Types of Jobs for Working with Horses: Career Options and Requirements

Oct 03, 2019

Programs that prepare students to work with horses typically cover horse management and care. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for equine studies graduates.

If you are looking for a career with horses, you may be interested in careers such as an equine veterinarian, massage therapist or horseback riding instructor, who all have the ability to spend their days working with our equine companions. Veterinarians earn the highest salaries, but also need to have completed the most amount of schooling.

Essential Information

There are many different career options available for people who like to work with horses, each with varying degrees of educational requirements. If you are compassionate, patient, and strong, an equine occupation is a good fit for you. You also have to demonstrate an understanding of horse anatomy and knowledge about horse handling.

Careers Equine Veterinarian Equine Massage Therapist Equine Horseback Riding Instructor
Required Education Doctor of Veterinary Medicine High-school diploma High-school diploma
Other Requirements State license Horse experience or training Horseback riding skills, optional certification beneficial
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 18% for all veterinarians 16% for all animal care and service workers 12% for all self-enrichment education teachers
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $93,830 for all veterinarians $33,450 for all animal care and service workers $38,720 for all self-enrichment education teachers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Some career choices available to those who wish to interact with horses on the job include equine veterinarian, equine massage therapist and horseback riding instructor.

Equine Veterinarian

Veterinarians have the option to focus their practice specifically on treating horses by becoming equine veterinarians. Like other veterinarians, equine veterinarians diagnose and treat diseases and other health problems in their animal patients. These animal doctors may perform surgery, treat fractures and wounds, administer vaccinations, prescribe medications and perform euthanasia as necessary. Most equine veterinarians have their own private practices. They may travel to visit their horse patients and advise owners regarding horse behavior, housing, breeding and nutrition.

Some equine veterinarians may also work in basic, applied or clinical research. Those who work in basic research explore different topics out of curiosity simply to expand human knowledge, while those who work in applied research develop ways to put new knowledge to practical use. Those who work in clinical research search for ways to treat various health problems.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job positions for all veterinarians are expected to increase by 18% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the national average across all jobs. Job opportunities in large animal practice will be better, since most veterinarians want to work in small animal practice with pets. The BLS reports that, as of May 2018, the median annual salary for veterinarians was $93,830.

Pre-veterinary students must take certain prerequisite courses during their undergraduate years. These courses may include inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, nutrition, genetics, biochemistry, microbiology, English, social science and mathematics. Students should also gain experience working with animals. Although it is not a strict requirement, earning a bachelor's degree can make applicants more competitive for veterinary school admission.

Veterinary school typically takes four years to complete and results in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) or Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris (V.M.D.). New graduates must be licensed before they may begin practicing veterinary medicine. Licensure requirements vary by state, but usually include passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). Some states require additional examinations, which test clinical competency or state laws and regulations.

After earning their degree and license, veterinarians who want to work exclusively with horses must first complete a 1-year internship before entering a residency in equine medicine, which usually takes an additional three years to complete. Residents may choose to earn a Master of Science while concurrently completing their residency. During their residency, residents complete rotations in different aspects of equine medicine, such as internal medicine, radiology, pathology, surgery and anesthesia. They may also participate in a research project.

Equine veterinarians have the option to earn board certification in their specialty to show that they hold a high level of clinical competence and knowledge in equine medicine. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) offers board certification in Equine Practice. Those who would like to sit for the board certification exam must have six years of professional experience in their veterinary specialty. Certification is valid for a period of ten years and may be renewed by either sitting for an examination or accumulating continuing education credits.

Equine Massage Therapist

Since many horses are used for racing and show, equine massage therapists are needed to help the horses relax, increase circulation, reduce inflammation, relieve tension, improve fitness levels and increase range of motion. Massage can play an important role in speeding up recovery from injuries, as well as training the muscles to work more efficiently. When horses feel their best, they are more willing to work with their riders and perform better. Massage is typically performed both before and after activity for maximum benefit.

Equine massage therapists should be familiar with horse anatomy and soft tissue physiology. Although there are no formal requirements for becoming an equine massage therapist, courses that teach these principles along with equine massage techniques may serve as helpful preparation for this career. Courses may be completed either at home or in person. In-person courses may last as little as five days, or as long as six weeks. Some courses may result in a certificate upon completion.

The position of equine therapist falls under the category of animal care and service workers. The BLS reports a much faster than average increase of 16% in jobs for animal care and service workers during 2018 to 2028. As of May 2018, the BLS records a median annual salary of $33,450 for this group.

Horseback Riding Instructor

Horseback riding instructors teach people how to ride horses. Instructors may choose to teach multiple styles of riding, or focus on a specific style, such as English, Western or trail riding. They may also choose to specialize in therapeutic riding instruction and work with people who have disabilities. Horseback riding instructors may train riders in walking, trotting, cantering, jumping, grooming, tacking and caring for horses.

The BLS predicts that job opportunities for self-enrichment education teachers, which include horseback riding instructors, will increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average. As of May 2018, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for all self-enrichment education teachers was $38,720, with the middle half earning between $26,760 and $56,390.

Horseback riding instructors should be more skilled than the level of riding that they teach. They should also be very familiar with horse care and the proper use of tack so as to prevent injury to both the rider and the horse. Personal characteristics that can be helpful to the job include a caring and patient attitude, as well as strong leadership and teaching abilities. Earning optional certification can help horseback riding instructors advance their careers since it communicates to potential clients that they are highly skilled and committed to safety. Two organizations that offer certification are the American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) and the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA).

While there are no formal requirements to test for ARIA certification, the CHA requires that certification candidates attend a skills clinic prior to testing for certification. The certification exams, which consist of written, oral and practical components, test a person's teaching abilities, safety knowledge and horse handling abilities. Both the ARIA and CHA offer different certification levels, from assistant instructor to advanced instructor. They also both offer certifications in different specialties, such as English and Western style riding, dressage, trail riding, show jumping and therapeutic riding, though the exact specialties offered vary between the two organizations. The ARIA requires that certification be renewed two more times at 5-year intervals by re-testing, while the CHA requires continuing education credits to be submitted every three years indefinitely in order to maintain certification.

Equine veterinarians must hold a degree in veterinary medicine, be licensed and complete a 1-year internship prior to a residency in order to practice. Equine massage therapists need no extra formal training beyond comfort and experience with horse anatomy, although courses are available that can help prepare them for their career. Horseback riding instructors also need experience and skills with horses, and professional certification is available for the different riding specialties they can teach.

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