Equine Physical Therapist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an equine physical therapist career? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an equine physical therapist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Equine Physical Therapist Career

An equine physical therapist treats horses for a variety of physical ailments, such as those dealing with muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an equine physical therapist is right for you.

Pros of an Equine Physical Therapist Career
Specialization of the high-growth job areas of veterinary medicine and physical therapy (12%-36% growth expected in those fields between 2012 and 2022)*
High earning potential (average annual salaries ranging from $98,000 to $83,000 as of May 2014)*
Ability to work in a high-tech, growing field**
Variety of work available (different locations, techniques)*

Cons of an Equine Therapist Career
Higher risk of injury due to dealing with injured animals*
Several years of schooling necessary (doctorate usually required)*
Additional licensure requirements necessary*
Often on-call after normal work hours*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), **Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Essential Career Information

Job Descriptions and Duties

Equine physical therapists use sports medicine and physical therapy techniques to treat physical problems in horses. They observe, diagnose and plan exercises for their patients. Often, the horses have been injured or are recovering from surgery. Several techniques used in equine treatment include digital radiography, shockwave treatments, digital ultrasound, endoscopies, acupuncture, gastroscopies, protein therapy and P-3 therapy.

Equine physical therapists may work in their own office or travel to their clients on farms or other facilities. They may have to work outside of normal hours, such as on weekends or evenings.

Salary and Career Prospects

Equine physical therapists come from two backgrounds: veterinarians and physical therapists. As such, salary and prospects vary based on the background. For veterinarians, the BLS reported that job prospects are expected to grow 12% between 2012 and 2022. The BLS also reported that as of May 2014 the mean salary for veterinarians was about $98,000. For physical therapists, job prospects are expected to grow 36% between 2012 and 2022, while the mean annual salary was reported as being around $83,000 as of May 2014.

Education Requirements

Equine physical therapy is a relatively new field, with most people coming in from either the veterinary background or the physical therapy background. Both require a doctorate and usually additional training. Some schools are starting to offer equine sports medicine or physical therapy programs, but they usually are offered as either concentrations or certificates. States also usually require these positions to be licensed.

For those interested in starting on the veterinary career path, you must first complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. These programs typically take four years to complete, and you must attend one of the 28 colleges accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). From there, you will need to specialize in physical therapy, which may be accomplished through additional schooling or an internship.

From the physical therapy career path, you must first become a physical therapist. This is usually done by completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, though master's degrees are available. DPT programs usually take three years to complete. After graduation, you may need to complete a residency, a certificate or work with a veterinarian to become specialized in equine medicine.

What Employers Are Looking For

As of June 2012, listings specifically for equine physical therapists were not available. However, several veterinary and related practices look for equine veterinarians with physical therapy experience and knowledge. Ambulatory clinics, which specialize in movement, tend to ask for these services. Here are some of those listings:

  • An equine ambulatory veterinary practice in South Carolina is looking for an associate veterinarian to join the practice. The job requires the recipient to be on-call one night a week and one weekend a month.
  • An equine ambulatory veterinary practice in New York wants an associate with a passion for sports medicine. They ask for experience dealing with lameness and a racetrack background.
  • A veterinary practice in California seeks an associate veterinarian to work in their equine ambulatory practice. They are looking specifically for someone who specializes in lameness and dentistry.
  • A racetrack sports medicine veterinary practice in Maryland is looking for an associate veterinarian. They want someone who is licensed in Maryland and Virginia, but they're willing to help the recipient earn his or her licensure if necessary.

How to Stand Out

While positions are expected to grow faster than average, you can take steps to improve your chances of gaining the position of your choice. For example, some positions may give preference to those who are members of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). AAEP requires members to have graduated from a veterinary medicine program or currently be pursuing a degree.

The AVMA offers a certification in Equine Practice through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). This certification requires passing an exam. Additionally, career prospects will be better in more rural areas, due to lack of competition.

Other Fields to Consider

If you're not particularly interested in working with horses, there are many other career specialties available in both the veterinary medicine and physical therapy career paths.

Those interested in physical therapy can work with humans instead. Additionally, you may choose to work with a certain age, such as children or the elderly, or in a specialty, such as sports medicine.

For veterinarians, instead of horses, you can specialize in companion animals, farm animals or zoo animals. Additionally, you can focus on research or work with the government inspecting livestock and other animal products. The AVMA recognizes 40 different veterinary specialties.

If the amount of education necessary is a deterrent and you'd like to stay with animals, you might consider becoming a veterinary technician. These positions require only an associate's degree and earn a median annual salary of around $30,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS. Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians by collecting samples, performing tests, observing animals and administering medication.

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