Study at the barn, wear breeches to class, and make lifelong equestrian friends at these top horse colleges.
Going to college does not mean giving up horses. There are many ways to incorporate equines into your college experience. Students can show competitively as part of an equestrian team, pursue a degree in equine studies, or take classes related to horses or farm management. Plus, you don’t need to own a horse to make them part of your undergraduate education.
Colleges and universities across the US offer a plethora of ways to get (or stay) involved with horses throughout higher education. Two main associations, the IHSA and NCEA, allow for intercollegiate competition. Equine-specific clubs provide fantastic opportunities to learn and practice leadership skills. Many academic programs offer classes, minors, and majors in equine science or related fields.
This article highlights eight top schools offering a variety of equine experiences including:
- Auburn University
- Purdue University
- Savannah College of Art & Design
- Skidmore College
- St. Andrews University
- Texas A&M University
- University of Findlay
- University of Georgia
Canter Your Way Through College
Riding horses in college can be a rewarding experience. It’s a great way to meet new friends that share a love of all-things-equine, improve your riding skills, work as part of a team, and expand your knowledge as an equestrian.
Currently, there are more than 400 teams that fall under either the NCAA or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics programs.
Neither association requires owning your own horse. In fact, both mandate competition on school horses randomly drawn immediately before each event.
Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA)
IHSA aims to make horse showing accessible to all students, regardless of their skill level or financial situation. Students compete on teams and are placed in classes based on their riding ability. Riders accumulate points on both individual and team levels.
School horses are drawn randomly immediately before the class, and riders are judged on their equitation skills (English classes) and horsemanship skills (Western classes).
Upper-level English classes include over-fences, while Western riders compete in reining. Typically, equestrian teams are treated as club sports in this scenario.
National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA)
NCEA is the governing body to advance equestrian sports as an emerging sport for women. There are currently 17 Division I, five Division II, and two Division III programs. Riders compete head-to-head on the same horse against opposing teams.
Each rider is permitted to watch the horse warm up, then has four minutes to practice on her assigned mount before competing.
Classes include hunt seat equitation on the flat, equitation over fences, western horsemanship, and western reining. Each is scored out of 100 points. Scores are based on how accurately the rider executes the pattern and utilization of the draw to the best of her ability. Athletes can receive full or partial scholarships to compete on NCEA teams.
Weigh Your Options
Personally, horses played a big role in my college decision. I considered many factors, including the cost of tuition, geographic location, strength of my chosen program relative to other schools, and availability of equestrian-related activities.
Ultimately, Purdue University was the best fit for me. I rode on the Purdue Equestrian Team for four years and served on the Executive Board as the treasurer.
The opportunity to be part of the leadership team taught me more valuable skills than anything I learned in my classes.
I was also able to take horseback riding as a class for four semesters. (Yes, it is possible to get college credit for riding horses!) Additionally, I took a Horse Evaluation class as an elective. For these reasons, Purdue gets an honorary mention on my list of the top 8 universities for equestrians.
Due to the huge variety of factors, it would not be realistic to rank these programs numerically. Instead, these eight featured schools are listed alphabetically. (This list includes seven of the top IHSA & NCEA programs, plus my “honorable mention.”)
|Collegiate Equestrian Results: 2016-2018|
|2018||Skidmore College||University of Findlay|
|2017||Savannah College of Art & Design||St Andrews University|
|2016||Savannah College of Art & Design||St Andrews University & Berry College|
A public institution with undergraduate enrollment around 24,000, Auburn has been ranked one of the best places to live. In-state tuition and fees are $11,276 for 2018-19 according to US News. Auburn is ranked #115 in National Universities.
Equestrian Team: NCEA; as of 2019, Auburn Equestrian holds the top spot in four out of five categories and is No. 1 overall.
- Animal Science: Equine Science option
Other Key Facts: The 60-acre Equestrian Center is located on the edge of campus, making the barn easily accessible for students. The facility, part of the Department of Animal Sciences, is also used for research in horse behavior and nutrition.Visit School Website Read Auburn Student Profile
West Lafayette, IN
Purdue is ranked 56th in the 2019 edition of Best Colleges for National Universities. Home to about 39,000 undergraduate students, West Lafayette is ranked 33rd in the list of 50 best college towns. Tuition for 2018-19 was $10,002.
Equestrian Team: IHSA (club sport) The hunt seat and western equestrian teams split about ten years ago and are run as separate clubs. Each club elects an Executive Board that runs the club for the following year. This type of leadership experience directly translates to the workplace.
- Purdue Calumet offers an Equine Management program
- The College of Veterinary Medicine is home to an Equine Sports Medicine Center
- Equine-related classes are available to students—current offerings through the Animal Science program include Horse Management, Horse Judging, Horse Evaluation. Horseback Riding is available through the Physical Education course catalog
Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD)
A unranked, private institution with approximately 14,000 students from all 50 states. Tuition and fees for 2018-19 is $36,630. SCAD offers 40 majors and more than 75 minors.
Equestrian Team: IHSA: Savannah College won IHSA Hunt Seat Nationals in 2016 & 2017.
- Equestrian Studies
Other Key Facts: SCAD has six art galleries in Savannah and two galleries in Atlanta.Visit School Website
Saratoga Springs, New York
Skidmore is a liberal arts college home to 2,500 students. Situated on 1,000 acres, the college offers 43 majors and 100+ study abroad programs. Saratoga Springs is also a horse-friendly city—their motto is “Health, History, Horses.” Ranked #41 for National Liberal Arts Colleges, Skidmore’s tuition & fees for 2018-19 is $54,270.
Equestrian Team: IHSA—but riding is a varsity sport
- Riding Lessons for credit
- Inside Equus: Biology of the Horse
Other Key Facts: The Skidmore Thoroughbreds (yes, even their mascot is a horse!) equestrian team came in first at IHSA Hunt Seat Nationals last year. You can also board your own horse at Skidmore.Visit School Website
St. Andrews University
Laurinburg, North Carolina
A private, liberal arts school, St. Andrews is a branch of Webber International University. The school sits on a 500+ acre campus and advertises a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Various sources estimate enrollment to be around 600 students.
Equestrian Team: Four nationally ranked equestrian teams: American National Riding Commission, IHSA Hunt Seat, IHSA Western, and Intercollegiate Dressage Association
- Biology with a Specialization in Equine Science
- Business Administration with a Specialized Program of Study in Equine Business Management
- Business Administration with a Specialized Program of Study in Therapeutic Horsemanship Business Management
- Therapeutic Horsemanship
Other Key Facts: St. Andrews has a robust offering of equestrian programs and a gorgeous facility.Visit School Website
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
A&M’s main campus is home to more than 64,000 students and offers more than 125 undergrad degree programs. In-state tuition and fees for 2018-19 are $10,968. The university is ranked 66th for National Universities in the 2019 edition of Best Colleges.
Equestrian Team: NCEA; the Texas A&M Women’s Equestrian Team is currently ranked No. 2 overall
- Certificate in Equine Science
- Master of Equine Industry Management
- Equine-specific clinical services as part of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum
Other Key Facts: Texas A&M boasts 12 different club & team options for getting involved with horses!Visit School Website
University of Findlay
A private, residential, liberal arts university focusing on science, health professions, education, equestrian studies, and business programs. The University of Findlay is ranked #37 in Regional Universities Midwest and #51 in Best Value Schools. Tuition and fees for 2018-19 are $34,360.
Equestrian Team: Five show team organizations compete at national levels. IHSA Hunt Seat, IHSA Western, IDA Dressage, Ranch Horse Team, and an Eventing Team.
- Equine Business Management
- Certificates in thermal imaging, saddle fitting, and equine massage therapy
Other Key Facts: The Western farm also hosts Ohio Michigan Indiana Quarter Horse shows. I have competed there before, and the facility is STUNNING!Visit School Website Read Findlay Student Profile
University of Georgia
A top research university, UGA is one of the oldest public schools in the nation. 17 constituent schools and colleges offer more than 140 degree options to approximately 30,000 undergraduate students. In-state tuition for 2018-19 is $11,380. UGA ranked #46 in National Universities in 2019.
Equestrian Team: NCEA; the UGA Women’s Equestrian Team has finished second in the nation for the past two years
- Equine Science Management
Other Key Facts: Athens is consistently ranked as one of the best college towns because of the restaurant, bar, & music scene. The UGA Equestrian Complex is a 109 acre farm located 12 miles south of campus in Bishop, GA.Visit School Website
Apply Where Hoofprints Lead You
Each of the schools discussed above offers different options to incorporate equines into your education—the best fit will depend on your unique set of circumstances. Many schools offer scholarships based on academic and (sometimes—for NCEA programs) athletic performance.
Check out this resource for additional information on equine-related scholarships!Read More Student Profiles
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