How To Become an Equine Vet

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you have a passion for horses and would like to pursue a career caring for them, read on to learn more about how to become an equine vet!

Equine veterinarian medicine is a unique field that focuses solely on one type of animal —horses. Despite only having to care for one species, veterinarians are required to understand the diverse and varying needs of these animals, since there are hundreds of horse breeds. 

Whether you grew up around horses, or simply have a soft spot for these gentle giants, you may be considering a career as an equine veterinarian. If you are, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about this profession, including the steps involved in becoming an equine vet, their daily duties, and career outlook!

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What Does an Equine Veterinarian Do?

Now that you know exactly how to become an equine veterinarian, you might be wondering what your day-to-day tasks will look like once you’ve gone through all the necessary steps.

Your general duties will entail:

  • Performing regular check-ups
  • Diagnosing disease
  • Administering vaccines
  • Performing diagnostic imaging (x-rays, ultrasounds)
  • Setting fractures
  • Drawing blood and testing it for abnormalities
  • Testing urine and fecal samples for abnormalities
  • Overseeing, assisting with, and monitoring births
  • Performing surgeries
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Educating others on proper horse care

Equine vets work in a variety of settings, including ranches, clinics, hospitals, rescue organizations, or in private practice for racers or breeders.

Steps To Becoming an Equine Vet

Anyone interested in becoming a vet quickly learns it's a lengthy process. So, you might be wondering, “how long does it take to become an equine vet?” The short answer is it’ll take at least 11 years. 

Let’s take a closer look at what these years involve.

Step One: Complete an Undergraduate Degree

The first step before you can enroll in any vet program is to complete an undergraduate degree at an accredited university. 

While the exact major you choose to pursue doesn’t matter, the majority of students choose animal science, biology, or biomedicine majors because vet schools have certain science prerequisites students must complete before enrollment. 

Vet schools are also highly competitive, so it’s important you maintain a high GPA in your undergrad to maximize your chances of admission.

Step Two: Make Your List of Vet Schools

While it may seem a little early to start looking at vet schools, every vet school has different admission requirements. Particularly, each one will ask its applicants to have a certain number of hours of experience working with animals. 

To ensure you complete the required hours, you should start researching vet schools early to set your target hours. There are only a limited number of vet schools across the US—30 to be exact—so figuring out your top choices shouldn’t be too difficult! 

There is also the option to study abroad, like at Caribbean vet schools, which can offer the same rigorous curriculums as US vet schools but more diverse clinical training!

Step Three: Gain Experience

While you’re still completing your undergrad, you should gain as much hands-on experience working with animals as possible. 

While it might be difficult to work directly with horses, you can begin learning the fundamental skills required to work with animals by volunteering at shelters, working at a pet store, and working under a veterinarian. 

Vet schools will require you to have a substantial amount of experience working directly under a veterinarian, so it’s important to start pursuing options early into your undergrad career! If you’re having a hard time finding opportunities, your school may have a pre-vet club that can help! 

Step Four: Write the GRE

Some schools require students to write the GRE as part of the admissions process. If your desired vet school is one of them, ensure you create a comprehensive study schedule to reach your target score.

Step Five: Complete Your DVM

Once you’ve completed your undergrad, your hours, and gotten into your dream vet school, you’ll be spending the next four years learning veterinary medicine and putting theory to practice during your clinic training!

Again, ensure you maintain high grades during these four years and that you build strong connections with your peers and mentors. These connections can help you with step seven, and even steer you towards employment opportunities post-graduation.

Step Six: Pass the NAVLE Exam

Once you’ve completed your DVM, you’ll have to write and pass the NAVLE exam to gain licensure and officially become a veterinarian!

Step Seven: Join an Equine Veterinary Residency

The last step before you can begin working with horses is to gain specialized training through a residency program. Your residency will take around three to four years to complete and will provide you with the knowledge and practical skills required to become an independent equine veterinarian!

Equine Vet Salary and Job Outlook

Becoming an equine vet is extremely rewarding. Not only will you be ensuring your favorite animals are healthy and happy, but you’ll also be paid well for doing it!

The median equine vet salary is $103,260 per year. This salary can increase depending on your experience and where you work.

Luckily, there is high demand for equine vets! With over 9 million horses in the United States being used for racing, showing, recreation, and other activities, equine vets are desperately needed to care for them. Yet, only about 4% of vet school graduates end up specializing in equine veterinary medicine. 

As such, there is a shortage of equine veterinarians that you can help bridge! This demand is only expected to increase in the coming years, meaning there will be a considerable amount of job openings for you once you’ve completed your 11-12 years of training!

FAQs: Becoming an Equine Vet

We’ve covered the basics of how to become an equine vet. For any remaining questions, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this profession.

1. Is It Hard To Become an Equine Vet?

Yes, becoming an equine vet requires dedication and perseverance. 

The process itself will take over a decade, and you will be expected to maintain high grades throughout to get into a good vet school and secure a strong equine residency. You will also have to pass the NAVLE exam, which is known to be challenging!

2. Is Being an Equine Vet Worth It?

If you love horses, then becoming an equine vet is absolutely worth it. You will be working solely with horses your entire career, so if you want diversity and the chance to treat different species, this specialty isn’t for you! However, if you enjoy working with horses, this career can be extremely fulfilling! 

3. What Do I Need To Become an Equine Vet?

You’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree, have hundreds of hours of experience working with animals, complete a DVM, pass the NAVLE exam, and complete an equine medicine residency.

4. Where Do Equine Vets Get Paid the Most?

Equine veterinarians tend to get paid the most in Southern states, since these states tend to have the highest population of horses.

5. Where Do Equine Veterinarians Work?

Equine vets can work in animal clinics, rescue centers, hospitals, ranches, farms, or privately for breeders and racers. 

6. Are Equine Vets in Demand?

Yes, equine vets are in demand and will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future. There are millions of horses in the US and only a handful of equine vets in comparison.

Final Thoughts

Becoming an equine vet will be challenging. You’ll need to dedicate over a decade of your life to pursuing this goal, and will likely feel exhausted by the end of it! But once you’ve completed your education and training, you’ll have the opportunity to save horses every day and make a real and much-needed impact in the equine field!

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