CALGARY -- Olds College is suspending its renowned equine science program, which means no new students will be admitted to the program next fall.

While the announcement came shortly after the Alberta government axed $663,000 from the school in its recent budget, the college maintains that is not what prompted the equine science program suspension.

College spokesperson Blayne Meek said the school is simply reevaluating the program — something that happens to all programs every three to five years.

"Programs are evaluated against a series of criteria including, student and industry demand, and student employment and satisfaction." Meek said. "The decision was not driven by budget-imposed restraints."

The decision has people involved in Alberta’s horse industry shaking their heads.

"I was very saddened and devastated. I couldn't believe it, actually," said Wendy Nelson of Wendy Nelson’s Reining and Performance Horses. "It's been such a reputable program for so many years and set the foundation for my career for 30 years and benefited me in so many areas in the business."

Nelson hires students and graduates of the Olds equine science program and said the skills they develop in college are in demand around the world.

"My first job out of college was for big equine breeder in Europe of quarter horses. He actually had come over to the college to purchase four horses that we bred at the college and myself and another girl were the students that showed and demonstrated what the horses could do," she said.

"He employed us right away and we both went on and had a great job over there in Europe and went on for years after to work overseas and then throughout Canada as well."

Coaching skills in high demand

The two-year diploma course teaches students everything from riding skills and coaching to horse husbandry, business management, genetics and breeding.

Nelson said the college taught coaching skills in the program’s second year that will be in high demand in the coming years

"(It’s) a very valuable part of the industry, especially now that Equine Canada has a mandate put in place that by 2025 all equestrian coaches will have to be certified," she said.

The college says current students will be allowed to complete the course and the program suspension does not necessarily mean it is gone forever.

"Olds College has a long history of equine training and will work diligently to continue this legacy in the future," Meek said.

Olds College will continue to offer its one-year equine reproduction certificate program.