While most college students are either asleep or getting ready for class by the time the sun comes up, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College equine students are finishing up their morning tasks. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, the horses need fed, the stalls need cleaned, and the students working on their degree have to make sure that work gets done.
“The hands-on portion of the program and the responsibility the students have means these students are not normal college students,” said Angie McMillin, operations and stable manager at SMWC for the Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies. “It’s not just going to class, there’s all of the extra time they have to put in. A normal student will go to class and then go home and study but when an equine student’s class is over the curriculum is not over.”
Alexis Cobb is one of those students. The senior, who is originally from Fairland, Indiana, arrives at the stables by 8 a.m. at the latest and usually stays until 8 p.m. with a short break in between. “Some people are thrown off when we tell them we have to clean stalls every day and that’s part of our grade,” Cobb said.
The daily tasks include feeding and grooming the horses as well as cleaning out the stalls and other work that keeps the horses happy and healthy. “We have to be here for breaks while school is out to take care of the horses,” Cobb said.
Cobb is double majoring in equine studies and psychology as well as working toward a minor in equine assisted therapy. Her post SMWC plans include graduate school and then a career in working with at-risk youth, using horses as a therapy program.
Cobb works with several horses but is lucky enough to have her own horse, Squirt, on campus. Squirt was accepted into the program and is used for classes and the equine team. “Squirt came my freshman year. He’s been with me during my time here. He’s helped me a lot and we’ve grown a lot together.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a lockdown, the horses still needed tended to and students and staff had to work to make sure the level of care required was still provided. Cobb said the shift to online classes was a struggle. “During the spring it was hard for us because it’s hard to do equine things online. It was really hard when the majority of my classes were basically done.”
Choosing SMWC was an easy choice for Cobb since it’s the only program like it in Indiana and one of a handful in the entire Midwest. McMillin estimates that there are less than 20 programs like what SMWC offers in the entire country. “In the last six years we’ve had 100% placement of our graduates. We have people calling us in January asking ‘Who do you have?’ because they know people who graduate from here are ready and prepared and they understand what the industry is.”
The work that goes into preparing those students is one of the highlights of McMillin’s job. “My favorite part is when a student comes in with not a lot of experience and I get to see that growth.” Students come in and have to pass introductory level classes before they can declare as an equine major which means students have to be serious about putting in the work during and outside of class.
McMillin has been a part of the program for over two decades and says the work doesn’t just involve classes. “Upkeep of the facility is huge. We’re constantly dealing with horses damaging the fence or something in the barn needing fixed.” Around 50 horses and an average of 30 students make up the program.
While Cobb has picked a career path based on her interests, students have plenty of options after graduating ranging from training and provided lessons to breeding and barn managing. “The thing that makes equine special is that you can pair your major with something else and make both of your passions come together.”