Skip to main content

Dreaming of a Career With Horses? Live Your Passion as an Equine Veterinarian

By AAEP

Do you own or ride horses, or simply admire the beauty of the horse? Do you enjoy the biological sciences? If so, a career as an equine veterinarian may be the perfect profession for you. 

A World of Opportunity 

From world-class equine athletes to a child’s pony, equine veterinarians ensure the health of a variety of horse breeds across a broad range of disciplines. With over nine million horses in the United States, equine veterinarians play an important role in the life of the horse and those who own them. For those who dedicate their professional career to the care of the horse, the paths are exciting. 

With over nine million horses in the United States, equine veterinarians play an important role in the life of the horse and those who own them.

Life in Private Practice 

Most equine veterinarians are employed in private practice, where they may own a solo practice or be on staff at a multi-doctor surgical or referral hospital. General practice is a popular and rewarding choice for many veterinarians. Others choose to focus on a specific breed or discipline for which they have a personal passion, such as racehorses or western pleasure horses.

Many private practitioners are ambulatory veterinarians, spending much of their day traveling to clients. Ambulatory practice is the norm in both urban areas and rural communities. Depending on the needs of their clients, some practitioners find it beneficial to expand beyond equine medicine to offer mixed animal or large animal veterinary care. A practitioner’s veterinary vehicle is truly an office on wheels, often fully stocked with the equipment and medication necessary to diagnose and treat a variety of health concerns on site. For those who love independence, a daily change in schedule and working outside, ambulatory practice can be the perfect career fit. 

Becoming a Specialist 

Equine medicine today is as sophisticated as human medicine. Although ambulatory practice is the backbone of the profession, many veterinarians decide to specialize in one area of equine practice, such as surgery, internal medicine, reproduction or radiology. Pursuing a career in a specialized field requires additional education and training beyond veterinary school. As the sophistication of equine medicine continues to increase, so will the need for equine veterinarians with specialty training.

Solving the Mysteries in Equine Medicine 

A career in equine research is another rewarding possibility. Researchers solve the riddles of equine disease and may be employed by universities, government agencies or pharmaceutical companies. There are not enough veterinarians working in this field, however, and our future health breakthroughs depend on new graduates choosing this career path. 

Equine veterinarians also serve as epidemiologists in city, county, state and federal agencies, investigating animal and human disease outbreaks such as influenza, rabies, and West Nile virus. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its veterinarians within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) monitor the testing and development of new vaccines and are also responsible for enforcing humane laws for the treatment of animals. Other career paths include teaching, military service, and technical sales and services. 

It is not necessary to grow up with horses to enter equine practice. Horsemanship skills can be easily developed. 

No Horse Experience Necessary 

What if you don’t have horse experience? It is not necessary to grow up with horses to enter equine practice. While many practitioners acquired their passion for horses at an early age, others only gained interest in equine medicine after entering veterinary school. Horsemanship skills can be easily developed. Opportunities may exist to gain hands-on horse experience with local youth horse groups, riding stables or rescue and retirement facilities. 

Getting Started 

Students interested in a career within the equine veterinary field should perform well in general science and biology in junior high school and pursue a strong science, math and biology program in high school. Upon entering college, students must successfully complete pre-veterinary undergraduate course work. Be sure to speak with your college advisor about the classes that are required for a pre-veterinary major, since each college /school of veterinary medicine establishes its own pre-veterinary courses. Typically, these include demonstrating basic language and communication skills as well as courses in the social sciences, humanities, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. 

Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive. Applicants may be required to take a standardized test known as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Veterinary College Admissions Test (VCAT). The number of qualified applicants that are admitted to veterinary schools nationwide will vary from year to year, but typically only one-fourth of all applicants are accepted.

Admission requirements for U.S. veterinary schools are available on the Association of

American Veterinary Medical College website (www.aavmc.org). 

A Rewarding Education 

After admission to veterinary school, it typically takes four years to complete the required veterinary medical curriculum to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, or DVM. Graduates then may choose to pursue employment opportunities or gain additional education in order to pursue specialization. For those graduates who want to receive additional clinical training, internships present an excellent post-graduation option. Veterinary students who have not yet graduated may apply for an externship to gain practical knowledge during the summer months or other school breaks. 

Live Your Passion 

It is anticipated that the need for equine veterinarians will remain strong in the coming years in order to provide the high level of care that owners desire for their horses as well as to continue the tremendous advances in equine research. For those considering a career

involving horses, becoming an equine veterinarian may be the most rewarding decision you ever make. Explore the options. Discover the rewards. Live your passion. 

Additional Online Resources 

To learn more about this rewarding profession, check out the following online resources:

American Association of Equine Practitioners

www.aaep.org 

American Veterinary Medical Association

www.avma.org 

Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges

www.aavmc.org 

United States Department of Agriculture-

Animal and Plant Inspection Service

www.aphis.usda.gov