Maintaining a Seasonal Job While in Veterinary School

By Sarina M. ’26, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Student

A nighttime photo of a woman driving a horse-drawn wagon at a Christmas theme park.

Two years before getting admitted to veterinary school, I became interested in a rather unconventional job opportunity: being a horse carriage driver at Santa’s Wonderland. Santa’s Wonderland is a Texas-themed Christmas amusement park that brings hundreds of thousands of people from all over the state to College Station to experience good food and millions of Christmas lights. Within the park, they have a mile-and-a-half-long “Trail of Lights” that visitors can see either with a tractor-pulled hayride or a private horse and carriage.

Before hearing about this opportunity, I had no experience with draft horses, much less any knowledge of how to drive a team of them. I devoted hours to learning how to properly harness and hook up a pair of horses to a carriage or wagon and how to drive them safely. I had only ever ridden horses before, but I soon fell in love with this new experience.

Thanks to working at Santa’s Wonderland, I was able to handle many different breeds of draft horses, including Percherons, Clydesdales, Belgians, and Haflingers. This was my first hands-on exposure to any of these breeds and it opened my eyes to how different these huge horses can be from standard riding horse breeds, like quarter horses. Handling and controlling two horses at one time were also brand new experiences that I found challenging in the beginning.

This past winter marked my fourth season driving horse carriages and showing visitors the “Trail of Lights” at Santa’s Wonderland. Now, two years into veterinary school, it is harder to carve out the time to work around classes and studying; however my biggest motivation is the excitement I have developed for the job that now truly feels like a passion.

A young woman practicing how to drive a team of white horses.

Learning to drive a draft horse team also opened the door for other opportunities I would have never thought I’d have. For the past three years, I have been able to drive a horse and wagon in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Parade in downtown Houston. In 2023, I was even the driver for that year’s Grand Marshal, leading the parade and being able to meet Leon Coffee, a rodeo clown and bullfighter who is famous for his contributions to the rodeo industry.

Many people think that veterinary students aren’t able to maintain the hobbies and interests they had as undergrads, but striving for a healthy school-life balance has afforded me many unique opportunities, a means of income, and has even allowed me to develop new passions that I will take with me even after I leave Texas A&M.