Best Equine Studies Colleges? Discover Martin Community College!

Are you researching quality equine studies colleges? Do careers in the horse industry interest you? Are you looking for affordable colleges with equestrian teams on the East Coast? Well, in eastern North Carolina, nothing could be finer!

Equine studies colleges - Martin Community College in Williamston, NCRecently, we had the opportunity to go “back to school” when we journeyed to Martin Community College (MCC) in Williamston, NC.

Our mission was to take an enlightening, deep dive into the Equine Technology Program that the school has carefully developed through the years.

We learned much during our visit about why MCC’s Equine Program “stands out from the herd” of college equestrian programs. One of the first nuggets we uncovered is the fact that MCC is the only community college in North Carolina offering the specialty Equine Technology Program.

Do you imagine yourself working with horses every day as a profession? Is a training or breeding farm career in your sights, or are you thinking more about teaching or judging? Perhaps you picture yourself managing the day to day business affairs of a horse facility? Or, you may simply desire to learn more about horses, but aren’t sure whether to commit to it as your career path.

If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then the Equine Technology curriculum at MCC might be the perfect fit to help you reach your goals. Discover one of the most proactive and empowering colleges for equestrian and horseback riding programs on the East Coast.

Intercollegiate Horse Show Association MCC Show Team

MCC’s Role among Equine Studies Colleges

Director of Equine Technology, Tami Thurston, gave us a warm welcome to the school. Tami, a University of Findlay graduate, is starting her eleventh year at MCC.

Director of Equine Technology, Tami ThurstonWith Tami at the helm, the MCC Equine Program has evolved to become an immersion into managing horses, training, and managing horse facilities. Tami has skillfully developed the program curriculum, with hands-on practical experience being the focus in concert with classroom learning.

Tami feels deeply that the Equine Program not only arms students with the skills they need to be successful in the horse industry, but it must also equip students more broadly. Martin Community College’s unique equine program instills valuable life skills along with individual guidance allowing each student to identify and achieve their own personal goals.

Tami explains, “When you graduate from this program, whether you are going to work with horses or not – whatever it is that you end up doing, I want you to have the essentials to go out in life and be successful.”

Tami also points out that the program instructors “Try to help the students realistically figure out what they are going to do within the equine industry once they graduate. We help them find that right avenue – what is really going to suit them.”

Humble Beginnings

Martin Community College first opened its doors in 1967 as Martin Technical Institute. Later that same year the school was accepted as a Community College by the state of NC. The school first occupied its current location in 1971 and became officially known as Martin Community College in 1976.

The Equine Facility got its start in the summer of 1984. The first amenities consisted of an 18-stall horse barn, a riding ring, and a breeding shed. Over the years more construction took place, and today the facilities for the equine program consist of a 40-stall barn, an indoor arena, an outdoor ring, a breeding lab, covered round pens, wash racks, tack rooms, and 15 acres of pastures equipped with run out sheds.*

MCC equine studies colleges Indoor riding arena

Equally as important as the existing facilities, is the news that a grant was secured for renovations that will take the college’s equestrian program into the future. Several smaller projects are already completed, and excitement is growing about the new proposals and plans in the pipeline for the indoor arena, classrooms, and stalls.

As Tami explained to us, “There is so much potential here!” Stay tuned for further developments!

Meet the MCC Equine Program Faculty

You might ask, “What has made this college’s equine studies such a success through the years?” The answer to that question is very simple; the heart and soul of the Equine Technology Program flows directly from the Director and the Instructors.

This vital team of leaders is responsible for molding the students, and they clearly have a knack for developing aspiring young equine professionals. Allow us to introduce you to these dedicated mentors:

Tami Thurston, Director of Equine Technology

Tami was winner of National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) World ChampionshipAs mentioned, Tami is the Program Director and is a graduate of the University of Findlay with a Bachelor’s degree in Equine Science and Business.

Along with holding the Director position, she and her husband Paul co-own Thurston Quarter Horses in Tarboro, NC, where they both specialize in training and showing futurity horses.

Tami and Paul have been extremely successful at all levels of showing and training Quarter Horses under their farm flag, including a recent championship in NSBA (National Snaffle Bit Association) for Tami. This husband and wife team have multiple championships, reserves, and top ten titles for their horses and their clients’ horses in Quarter Horse World, Quarter Horse Congress, and NSBA showing.

Tami feels show ring wins can be a plus by establishing credibility in the eyes of the students.

As Director, Tami wears many hats. Her focus in the classes she teaches is horse training. Along with teaching multiple riding classes and one lecture class, she also helps with the open horse show team and manages the drill team.

Another area that demands her time is administrative duties. Tami manages the budgeting, advertising, and recruiting for the program along with other responsibilities tied to management.

Carey Stewart, Instructor

Equine studies colleges instructor Carey StewartCarey is an Equine Instructor who has been a vital member of the faculty for several years. Carey started her college education as a graduate of the Equine Technology Program at MCC. After she finished her Associate’s degree at MCC, she attended Texas A&M University and secured her Bachelor’s Degree. Carey finished her college education with a Master’s Degree from William Woods University.

Carey predominantly teaches lecture classes and freshman classes in the Equine Program at MCC. In addition to teaching, she oversees equine reproduction and is the coach for the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) team.


Mary Dalcourt, Equine Facility Manager

Mary Dalcourt, Facility Manager of Martin Community College of Equine StudiesMary is also a graduate of the Equine Technology Program at Martin Community College and holds an Associate’s Degree. As the Equine Facility Manager, she is an integral part of the team. Mary manages the barn, the horses, and the facility. You could say that she is the glue that holds it all together!

In addition to managing the facility and lab, Mary also helps with the open horse show team and the eventing team. She is currently working on a second degree in Vet Tech.


Bang for the Buck – Amazingly Affordable Equine College Program

Program Director Tami Thurston is passionate about getting the word out regarding the educational value the MCC Equine Program represents. Tami describes the program as “Small, but Mighty” and she wants people to understand that a Community College can provide the same quality education as the larger schools. She goes on to clarify that some competing schools tend to be profit driven, but the MCC Equine Program is community and student-driven instead.

Jesse Bunting (Class of 2016)

Tami believes “The value of this education is unbelievable.” Students get exposure to information available in a four-year equine studies college program that is condensed into MCC’s structured short-term format. Because MCC students can complete the Equine Technology degrees in two years, that translates into saving a great deal of money on tuition.

Along with these cost savings, the Martin Community College Equine Program offers an additional bang for the buck with greatly discounted tuition fees compared to some other comparable courses.

There is another way the college’s equestrian program stands out from the rest regarding cost. Equine oriented schools and universities may tend to charge multiple fees over and above the tuition cost; this is not the case with the MCC program.

After hearing all the ways that the MCC equine students can save money, we agree with Tami when she says that the programs are “Very budget friendly.”

Martin Community College’s Equine Studies: What Do They Offer?

Martin Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and offers two different Associate in Applied Science Degrees (AAS) in the field of Equine Technology. In addition to the AAS Degrees offered, students also have the option for Diplomas or Certificates in their chosen field of study:*

Equine Business Technology

  • AAS Degree
  • Diploma

Equine Training Technology

  • AAS Degree
  • Diploma
  • Certificate
  • Equine Training Technology Pathways Diploma for high school students

The curriculum in the Equine Business Technology core is geared towards the management of horse facilities, horse barns, animal husbandry, and race tracks along with other horse-related businesses such as tack and feed sales. Students following this path concentrate more on business-related classes versus riding classes. This course of study provides the widest range of opportunities to secure horse-related careers and employment.

The Equine Training Technology instruction is targeted, as its name implies, towards horse training careers. Students choosing this course of instruction take four additional riding classes instead of additional business classes. Graduates who complete this curriculum can be horse trainers, assistant horse trainers, horse barn managers, grooms, and riding instructors among other openings that may be available to them.

Indoor riding arena fronted by outdoor practice ring

A Practical Approach to Learning about Equine Related Careers

When Director Tami Thurston took over the reins eleven years ago, she had the unique opportunity to put her personal stamp on the Equine Technology Program. She decided to implement a basic structure that would help students gain valuable knowledge, set realistic goals, and reap real-world insight.

Equine studies colleges demonstrating weighing a young horse on scales
Meet “Cash” – MCC’s April 2017 foal, getting weighed on the Equine Program’s scales

Tami set out to construct an educational framework that would encourage students to interact with each other and learn real-life lessons from those personal interactions.

A powerful component of the learning progression within the college’s equine studies program is the implementation of a hierarchy system where the freshmen students and the sophomore students inherit different roles. Under the supervision of the faculty, the students run mock businesses with each grade level representing a different facet of an employer/employee relationship.

The sophomores assume the role of farm managers who are assigned a string of horses for which they are responsible throughout the school year. This assignment gives them the chance to put skills learned in the first year into practice.

In addition to the horse management slice of this exercise, sophomore students explore the role of being a horse farm boss and mentor. Each sophomore student is assigned one or two freshmen students that they monitor. These freshmen students function as if they are the horse farm employees.

Expanded assignments are given to the sophomore students too, such as fence maintenance, arena maintenance, inventory, data entry, equipment maintenance, and feed management.

To keep up with all their duties, the sophomore students quickly learn how to delegate jobs to the freshmen pupils in their charge. Sophomores learn to juggle a wide range of personnel, animal management, and farm management responsibilities every day in conjunction with their assigned duties, just as they would in a real-world scenario.

Under this ingenious arrangement, the freshmen will rotate periodically to a different sophomore for oversight. The freshmen students continue this revolution throughout the year until all sophomores and freshmen have interacted with each other. In this manner, many real-life lessons are injected into the equation.

  • Sophomores get a taste of what it’s like to interact with and manage different people with various personalities, alongside the day to day management of horses that present their own temperaments and challenges.
  • Freshmen students get to experience working underneath a mock employer. Freshmen take away valuable information about horse management from their sophomore employers. And just like the sophomores, freshmen gain unique insight working with numerous people and figuring out how to deal with mixed personalities.

The favorable benefit that Tami sees in this arrangement is the interaction that develops between the students. “When I see students collaborate and help each other, to me that is the ultimate,” she explains. “We try to start that right at the beginning, from day one.”

Priceless Lessons for Any Career Path

Western riding in the indoor arena; up is Luke Williams, Class of 2016
Western riding in the indoor arena; up is Luke Williams, Class of 2016

This visionary educational approach instills many life lessons in students. These lessons include concepts that prove to be extremely important to them going forward in life, no matter what career path they end up choosing. Some examples of these important lessons are:

  • developing confidence
  • learning responsibility
  • the importance of showing up to work on time
  • a realistic view of the horse industry
  • developing a work ethic in the students
  • learning how to interact with different people in a professional manner
  • developing personal fortitude when dealing with challenges or hardships

One more important angle to this scholastic adaptation is the chance for sophomores to practice being teachers. This is accomplished by the sophomore students presenting educational demonstrations to their freshmen audience. Examples might include:

  • vitals demo
  • body score demo
  • clipping demo
  • tack fitting demo
  • tack cleaning demo
  • hoof care demo

These presentations also satisfy different needs of the Equine Program instructors. The demos allow instructors to evaluate the progress of the advanced students and make sure they are benefitting from the curriculum as they should. Instructors also use the demos to assess whether their pupils are operating at the proper educational level.

Students Learn to Build a Horse Farm from the Ground Up

In another twist to class curriculum, students get an additional project, separate from the equine management component. Students experience the real-world challenges and details of developing a horse farm and bringing it to fruition as part of their core coursework.

Once again, students are encouraged to take an idea and to flesh it out, both in theory and on paper. This project begins with the students finding an actual piece of land to use as their model. From this starting point, they develop the plans for a realistic horse farm they could build on the land they have chosen. They must come up with the concept, plans, and layout for the imaginary facility.

In step two of the exercise, the students expand the strategy by developing an actual business plan to complement the construction design for the farm. They also structure an advertising campaign and a marketing plan.

Throughout the entire process, students are encouraged to use and become familiar with the Small Business Center on campus. They are advised to take advantage of the free business seminars available through the center as additional business resources for their schemes.

Tami feels that this endeavor is critical to students because they gain a realistic outlook concerning what it takes to start a horse farm from the ground up, from concept to completion. Once the students complete their business model, the net result could be a viable business plan and blueprint that they can take forward and use to secure loans and to start a real business after graduation, if they choose.

Interim barn manager Ashley Bundy, Class of 2016, handles youngster Cash for a photo op

Equine Studies to Evaluate and Judge Horses

The Equine Evaluation classes I and II offer another avenue for student advancement. These classes give students the information and experience that they need to evaluate and judge horses in the horse show environment.

Some of the students who have completed this series of classes have gone on to retain their NC State Judging Certification. Sometimes graduates of the Equine Program use the judging pathway to provide secondary income in conjunction with their regular job.

Principles of Riding Instruction

The Principles of Riding Instruction class can also open doors of opportunity by providing instruction that students can use as the basis for obtaining their Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) certification.

This certification establishes credibility and prepares students to become full time or part time riding instructors themselves after graduation.

Examples of Equine Technology Program Classes Offered at MCC*

  • Horse Science I and II
  • Horsemanship I and II
  • Equine Evaluation I and II
  • Equine Anatomy and Physiology
  • Equine Nutrition
  • Horse Farm Management I and II
  • Principles of Riding Instruction
  • Horse Training I and II
  • Equine Reproduction and Genetics
  • Equine Business Law
  • Basic Colt Training Principles
  • Principles of Marketing

Martin Community College Student Internships

In the first summer of the Equine Program, students are required to do a short-term internship at a business of their choice. These internships help to focus the students, get them excited about what they are doing, and step up their mental intensity. Some examples of summer work could be working with veterinarians, horse trainers, feed stores, and equine therapists.

Equestrian Opportunities outside the Classroom

Extracurricular activities revolve around the core classes in the Equine Program such as an open horse show team, an eventing team, and a drill team.

If a student has an interest that cannot be represented by an existing team, then instructors still attempt to carve out some class time for the student to research their area of interest. Tami offers this thought, “Anything that is not addressed inside class time, if there is an interest for it we try to come up with it!”

Students raise money each year to attend the Quarter Horse Congress and experience this extraordinary show. Some of the fundraising they tap into for the trip includes managing several open horse shows at the college each school year.

Pictured below: mane & tail braiding and banding handiwork of Cameron Van Sickle (Class of 2016)

Compete with the Best College Equestrian Teams on the East Coast!

The MCC Equine Program has a show team that competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association against exhibitors representing other schools such as St. Andrews, Campbell, and Virginia Tech.

Riders compete as teams and as individuals at these Intercollegiate meets on four to five occasions each season. These shows can be quite challenging since all students must ride horses they have never been on before!

MCC Equestrian Team - Intercollegiate Horse Show Association
MCC Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Show Team
Class of 2016/2017

A Hub of Equine Activity Year-round

Tami strives for the Equine Program to be a huge positive for the community. For example, students regularly assist with events at the Senator Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center (SBMEAC).

The equine students also host various horse shows each year at MCC’s own indoor arena, and these shows are open to the public. The drill team rides in the Ken Treadway Rodeo, and the school has hosted the 4-H and FFA state judging competitions several times.

The college’s equine studies also get special attention when guest speakers and clinicians come to the school. These events are also open to the public on occasion.

Getting Local High School Students Involved

Area high school students can participate in the “Career Path and Promise Program” which allows certain high school level students to start taking classes within the college’s equine curriculum. High school students who can take advantage of this program will work with a coordinator to guide them. Anyone interested in this option should contact Tami Thurston to get started.

Collaboration Underway for Veterinary Technology Program

Something that Tami is very excited about for the future is a possible collaboration between the MCC Equine Technology Program and the Veterinary Medical Technology Program at Nash Community College. Tami welcomes this affiliation and explains to us that both schools are involved in the dialog to iron out the structure of the alliance.

If the details can be worked out for this partnership, Vet Tech students from Nash CC will be able to take the large animal portion at MCC, and the MCC students will have the opportunity for a few guaranteed seats in the Vet Tech program at Nash CC. The Nash CC Vet Tech program is extremely hard to get into, so these seats would be a plus to any Martin Community College equine students wanting to expand into the veterinary care area of study.

Martin Community Colleges Equine Studies Horses


Students Learn the Realities of Equine Industry Careers

Tami describes the MCC Equine Program instructional philosophy like this:

“We want to give students the chance to explore as many different venues and options as possible and give them a very realistic look at what it’s like to work in the horse industry.”

She goes on to indicate that the instructors strive to prepare the students by giving them an excellent foundation to draw from. Tami says, “It is a lot of stall cleaning and fence mending. We teach them how to drive the tractor and mend the fence. We help them to figure out what they can realistically do in the industry and then help them to get into that area they choose.

Equestrian Colleges and Community go Hand-In-Hand

Our visit illuminated the importance of the MCC Equine Program to the surrounding community.

Most folks probably don’t realize that when a student starts attending the program, they deliver an immediate positive effect on the economics of the county. Not only do the students contribute to the area, but sometimes they also bring another friend or family member to join them, which in turn doubles the benefit.

Students work in the community, buy gas, buy groceries, pay rent, and pay taxes among other financial expenditures. Even after they finish school, some students elect to stay in the Williamston NC area. They start their own businesses, look for employment, get married, and have families – all which expand their economic benefit to the county for years into the future. As Tami puts it, “The community truly does benefit from them.”

North Carolina equine studies colleges, NC horse farms and related businesses naturally benefit by working together. By educating a pool of future riding instructors, farm managers and trainers, the Martin Community College Equine Technology Programs support horse farms and businesses throughout the state and beyond.

Locally, MCC open horse shows give riding students in the community the opportunity to blossom and learn as show exhibitors, as well as offering horse owners in surrounding counties a great chance to compete and enjoy the facility.

Community Partners, Big Apple Farms

A good example of students staying in the area to work can be found at Big Apple Farms Riding Academy just down the road from the school. Several MCC Equine Program graduates have worked for Big Apple Farms, including their current Riding Director, Courtney Jo Wexler.

The MCC Equine Program and Big Apple Farms Riding Academy share a common vision, and they align with each other in areas of mutual benefit.

Equine studies colleges student housing
MCC student housing at Big Apple Farms

Student Housing: Locating safe, comfortable housing for the out of town equine students has historically been a challenge for the school. After consultation with MCC, Big Apple Farm’s owners Jerry and Gail Cornwell stepped up and addressed those needs by providing rental units on their farm, exclusively for the equine program students.

Riding Academy: Jerry and Gail have structured their program so that their riding academy students develop into aspiring young equestrians, ready to step into the Martin Community College Equine Program if they choose to in the future.

Tami expressed that Jerry, Gail, and Big Apple Farms have been wonderful community partners and advocates for the MCC Equine Program through the years, and she is extremely grateful for all their help.

Gifts to MCC Equine Department Have a Lasting Impact

We asked Tami “What are some other things that people can do to help the college’s equine program to thrive now, and in the future?” Tami responded by telling us that donations are extremely important to the program and how appreciative they are for the donations that are made to them.

Tami went on to illustrate that while the needs are great, certain items are requested from anyone wishing to help. Examples for donations include,

  • equipment and tack (should be in good working order and useable)
  • supplements
  • stallion breedings (to quality Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Drafts, and Quarter Horses)
  • horse shelters (Tami says that there is a great need for these)
  • vaccinations
  • money (please specify that funds go to either the Equine Club or the Equine Program itself)

Donated horses are welcomed, but bear in mind that the types of horses they need are very targeted. Tami says they are in extreme need of horses that have been shown and trained, most especially ranch and reining type horses. Any donated horse is requested to be serviceably sound, broke, finished, and have skills.

Requested breeds include Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Drafts, and Quarter Horses. Currently, the program does not need unbroke horses.

Anybody who wishes to help this great program through a donation can contact Tami Thurston (Program Director). Tami is glad to help walk donors through the process and assist them in making sure that their much-appreciated contribution is routed correctly. All donations are tax deductible.

Horse pastures adjacent to the college's equine studies campus

A Hidden Value of this Two-Year College Equestrian Program

Tami urges prospective students that they should not overlook the MCC Equine Technology option simply because it is a two-year program.

In addition to the great value and educational opportunity represented, she states that the Equine Technology Program faculty members try to “Level the playing field as much as possible for everyone, no matter what your background is.”

Tami adds, “Whether you come in with a lot of experience, or a little, we try to be a program that fits everyone’s needs. The program is so hands-on that we can also help those students who have historically struggled academically – they might find that this is a good fit. We are committed to helping students be successful in the program.”

Martin Community Colleges Equine Studies Mare and Foal

What happens after graduation for the students?

“Some students graduate and go right into the horse industry one hundred percent,” Tami explains. “Other students use this as a stepping stone towards additional education at another school. Still others use their time in the Equine Program to provide them the knowledge base to add supplemental income to complement their primary income.”

Tami concludes by stating her personal philosophy that guides her as the Director of the program:

“It’s not all about the horses; it’s about the people who work with the horses. I want to help them to grow, not only in the industry but as people too. I want to help them be successful in life. The equine industry has given me so much – this is my chance to give back through horses, what horses gave to me.”

Tami feels strongly that the future of the college’s Equine Technology Program is very bright. She would love to see it evolve into a national program, which would open huge areas of potential.

In your search for the best equine studies colleges, include MCC!

We wish to thank Tami Thurston for taking her time to “teach” us about another diamond located right in our community. We went “back to school” and when the afternoon concluded, we left knowing that the Equine Technology program at Martin Community College in Williamston, NC has a lot of horsepower packed under the hood!

Learn more about the MCC Equine Technology Program!

Visit Martin Community College

Martin County Campus
1161 Kehukee Park Rd.
Williamston, NC 27892

MCC Equestrian Program on Facebook



North Carolina Horse Farms