It might seem a bit incongruous to lead this Intercollegiate Issue with an article that says a degree isn’t enough to get a good job in the horse world. But we consider it a viable question, and I suspect that Amy Sherrick’s answers (p. 8) won’t be good news to administrators and professors at equine colleges. But it shouldn’t be too surprising, especially if you look at degrees in the context of employment in the rest of the world. Except for doctors and nurses, lawyers, engineers and some other highly technical fields, only a small percentage of us work in fields related to our degrees’sometimes by design and sometimes purely by accident.
Employers often have only a minor interest in an applicant’s education. For instance, whenever I review resumes for potential interns (we hire three a year) or staff members, I rarely note more than that they have or are pursuing a four-year degree. Yes, a degree in underwater basket weaving or biochemical engineering would certainly make me suspicious, but what’s most important to me is what they’ve really been doing with their lives. Do they have writing experience (and I want to see writing samples), have they interviewed people or otherwise dealt with the public, and met deadlines? Most important, do they know a fetlock from a furlong or a junior hunter from a Prix St. Georges horse?
If I’m hiring a staff member, I want to see that someone else has paid them to do a job that requires them to use their brains. And in the interview, I’m looking for intellectual curiosity, something that can’t be taught, although it can be nurtured.
I don’t think it’s much different for people applying for jobs with horses, especially to be grooms for large stables or to be stable managers. Trainers or owners want employees on whom they can rely’if nothing else, just to show up for work. They want to be confident that people they hire can feed, bandage, longe and even ride horses, so they want to see experience, even a reference or two. They want employees who can take the necessary steps to solve the small and large problems that horses present us with every day of their lives. They want people who are willing to learn new ways to do things and who don’t think they already know all the answers.
The good news from Sherrick’s research for college administrators and professors is that they can choose to make their programs more useful. Her main suggestion is to require a mandatory internship with a trainer or other professional (but I’d advise longer than one semester), along with making their in-school programs emphasize more work in the barn, with the horses. Since degrees are only a stepping stone, I’d also respectfully suggest that they make sure their instructors teach in a way that reminds the students that there’s usually more than one right way to do things with horses. The variety of horse care depends on things like the climate, the discipline, the type of work and the individual horses and people involved.
Education has a place in every part of life, and I’ve long believed that the most important thing we ever learn is how to learn, how to ask questions and find the answers to them. That’s the theory behind the liberal arts education, and it’s why education is something we pursue all of our lives’or at least we should. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying that “you learn something new every day.”