Equine Veterinarian: Career Summary, Job Outlook and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become an equine veterinarian. Learn about education requirements, licensing, job duties and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Equine Veterinarian?

Horses can be seen everywhere from rodeos to dressage meets to Olympic competitions. Equine vets are specialty veterinarians for horses. They can have their own clinics or work for barns or organizations that take care of or board a large number of horses. They need a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, and they may complete a postgraduate internship in equine care. Their duties could include examining horses to diagnose health problems, treating injuries, performing surgery, prescribing medication, euthanizing sick or injured horses, providing vaccinations and advising owners regarding the care of their horses. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree & Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited school
Education Field of Study Veterinary medicine with specialization in horses
Training Required Optional 1-yr. internship available post-grad
Key Skills Provide medical treatment & healthcare for horses; provide information on horse nutrition, breeding & housing
Licensure/Certification Required North American Veterinary Licensing Exam required; state license required; board certification optional
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 9% increase for all veterinarians*
Average Salary (2015) $99,000 for all veterinarians*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become an Equine Veterinarian?

Some professional veterinary programs will admit students that do not have bachelor's degrees, but if you have not earned a bachelor's degree, you may struggle to be admitted. All programs require students to complete at least two to three years of pre-veterinary coursework from an undergraduate program. Undergrad classes should include animal and general biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics and physics.

To become an equine veterinarian, you must obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from a college or university accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). A DVM program takes four years to complete. Generally, the first three years of the program involve coursework useful for all types of veterinary practice, such as anatomy, histology, veterinary neurobiology and reproductive physiology. The fourth year is dedicated to clinical rotations through several areas of veterinary care like large animal medicine, surgery, critical care and ambulatory care.

Many graduates of a DVM program opt to pursue a 1-year internship to gain further hands-on experience before entering practice. Organizations like the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians can connect you with an internship under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

After completion of your internship, you can specialize further by applying to a residency program for a subspecialty like sports medicine, radiology, theriogenology, large animal surgery or equine internal medicine. A residency program lasts 3-5 years and will prepare you to take a certification exam in your subspecialty.

What Licensing or Certification Do I Need?

Following graduation from a DVM program, you must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam, which is provided by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. You're also required to obtain a license from the state in which you intend to practice. After you become a practicing veterinarian, you can become board certified in equine practice through the AMVA without a residency.

What Would My Job Duties Include?

As an equine veterinarian, you might provide assistance with reproduction and birthing, as well as medical care, including vaccinations, wound dressing, surgeries and procedures to repair mild bone breaks. You could care for all types of equines, like farm, ranch, race, performance or reproductive horses.

Equine veterinarians often travel to farms or ranches to perform their duties. You might also consult with ranchers and farmers regarding the feeding, housing and breeding of horses. You could also opt to work in a veterinary teaching hospital, where you would research new methods used to prevent and treat equine illnesses.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for all veterinarians is expected to increase at a rate of about 9% from 2014-2024, which is about average for all U.S. occupations (www.bls.gov). The need for vets who work with farm animals, like equine veterinarians, may hold the best prospects since most veterinary graduates will enter small animal practices. In 2014, about 6% of veterinarians in private practice worked solely with horses. The BLS also reports that in May 2015, the average yearly salary for veterinarians in general was about $99,000.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include vet assistants and service workers who normally feed, groom and exercise farm or vet animals. These careers require a high school diploma or the equivalent. Bachelor's degrees are needed for agricultural scientists, zoologists and biologists who all work in research and animal studies. Doctorates are needed if the alternative career of choice has to do with being a medical doctor, physician or surgeon.

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