Undergraduate program puts the business in equine
By Kylene Scott
It might start with a little boy wanting to be a cowboy or a horse-crazed teenage girl, but eventually those boys and girls grow up and go to college. If horses are still important, many might look to a university offering an equine science degree. Some look a little further and find value in a business degree. However, the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Ky., offers a program with a little different slant on the traditional equine degree—an equine business degree.
Richard Wilcke, executive-in-residence, Equine Industry Program at U of L, said the program is the only Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International accredited equine program of its kind in the country.
Located in the College of Business at U of L, the program has rigorous admission standards, and students have to keep good grades in order to stay in the college. It takes a 3.1 grade-point average to get in as well as a fairly high ACT score.
“It has fairly high admission standards, so not everybody that wants in can get in, and it takes a 3.0 GPA to stay in,” Wilcke said. “Students can get into the University of Louisville in arts and science and then if they can keep their grades up to 3.0 or better, they can transfer over to the business college for equine.”
To go through the equine business program or to go through business at all, students must be diligent because of the complexity of statistics and business finance courses. In the equine business program, students who are taking the equine economics aren’t starting from scratch because they have already had courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics.
“My course in equine economics is basically managerial economics but slanted towards the equine industry. So we’re taking them a step farther,” Wilcke said. “The same with our marketing. They’ve already had marketing, but we’re talking about marketing within the horse industry. So it’s basically applications of different business skills and tools that they’ve already learned for the most part.”
Wilcke said he likes the program because of what the students gain when completing the program through the business school.
“One of the reasons why I like this program is because when our students leave, they’ve had the full core of the business school, not just the equine courses,” he said “They’ve had all the courses in finance, marketing, management, computers—everything else that a business administration major would have.”
The program offers a bachelor’s degree in equine business, where majors take the entire business core, as well as specialized courses in equine business. According to http://business.louisville.edu/equine/, the four-year degree is designed to prepare a diversified student body for a wide range of career opportunities. The program also offers a one-year certificate in equine business for those students who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree.
“We do have a one-year certificate and we always have half a dozen students every year who have a degree and some of them have degrees in animal science, some of them have degrees in something entirely else,” Wilcke said. “As long as they have quite a few core courses in economics and accounting that’s enough to get them in.”
The students in the certificate program complete 30 hours of coursework.
“They’re not going to have quite as much in-depth business as they would have if they went through the full core, but they’re certainly a giant step ahead of people who haven’t had much business at all,” Wilcke said.
Of the students in the undergraduate program, most are traditional college age, while the certificate participants are a little older.
Students tend to come from the region around Kentucky, as some states belong to a regional compact that allows students to qualify for in-state tuition because there is not an equine business program in their state.
“Obviously we have a lot of students from Kentucky, but of all the students in the college of business at the University of Louisville, most of the out-of-state students are there for the equine,” Wilcke said. “We have students from Florida, Maine, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, and Massachusetts—I’m just thinking off the top of my head. So we have a lot of kids that come from different places.”
Although located in the center of the horse racing industry in Louisville, Wilcke said the program is geared toward about every aspect of the equine industry.
“Of course there’s a heavy emphasis on racing because that’s a major economic component in the industry,” Wilcke said. “If you look at the national figures about the size of the industry racing—Quarter Horse racing, Thoroughbred racing, Standardbred racing, Paint/Appy racing, all that racing combined is a major portion of the economic impact of the horse industry.”
The program is also aware of the impact other aspects of the equine industry have on the economy.
“We’re also very conscious of the fact the cutting horse (events) give away $45 or $50 million dollars a year in purses,” Wilcke said. “The dressage industry is an international event. Polo is an international event. So we look at it from top to bottom in all aspects.”
In the 20 years Wilcke has been with the program, about half of the students have been racing oriented.
“And the other half have been something else. Anything from barrel racing to hunter jumper,” he said.
The equine business program started in 1987, after Kentucky legislators visited a pari-mutuel program at the University of Arizona. A committee was put together to investigate the possibility, and it found Kentucky didn’t necessarily need a pari-mutuel program or another ag program but instead a business school program focused on equines.
“What we really need is a business school program that will teach kids how to manage any equine enterprise or any enterprise that deals with horses. So, that could be a ranch, breeding farm, arena, racetrack, riding stable, auction company, events, expos, you name it,” Wilcke said. “Just understand business and understand the horse industry and have enough background in horses themselves to be able to manage effectively any kind of enterprise in the horse industry.”
And many of the students have gone on to positions in the equine industry, working for the betterment of it.
“Knowing about the horse industry is not a disadvantage,” Wilcke said. “And our kids, they are in all kinds of jobs. They really run the gamut.”
Wilcke said former graduates are in a variety of positions—one was the chief operating officer at the World Equestrian Games a year ago, and another is a former director of the Kentucky Horse Park.
“We’ve got kids in marketing. We’ve got kids at racetracks; we got kids that are trainers. We have kids working in international air transport; we have students working as bloodstock agents. We have students running breeding farms. I mean, it’s just—there’s no end to it,” Wilcke said.
Wilcke, a Kansas State University graduate in animal science, said in his experience of wanting to run a ranch, he found he didn’t have enough business experience to accomplish his goals. Students like him find themselves working at a big breeding farm in Kentucky, and even though they like it, they are limited as to advancement. By having the business training, the students have a leg up.
“There’s no limit to how far that I can go, and so our kids because they can do business plans and they understand financial statements, and they can do feasibility studies, and those kinds of things,” Wilcke said. “They tend to go up. They tend to end up in the office, you know. More likely than their animal science peers.”
Potential students often question Wilcke if they can get a job in the equine industry after getting the degree, and he feels the answer is yes.
“We say first of all, if you want to get in the horse industry you’re going to have a leg up on a lot of other kids in the industry just because—like me, when I got out of K-State I didn’t know anything about business,” Wilcke said. “I skipped all the business courses. I took as few of them as possible and took every animal science course that I could take.”
Wilcke believes the students should have a business degree to fall back on, even if they don’t end up in the horse business—and in his experience, this makes it more appealing to the parents of students wanting to get into the equine world.
“A lot of students want to study horses or something about horses. They want horses as part of their life, and I think their parents often hear about the business program and they say, well, why don’t you do that?” Wilcke said. “Because then at least you’re not stuck with a degree in equestrian studies or horse science or something. At least you’ll have a business degree to fall back on.”
Wilcke believes a lot of parents will support an equine business degree as opposed to another equine-focused degree. However those students who want to become horsemen, or are not already a horseman, the U of L program may not be what they are looking for.
“I tell them unless you’re already a horseman, our program is not going (help) learn how to train horses here. That’s not our shtick,” Wilcke said. “If that’s your passion, then you need to go to some other really good schools that have the help, and a lot of science and get a little business, but you know—you may not want to concentrate in business. You may want to concentrate on the actual hands-on stuff. In which case we wouldn’t be the right program for you. We try to be honest about it.”
Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.