Equine Studies Program

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Front Page / Dec. 28, 2006 12:00am EST

Dawn Carleton designed and will be director of Vermont Technical College's new Bachelor's degree program in equine studies, the only such program in Vermont. The program will use the nearby riding and training facilities at Rough Terrain Farm, where Carleton's daughter Allegra, 13, rides daily. (Herald / Tim Calabro)Dawn Carleton designed and will be director of Vermont Technical College's new Bachelor's degree program in equine studies, the only such program in Vermont. The program will use the nearby riding and training facilities at Rough Terrain Farm, where Carleton's daughter Allegra, 13, rides daily. (Herald / Tim Calabro)

Launched by Vt. Tech.

By M. D. Drysdale

Vermont Technical College will start an innovative new degree program in Equine Studies next fall which could point students toward promising careers in Vermont's growing horse industry.

It will also be VTC's first bachelor-degree program that is not also offered as a "two-plus-two" program, thus accelerating the college's drive toward four-year status.

Just approved last week by Vermont State Colleges trustees, the Equine Studies program already has received more than 100 letters of interest and has accepted its first student, according to Prof. Dawn Carleton, who will serve as Equine Studies program director.

It is another response to VTC President Ty Handy's desire to create more programs at the state college. Just two weeks ago, VTC announced a new two-year program in firefighting science.

Just 15 students will be admitted to the Equine Studies program next year, preparing its graduates for a wide range of career choices with a mix of agriculture and business courses and a lot of hands-on experiences with horses.

The addition of business courses to the mix will make the new program unique, Carleton said. VTC already has the teachers for these courses.

One thing that most horse establishments need is business training, she added.

She quotes a friend who runs a commercial horse establishment: "If I'd known how to run this as a business instead of the love of my life, I would have had fewer crises along the way."

For VTC, the program offers the likelihood of a higher percentage of out-of-state students and also more women, thus increasing diversity on the Randolph Center campus.

No. Randolph 'Campus'

In addition, it opens up a virtual second campus in North Randolph, as the program's "equine center" will be based at Rough Terrain Farm.

Owned and operated by Leslie Haynes, Rough Terrain offers a large indoor arena, heated tack room, round pen for horse training, individual paddocks, and numerous stalls, some of which will be available for boarding the students' horses.

The availability of Rough Terrain Farm was one of the factors that inspired Dawn Carleton to dream up the Equine Studies program, she said this week.

Carleton hopes that "by partnering with an already established, successful equine business, our students will be able to observe and participate in a functioning facility. It will quickly turn the theory of managing an equestrian business into real-life lessons for students."

Besides business courses, the program will offer agricultural courses, and the hands-on training, which will include all sorts of riding as well as horse training and facility management riding instruction techniques, and even a course in horse-related law.

Carleton wants her students to emerge familiar with various kinds of riding, so one requirement is that they learn the kind of riding they are least familiar with as they enter the program.

Dressage specialists ought also to be at home on a Western saddle, she explained.

The combination of offerings will make VTC's program unique in Vermont. UVM offers an equine science degree, but it is oriented to pre-vet students. New Hampshire also has a horse degree but it's pointed in a different direction.

The enthusiastic early interst in the program convinces her that VTC has hit on a good idea.

A Cow-Oriented State

Tends To Ignore Horses

In this dairy state, the horse industry could benefit from more state support and visibility, according to Dawn Carleton, who says that is also the feeling within Vermont horse circles.

Horse riding, stabling, breeding, training, and competition is a fast-growing part of the rural economy which is still "almost a hidden sector," she explained. Equine activity could be "an enormous piece of agri-tourism," she declared.

Especially in Addison County, she observed, a number of sizeable dairy farms have gone out of business but the fields and barns are being used for horse operations. There's great potential, but the new horse businesses need better-trained employees to expand.

Terry Rose, president of the Vermont Horse Council, agrees.

"It takes more than desire and dedication and a love of horses to be successful," he said. "Skills in budget and financing, human relations, contracts, liability, and care and nutrition are needed."

Few Statistics

It is clear that the Department of Agriculture doesn't have much of a handle on horse activity in Vermont. An inquiry this week turned up an Equine Survey Report by the UVM Extension Service in 2002, which was able to hazard only a very imprecise guess at how many horses are being kept in Vermont.

The actual survay turned up only 11,754 horses and donkeys, but under-reporting was common, and the researchers concluded that Vermont probably has 35,000 horses. (Texas tops the list with 600,000.)

The survey estimated that the horses might be worth about $20 million, but did not attempt to estimate the value of businesses built around horses. It was noted that the Green Mountain Horse Association brings 10,000 people to the state every year for its events and camps, and the UVM Morgan Horse Farm sees 40,000 visitors a year.

However, it was noted, the lack of facilities means that several Vermont-sponsored horse shows had to be held in Massachusetts.

Morgans are reported to be the most popular breed, with almost 23% of the total.

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