Horse: A Way of Life

February 29th, 2016 | SMWC

By: Marjorie Hopkins

Sara Schulz and McKayla Tichenor
Sara is positioning McKayla’s leg for the proper equitation alignment.

"It's more than just riding horses," Sara Schulz, department chair of equine studies at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) said about the College's equine program.

And indeed, it is much, much more. SMWC is the only college in the state and one of approximately 20 colleges in the U.S. to offer a Bachelor of Science in Equine Studies. It's a unique program with so much more than meets the eye.

"It's a rigorous program," Schulz said. "It is one of the more demanding majors." Schulz is also head coach for the College’s Western Equine Team.

The Woods is a perfect pastoral setting for such a program. The College sits among ancient, stately trees and on 67 acres of central Indiana's graceful, gently rolling countryside. The stables house the school's 48 horses, that include Quarter Horse, Warmblood, Arabian and Thoroughbred horses, along with teaching facilities. The facilities where the equine students spend most of their time include tack rooms, grooming stalls, wash stalls, equine classrooms, a heated indoor arena, an outdoor arena and more.

McKayla Rae Tichenor, from Pimento, Ind., a sophomore in the equine studies program at SMWC, said her eyes "continue to be opened to the many different avenues horses bring. There are many different opportunities to work with them. To name a few of the industries that involve horses are breeding facilities, horse health and nutrition, horse racing, showing, research, therapy for people suffering from emotional, physical and mental pain, illness and trauma, and horse training facilities on all different levels."

Debra Powell, Ph.D., and McKayla Tichenor
Debra Powell, Ph. D., is pointing out the bones of the forelimb and the hindlimb on the equine skeleton to student McKayla Tichenor.

Tichenor worked this past summer with a facility that travels internationally offering training and help in showing as well as showing their own trained horses.

While equine majors get the full liberal arts experience, they are immersed in everything to do with horses. It’s turning a passion for horses into a challenging, rewarding and competitive career. Small class sizes, hands-on experience working with retired race-industry Thoroughbreds, equine adoptions and internships that often turn into full-time employment are just a few of the opportunities that make SMWC's equine studies program distinctive.

"It's also one of the biggest commitments on campus," Schulz said.

Each student is responsible for her horse. Equine students usually begin their day at 6 a.m., caring for their horses. They then attend classes, participate in team workouts at noon, and after a quick lunch, it’s back to classes. Before another 4 p.m. team workout, their horses have to be groomed. Following dinner at 5 p.m., there is still exacting homework.

There is also record keeping, and if a horse is sick, the student must attend to it. Every fourth or fifth weekend, a student is on call and responsible for caring for all horses used in the program.

"The program is very hands on," Schulz said. "It takes a special kind of student."  

As a matter of fact, that is why the college has a selective admissions process, to ensure the future success of every student for the industry.

The program continues to excel and is gaining more notoriety in the nation for its success. These graduates have gained positions as Olympic level trainers and leadership positions running stables or equine programs, among others.

The importance of the equine industry to Indiana may be a surprise to some. Studies show there are over 160,000 horses in Indiana with 34,000 operations and approximately 9,500 jobs in the industry with a total of $207 million in economic impact, according to Schulz.

Kendall Dudenhoeffer
Kendall Dudenhoeffer is exercising the horse by lunging and disengaging the hindquarters.

Students also have an opportunity to compete in Western and Hunt Seat riding competitions. SMWC is part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). Many of their riders have competed and placed in regional, semi-final and national competitions and compete with much larger institutions including Ball State University, Butler University, Indiana University, Purdue University and University of Illinois and many others in their region. They have earned National and Reserve National Individual Team titles, as well as had individual riders place in the Top 10. The Western Team has placed in the Top 4 at Nationals. In addition, students are consistently named to the IHSA All-Academic Teams.

Kendall Dudenhoeffer, a sophomore from Velpen, Ind., says that, "It's not only the equine skills that are learned, but other skills that are applicable in the real business world, such as public speaking, facility management, negotiating and critical thinking" that make the program so special. The experience that comes with the program is "priceless," Dudenhoeffer said. She eventually plans to own her own boarding and training barn.

“The horse industry brings joy to countless people," she said. "Along with that, it brings in revenue for each state, and attracts tourists (especially the racing and speed events industry). Horses aren't just a hobby; they are a way of life. I can't imagine a world without them."

Get more information about the equine program at SMWC.