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March 2, 2012

The mane attraction: Woods students learn about careers in equine world

TERRE HAUTE — A horse can be a powerful therapeutic tool, something Chris Marks knows firsthand.

“I’ve seen children with autism speak their first word to a horse,” causing their parents to “dissolve in a puddle of emotion,” said Marks, chairman of the Equine Studies program at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

She was interviewed Wednesday during The Mane Event, which combines education, networking and a traditional job fair to help students prepare for careers in the horse industry.

A focus this year is equine-assisted therapy, which encompasses everything from therapeutic riding, to equine-assisted psychotherapy to social work. Horses also can be used as part of leadership and corporate training.

“This is an area that really fits with our mission of improving the human condition and making a positive change using horses to do it,” said Marks, who has been the Equine Studies department chair for about 20 years.

The college offers the only equine program in Indiana, and it is one of only 20 in the United States to offer a bachelor of science degree in equine studies, the college says.

More than 40 Woods students are majoring in equine studies, equine training/ instructing or equine business management. Graduates have gone on to become trainers, riding instructors, farm managers and breeding farm technicians. One assisted a photographer at a race track, while another worked in a traveling horse show.

“It’s very much a go-out-and-carve-your-own-niche type of industry,” Marks said. “There are many ways students can combine their interests, and we encourage students to do that. In an economy like this one, it’s wise to have a fallback.”

About 15 organizations participated in The Mane Event. “It provides an opportunity for equine students to interact with professionals in the field, and many of the organizations here have part-time jobs, internships or full-time employment opportunities,” said Tara Lane, SMWC employer relations coordinator/career development. 

Among the students participating was sophomore Ali Mahloch, an equine business management major from Plymouth, Wis. After she graduates, she hopes to run her own business and horse farm. She wants to run shows and events where people from across the Midwest can attend or compete.

She’s grown up with horses, and her family lives on a 40-horse farm, although most of those horses are boarders. Her mom is a riding instructor, and Mahloch has trained horses and given lessons. At the Woods, she competes with two equestrian teams.

At The Mane Event, she made contacts and also hoped for an internship with a facility that conducts horse events “so I can learn how to do that kind of thing efficiently and successfully.”

The Woods “has a really good [equine studies] program here,” she said.

The Mane Event also included equine demonstrations and tours of the Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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