With the Central Applications Office deadline looming, thousands of Leaving Certificate students are turning their attention to what career they would like to pursue in the coming years.
For the student who is interested in working in the Irish horse industry, there are dozens of options both within the CAO system and outside it.
Although by no means an exhaustive list, here is a selection of the courses available for students who are considering further education with a view to developing a career in the equestrian sector.
One of the first to come to mind is the equine science degree offered by the University of Limerick, known in the CAO system as LM093.
This four-year degree programme had a CAO points requirement of 315 last year and is designed to teach students equine sciences and a choice of professional studies in the disciplines of equitation or equine business management.
Although experience with horses is not strictly a requirement for entry to the degree, it is better that candidates have a reasonable level of competency in horse riding and/or have experience of working with horses.
The University of Limerick degree includes a six-month co-operative education or work placement in the industry as part of the third year. The aim of this six-month placement is to give students the chance to develop the skills they have learned at college in the practical setting of a real workplace.
In year four, all students complete a research project on some aspect of the horse industry.
Throughout the four-year programme, students are brought into contact with the industry, through visits to centres of excellence, seminars conducted by expert speakers and hands-on experience of handling and riding horses.
This degree also offers a Certificate and Diploma in Equine Science, which had a CAO points requirement of 265 last year. Successful graduates of the certificate and diploma course can go on to join the degree programme if their results are good enough.
The certificate course is also available through distance learning, which may interest those already working in the industry.
Another option available at degree level is the BAgrSc Animal Science Equine degree programme offered by University College Dublin.
In 2008, the minimum CAO points requirement for entry into the course was 415, while the average CAO points of students who secured places was 460 points.
Known in the CAO system as DN049, the programme offers modules that focus on the applied sciences that underpin animal and veterinary biosciences, with a particular emphasis on the horse and supported by strong research programmes in equine and veterinary science.
Students will contribute to regular tutorial sessions, work on research projects and participate in field visits to relevant industry sites.
The degree focuses on the growth and development of farm animals, how they function, their behaviour and welfare, all with an emphasis on the equine species. It also examines animal production systems and how the components are integrated and managed in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
The equine focus is on the industry in Ireland, equine health, husbandry, reproduction, genetics, breeding, nutrition and exercise physiology, and recent advances and future directions in equine science research with an emphasis on equine genetics.
A third degree option is the Ordinary Bachelor degree in Equine Studies, offered jointly by Gurteen College and Athlone Institute of Technology.
This is a one-year add-on course designed for holders of the Higher Certificate in Business in Equine Studies.
The degree course is based primarily at Gurteen College, with one day each week at Athlone IT.
Students can be allocated accommodation at Gurteen College or arrange lodgings locally, while there is also the option for students to keep their own horses at the college. However, students are not required to bring horses as the college supply the animals.
The subjects studied include applied equine science, equine coaching and instruction, international marketing and sales management, enterprise development and management, and managerial finance. The programme also includes an eight-week work placement.
For this present academic year course fees range from €400 for a day student without meals to €4,300 for a residential student on full board.
Gurteen College and Athlone IT also offer the aforementioned Higher Certificate in Business in Equine Studies.
The two-year course is designed for students who wish to make a living working with horses, and is delivered mainly at Gurteen College in year one and Athlone in year two.
In year one, students study equitation, equine studies, economics, horse health and husbandry, horse management, equine business administration, communications and computing. It also includes a 12-week work experience placement.
In year two, students take up equine veterinary skills, applied science, financial and cost accounting, marketing and human resources management.
Known in the CAO system as AL025, the course was available to all qualified applicants in 2008, although the average points achieved by students on the course in previous years ranged from 245 to 275.
Fees for the higher certificate course are similar to the ordinary degree course, ranging from €400-€4,300/student not including a student services fee charged by Athlone IT.
Teagasc offers a two-year Advanced Certificate in Horsemanship and Stud Management at its college in Kildalton, Piltown, Co Kilkenny. Applications for this full-time course can be made directly to the college by June 1, for enrolment the following September.
There are no minimum educational entry requirements, but students who have completed the Leaving Certificate are likely to benefit most from the course. Applicants must be over 17 years of age on January 1 following entry to the course.
The first year of the course consists of 32 weeks of coursework at Kildalton College, where students have the option of specialising in equitation or stud operations.
In the first year students develop knowledge and skills in young horse evaluation, riding horses, breeding foals of high genetic merit, and managing mares and young horses. A considerable amount of time is spent developing their riding skills and studying breeding, stud management, equine nutrition, grassland management, horse health, business management and marketing.
On successful completion of the first year programme, students are awarded the FETAC Level 5 Certificate in Horse Breeding and Training.