I went down the 'college' and then degree option. I don't regret it for a second.
You will hear from, typically the older generation, of yard owners, that equine college courses (and god forbid, equine degrees!) were hand delivered to the equine industry by Satan himself. Many of these people do not believe in science as a concept.
They've experienced occurances with former college students being 'useless', 'ineffective' or 'unsafe'. They often want someone who's completed an apprenticeship, because they've learned on-the-job, and already have 2 years of full-time experience before coming to them. If you are going to go down the college route, don't be one of these people. Get some experience too. I did my BHS exams alongside my degree, and had working student/voluntary/training/paid equine jobs whilst doing so. Your aim should be to come out the other side as well-rounded individual.
In the short-term, the apprentices will progress a lot faster in the industry than others. What about when they are 40? When they want to settle down? When their back causes them absolute agony every waking moment, and they start taking Co codomol on a regular basis just to get through the day? When they want to leave the industry? (I know you might not believe me, but I promise, it does happen. People do throw in the towel and get a 'normal' job). Those former apprentices may well end up working in a supermarket, getting paid £9 an hour to scan items and take payment from customers. Those who've done the college route, and achieved UCAS points, can go to university (if they haven't do so already), and take a £40,000+ project management job, or go into another well-paid profession.
There is nothing wrong with considering, and planning for, a future outside of the equine industry... just in case.
It's all very well and good having experience, but until you're at least middle-aged, you'll be learning daily. What happens if you encounter a problem you haven't come across before? Find ourself in a situation you have no experience of? What do you do? Nothing. There's nothing you can do (other than hope someone who does have experience of this problem becomes available to advise).
In absence of experience, you need knowledge. You need to be able to find information, read it, understand it, read some more, and formulate your own opinion on how to handle the situation very quickly. That is something that college courses and degrees give people. In my humble (albeit, biased) opinion, it's irreplacable. If I get stuck, I get my phone out and jump onto Google Scholar. I read a few articles, so I can understand the problem better, come up with a solution based on what I now know. If it works, it's logged as good experience (do that again, if it happens again). If it doesn't work, it's logged as bad experience (try something different next time). I'm not even 25, there have been (and will continue to be) many, many firsts. The ability to research and problem-solve in record time has been hugely beneifical, and will continue to be, without a doubt.
The option you take is, of course, up to you.
Both options have strengths and weaknesses, and will afford you different opportunities, connections, and skills.
I am a dressage trainer and general equestrian coach in Surrey, Sussex, and Berkshire. I teach dressage lessons, and hold a range of riding and equestrian clinics around the UK, and use my blog to share horse training tips, advice, and resources.