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I am twenty-seven years old and have twenty years of experience riding and training horses and working in barns. Last year I decided to try something new—equine sports massage therapy. I completed a two-week certification program through a company called EquiTouch in Loveland, Colorado. The program gave me the skills to practice equine sports massage therapy on my own.

Massage therapy has put me on a whole new level with horses. All horses appreciate having their muscles rubbed. When you start massaging horses, they sometimes start moving around and itching themselves and fidgeting, but when they realize that what you're doing feels really good, they settle down and show clear signs of comfort and pleasure. They push into you for more pressure, they let their heads drop, and they move around less. When I see this, I know that what I'm doing is helping.

Another way I know my massaging helps is from what the owners tell me. Usually they say that their horses perform better and feel better to ride after I give them a massage or a series of massages. The fact is, horses are work animals—they jump, race, chase cattle, do dressage, and even make tight turns around barrels. Caring for their muscles is key to keeping them fit and healthy.

Jen, an equine massage therapist from Fort Collins, Colorado

Animal Careers: A Hot Job Market

Animals, of course, are a major part of modern-day life. Cats, gerbils, birds, and fish are all kept as pets. The sound of barking dogs is common in almost any neighborhood. It should come as no surprise, then, that careers in animal care—everything from working as a veterinary assistant to pet sitting—are booming.

Still, just because the jobs are there doesn't mean they're easy to get. “You've got to be willing to get in there and work,” says Jerilee Zezula, an associate professor of applied animal science and the coordinator of the small-animal care program at the Thompson School of Applied Sciences in New Hampshire. “And if you want to move up the ladder, you have to be able to think and reason.” Competition is keen, especially for positions that demand experience. Although some jobs require little more than a high-school diploma and a willingness to work, others are offered only to those with proper training and certification from professional organizations. To make matters more difficult, pay is often low considering the amount of time and effort required, and working conditions can be noisy, dirty, and physically demanding. “That's the problem with animal jobs,” says Zezula, who is also a veterinarian. “A lot of people want to work in the field because they love animals, but they have no idea what they're getting into.”

So what does it take to succeed? Courses in animal science are helpful, as is biology. If you have the opportunity, try volunteering or, even better, working as a paid apprentice. Then again, if science isn't your thing or hands-on animal work sounds too hairy, consider a job where you aren't actually handling the animals—like a receptionist at a clinic, for example.

Most of all, the key to a career in animal care, whether it be as a trainer of search-and-rescue dogs, as a breeder, or as a pet store employee, is remembering just what attracts you to the field in the first place—animals. If you can do that, you'll be happy no matter where you end up.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCool Careers Without CollegeEQUINE SPORTS MASSAGE THERAPIST - Description, Education And Training, Outlook, Profile, Animal Careers: A Hot Job Market - OTHER INFORMATION