Whether you are living in southern Minnesota, the Twin Cities area or the northern part of the state, an education in equine studies is close by.

With more educational programs than ever, Minnesota schools are offering students the opportunity to learn about the equine industry and get hands-on experience.

Rochester Community and Technical College’s equine science associate program is only three years old, but in that time the number of classes and students has increased. According to Julie Christie, program director of the equine science program and instructor at RCTC, some students in the program drive to Rochester from as far as the Twin Cities and Iowa.

When the program first started the students were typically older and established in the equine industry in some capacity.

“We are getting a lot more conventional students now,” Christie said. This is due to getting the word out to students in high school that RCTC offers an equine program.

The majors in the equine program are horse husbandry, riding and training, and equine business practices. According to Christie, RCTC also offers a certificate program that takes about one year to complete.

“We have hands-on classes,” Christie said. This fact is something that interests the students in the equine program. With some classes, students may be on a horse as much as nine times per week.

While they hope to continue to grow the program, Christie is adamant about keeping classes small. “Improve quality, not quantity,” she said.

With two new classes added this year, opportunities for the students are flourishing. In one class students get to work with horses that have been previously trained but due to an injury or other event, are in need of total re-training.

This is also the first year that students will be doing internships at RCTC. They are also excited to have the indoor arena now insulated.

While RCTC offers certificates and associate degrees, they are in an articulation agreement with the University of Minnesota, Crookston, for equine program students at RCTC to be able to transfer to UMC to obtain their four-year degree.

With UMC phasing out its associates degrees and instead focusing on bachelor’s degrees, the articulation with RCTC is a good fit for both institutions.

When agriculture department head and professor Ron Del Vecchio came to UMC five years ago, there were 65 students in the equine program; there are now 100. There is “no sign of slowing down,” he said.

UMC, along with RCTC, provides the students hands-on opportunities. UMC also requires students in the equine program to complete an internship.

“It is so critical for the students to see what it is like in the equine industry,” Del Vecchio said. Students get two credits for the internship and must complete 400 hours or 10 weeks, whatever comes first.

“Students get to see what we are conveying is very real in the industry,” he said. It also gives students the chance to make contacts in the equine industry that may serve them well when looking for a job after graduation.

With a rural setting, UMC offers students an intimate learning environment with the U of M name on their diploma “the best of both worlds,” Del Vecchio said. With many colleges and universities backing away from animal-based programs due to cost, UMC is continuing to offer the hands-on component.

“We are committed to maintaining an experimental learning undergrad program,” he said. Students do everything from deworming to giving vaccines.

Many of the students from UMC come from a rural background and go back to that rural setting when they graduate, which is something that is needed, especially for those who go on to become veterinarians.

The U of M realizes the shortage in large animal veterinarians in the rural communities and now has a fast track to get students into the program and soon out serving the community. The program is currently only offered at the Twin Cities campus, but Del Vecchio is hoping that it will soon be available to all U of M students.

As an adviser for those interested in the equine option and a professor in the Department of Animal Science, Marcia Hathaway has seen interest in the equine option at the University of Minnesota increase. The equine option is for students who would like a degree in animal science with an emphasis in equine science.

This is a popular option for those interested in pursuing a veterinary degree specializing in working with horses. This year’s freshmen class is the largest so far. “People are expressing more interest in the equine option,” Hathaway said.

While the U of M doesn’t offer the hands-on classes like UMC and RCTC, Hathaway believes that may change. They also get more students from the urban areas and less from rural areas. “An increasing percentage is coming from urban and suburban areas,” Hathaway said.

“The equine industry is so large in the state, so many people are thirsty for knowledge,” Hathaway said. It is that thirst that makes the equine option program such a growing area.

Throughout the state, horses have become more studied, from those in the rural areas to those living in urban areas. With such a wide array of options, the horse industry looks to stay strong and stay competitive for some time to come.

For more information visit www.rctc.edu/program/eqsc for RCTC; www.ansci.umn.edu/education/prospective_students.htm for the U of M; and www.umcrookston.edu/academics/agri/equinescience for UMC.

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