WILMINGTON — Massage therapist. Journalist. Photographer. Dentist.
Those are probably some of the least-considered but possible career paths for those who complete the Equine Science and Management Program at the Laurel Oaks Career Campus, according to instructor Desaree Runk.
Just like humans, horses can benefit from muscle massages and good teeth, while magazines, web sites and blogs that focus on the horse industry need knowledgeable writers and photographers just like any other special interest media vehicle, Runk says.
Laurel Oaks gives students foundations for those jobs and others more traditionally linked to such training — in veterinary medicine, arena management, breeding or farm management and as farriers and trainers.
“Equine dentistry is a growing field and farriers can be their own boss, although it is physically demanding,” Runk says. “One of our best recent students is now out west on a working ranch.
“Of course, some of our students just want to own horses for pleasure or competition and want to do something else as a career.”
Runk, from Eaton, grew up showing horses and maintained that association at Wilmington College, where she received a degree in life science while minoring in Equine Science. She took the teaching career route with her equine education and started at her current position in 2009, two years after graduation from WC.
There are six juniors and 10 seniors in the program this school year, only two of whom are boys. “It is pretty common to have more girls,” Runk says. “Girls always seem to be in love with horses. They become their passion. I think boys sometimes feel they don’t need the program if they are around horses at home.”
In the junior year, students get the basics — hoof care, stall cleaning, basic horsemanship, some mare reproduction and foaling. During their senior year, students participate in a hands-on project designed to give them the chance to apply the knowledge they have acquired to real-world situations.
Maybe the most practical takeaway from the program is a certified course in how to safely drive and operate a tractor. “Many of our students have grown up on a farm but surprisingly have never driven a tractor,” Runk says.
Ohio State Farm Extension Agent Tony Nye administers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration-approved course that involves online instruction and testing, as well as a maneuverability test on a tractor when they drag the Laurel Oaks’ arena and spread manure in the barn.
Runk says the program gets invaluable external support from those connected with the industry, including veterinarians Dan Yates and Jennifer Smith; Janice Holmes, who operates her own stables and competition arena in Milford; and Jack and Pat Creditt, who provide the program with mares and foals every year.
The program also has an articulation agreement with Wilmington College that allows use of its equine facilities. “Erika Goodwin (vice president/dean of faculty, academic affairs at WC) has been very supportive of the program and owns horses of her own,” Runk said.
A former instructor at Great Oaks, Holmes believes in the career campus philosophy of hands-on training and thinks the equine program is one of the best when it comes to teaching students accountability and responsibility. “Laurel teaches them to take care of a horse every single day,” she says. “You can’t call in sick when you are responsible for a 1,200-pound horse who needs to be fed, groomed and have a stall cleaned.”
Lauren Cowman, a 2010 graduate of the program, thinks her preparation for college and beyond was exceptional.
Cowman lived on a Wilmington-area farm growing up and showed horses in 4H, so she was naturally drawn to the equine program. “I learned a lot,” she says. “We were taught the complete anatomy and physiology of horses and did training projects that specifically trained us for the industry. It was a really well-rounded program.”
She went on to get a bachelor’s of science degree in zoology, part of the pre-veterinary track at Miami University. She then attended equine dentistry school and worked as an equine dentist in Ocala, Fla. Recently she moved to Georgia to take a job as a pharmaceutical rep with an animal health company. She continues to do equine dental work on weekends.
Great Oaks, which specializes in career development and technical training for high school students and adults in southwest Ohio, has campuses in Wilmington (Laurel Oaks), Sharonville (Scarlet Oaks), Dent (Diamond Oaks) and Milford (Live Oaks). Great Oaks offers the chance for high school students to prepare for careers and college and for adults to get training and certification to begin a new career or advance in a current career.
Student applications are being accepted now for all programs at Great Oaks Career Campuses in the 2015-16 school year. For more information or to apply for any program, go to www.greatoaks.com.