to around the 1960s. Today, the UNH equine program is thriving, thanks in part to a number of factors that make the program unique.

For example, students here regularly get hands-on experience with horses, a feature that some other schools don’t have.

“You go out and actually work with the horses,” said Kayla Redman, a freshman equine management major. “It’s easier for me to learn that way.”

Rigg, who agreed that working regularly with the horses gives students a leg up on the competition, said, “It’s not uncommon for students to be in the barn multiple times a day.”

Another factor that makes the UNH program special is that it places a surprisingly strong emphasis on the business behind the equine industry. Rigg believes this is essential, given that much of the industry comprises small businesses, sole proprietors and independent operators. This business background helps UNH students stand out from those at other schools, landing many fruitful internships at locations ranging from equine rehab facilities and animal pharmaceutical companies to breeding farms.

“One of my students once personally delivered 64 quarter horse babies during his internship,” Rigg said, noting that the experience gained from these required internships helps UNH equine students get jobs after graduation.

Students with equine degrees has been a number of career paths available to them, such as in the racing industry, breeding, animal health and nutrition, equine physiology and stable management.

The success of the equine program can also be seen through the performance of UNH’s two riding teams. The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team, which rides ‘flat’ and over fences, have been regional champion multiple times in previous years.

UNH’s Intercollegiate Dressage Association team, that participates in what is sometimes described as ‘ballet on horseback,’ has had similar success on a regional level and even won the national championship in 2009, making UNH the only state university to ever do so. This is especially impressive given that both teams are merely extensions of the academic program, whereas most other schools consider it a club or even a varsity sport.

While riding, either casually or competitively, isn’t a requirement of the equine program, opportunities abound for those who are interested in learning.

“They teach you everything from the ground up,” Long said.

All in all, while UNH’s equine studies program might not be the biggest or most well known area of study, it gives an example of the variety of options available to students. 

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