Are you considering taking your horse to university? Here are the pros and cons…

  • Taking your horse to university with you is something many riders heading into higher eduction will consider, but it can be tricky weighing up the pros and cons of taking your horse to university. Is it affordable? Will you be able to cope with the workload of your studies, while also having the time to take care of your horse? These are just a couple of the questions you should ask yourself before taking the plunge.

    I sold my horse before I started studying at the Royal Agricultural University in 2010 as I didn’t think it would work, but once there, I realised how much I missed my horse time and that having a horse would be feasible around my course. So, six weeks into my course, I bought an inexpensive youngster to bring on alongside my studies, placed him in a DIY livery yard, and it was a decision I never once regretted.

    There will always be number of variables involved in the decision of whether you should take your horse with you to university, and of course, your horse must always the priority. For example, will you need yo move your horse to a different yard during the holidays and would this suit their temperament? Which kind of yard would your horse be most settled on? How much turnout is available? These are all things to consider.

    Fourth year University of Nottingham veterinary medicine student Rebecca Storer has taken her mare Cas to university with her every year.

    “Cas stays on a local yard and is my little escape from reality while at university,” says Rebecca. “With such a full-on and sometimes emotionally draining course, having Cas with me at university has been the best thing I’ve ever done. She is an event horse in the summer, and a fit, bouncy, enthusiastic, spooky hacking horse in term time! It’s important for veterinary students to make sure they have a balance between studying and escape, and my horse has provided that for me.”

    Rebecca points out that there are some negatives to having a horse at university.

    “It takes a lot of dedication – I’m at the yard at 6.30am to ride before my 9am-5pm day of lectures, or running away in my lunch hour to fit in a sneaky hack in the daylight. It takes some extra effort, but I seriously believe I couldn’t have handled the academic pressure and emotional fatigue of the veterinary course without Cas. I give her full credit for keeping my motivation up at university.”

    Sometimes, if they are in a fortunate enough position to do so, riders mix up taking their horses to university and leaving them at home, which is exactly what Rose Burgham, who is in her first year studying optometry at the University of Cardiff, does.

    “I took my now seven-year-old Connemara, Luna, university during my first year and she was absolutely my rock,” says Rose. “I had her on DIY livery so it was a very full-on commitment, but it was 100% worth it. Bringing her with me felt like I’d brought a piece of home with me as I moved from very rural Pembrokeshire to Cardiff. My course is extremely full-on, but it made time-management so much more important to me.

    “I’m now in my second year and Luna has stayed at home due to increased hurdles with transport and an extremely full-on clinical year. I go back as often as I can and I’m very lucky my mum is looking after her for me.”

    Rose concludes: “I think it’s definitely a very individual and honest decision to make on whether or not take on such a big commitment. Having now seen both sides, I’m so glad I brought Luna with me last year – I’d definitely recommend it if it’s feasible.”

    Why transport is an important consideration

    Access to transport can often be a key factor when deciding whether or not you should take your horse to university.

    I had a car while at university, which meant I could drive the 10 minutes to the yard I kept my horse on. I was also incredibly fortunate to obtain my HGV licence early in my first year, so I could transport my horse to training and competitions and take him back and forth from home during holidays. It also meant I became very popular with friends who kept horses on the same yard as we’d all load up and train and compete together.

    Transport was a key factor when considering which yard she could place her horse on for university graduate, Emily Rice.

    “I had to research yards that were in a cycle-able distance, as I’d not yet bought a car,” explains Emily. “I found a yard four miles away and fortunately it didn’t take long to build up my own fitness to get there in the pouring rain with a pounding hangover!”

    Taking your horse to university

    Rebecca Storer and Cas cross-country schooling.

    Taking your horse to university: part-time jobs

    Securing a part-time job while studying can be a good way to help finance your horse while at university, although it may eat into the time you have to spend with your horse – as well as time socialising with friends.

    “I started working part-time in the November of my third year, so quite quickly I had a horse, no car, a dissertation to write and a part-time marketing role to balance,” says Emily. “I quickly gave up partying, apart from very rare occurrences where I would often be found asleep stood up, I was so tired!”

    Working, studying and owning a horse means you have to become incredibly self-motivated to be able to fit everything in.

    “I would be at the yard for 7am, mucked out and turned out by 7.20am to get home, showered and back on my bike to get to work for 9am or to a lecture,” explains Emily. “I rode most days, studying in the evening and making sure I was finished and in bed by 10pm each night. I became very structured in my routine as there was simply no other choice but to get it done.

    “It taught me an awful lot very quickly about time management and prioritising, which has certainly helped me in my professional life. I made some wonderful horsey friends, who I still speak to and see now, despite having left the yard over six years ago. My advice would be to do it, but be realistic about the care you can provide your horse, what your back ups are and be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices and work harder than before. It also helps if you have kind housemates, who don’t mind the door shutting in the early hours, mud brought into the house, or the whiff of horse every now and again!”

    Former University of Northampton student, Penny Baker, says it was “definitely hard work” keeping horses at university.

    “For two years I worked five nights a week to help with the costs, but it was well worth it,” explains Penny, who also states that if there is an option to keep your horse on campus, you can reap the benefits of the facilities on offer. “I went to Hartpury College between the age of 16 and 18 and the first-class facilities were amazing, but the lack of turnout was a real struggle and that didn’t suit my horse at all.”

    Annastasia Cross was a veterinary physiotherapy student at Moreton Morrell and she opted to take her horse with her.

    “I horse was a rising four-year-old at the time and having access to all of the facilities and regular physio in lectures has been a game changer to his dressage career,” she explains.

    Lizzie Beech has had her horse at university with her for the past three years.

    “The hardest thing was finding the right yard for us both. I wanted group turnout, but I also needed to consider holidays,” says Lizzie. “I leave him at the same yard so he stays in a better routine, but that means I return to university earlier than other students so that I don’t spend too long away from him.

    “There’s no denying that having a horse can make university harder depending what livery option you’re on, but I wouldn’t be without him.”

    Often, if you are on a DIY or part livery option, you can make friends with fellow liveries and work together helping each other out, as and when you might need to. For example, one of Emily’s fellow liveries proved very helpful.

    “I was extremely fortunate that my stable neighbour often offered to bring my horse in or turn him out when I was swamped,” says Emily.

    Friendships can be forged when you take your horse to university too.

    Penny says: “It helped cement a friendship and we have been best friends for 30 years. We came out of our education with the best memories ever, and those memories always have a story that involved our horses.”

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