Equine Science

Submitted by Phil George

Dr. Philip B. George
Dr. Philip B. George

By 1960, the horse in the United States of America had long since been pushed off the highways and out of the farm fields. It looked as if the horse industry had lost out as well. There were 4,500,000 horses in the country in 1959; the year that the U.S. Department of Agriculture took its last horse census and decided to discontinue counting heads, for the horse was no longer a viable part of the agricultural community. Yet, in 1960 the faculty at Wisconsin State College at River Falls (WSCRF) began the process of expanding their programs in agriculture including, among others, a proposed major in Animal Science with an equine emphasis.  At the same time with the support of WSCRF, a group of local and regional professionals in the horse industry launched a “traveling” outreach workshop called “Horses A to Z” (later merged with an on-campus summer program – The Horse Science Institute). Early staff in program included Jack Brainard, owner of the Diamond B Ranch in Rochester, MN, and a past president of the Minnesota Quarter Horse Association; Dr. Victor Meyers, Jr., DMV of Stillwater, MN, and a former faculty member of the veterinary surgery and radiology at the University of Minnesota; and Mrs. Frances Recker, who was the owner and director of Happy Horse Stable, in Rockford, MN. Mrs. Recker taught riding school instruction and management.  Helmer Undeberg of Eyota, MN taught farrier science. In 1960, Dr. James C. Dollahon was hired as a Professor of Animal Husbandry by WSCRF and, as an accredited American Quarter Horse judge, also became a part of this staff.

Jim Dollahon
Jim Dollahon

In 1963, it was announced by Dr. M.E. Ensminger, Director of the Horse Science School, that Wisconsin State College (WSCRF) was selected as the second site in the nation for the 1964 Horse Science School program (the original site, Fresno State College, would continue in its role as a training center). This association provided a measure of national recognition. The School was directed by Professor M.E. Ensminger, former Chairman of the Department of Animal Science, Washington State University and named as a Distinguished Professor (adjunct), Wisconsin State University, River Falls. Dr. Ensminger was a noted author of agricultural textbooks and President of Agriservices, Inc., the organization that supported the Horse Science Institute and similar institutes for other species. The association with Dr. Ensminger and Agriservices, Inc. continued for several years. There is an endowed scholarship in the name of Dr. and Mrs. Ensminger available to Animal Science students today.

Initially, Dr. James Dollahon served as Assistant Director of the Horse Science Institute program at River Falls. Two courses were available. One course was Horse Science – a 6-day course including elementary instruction in horse breeding, nutrition, management, health, selecting and judging, equitation, farrier science and training. The second course was Advanced Horse Science – a 4-day course in advanced application and interpretation in breeding, feeding, management, disease prevention and parasite control, selecting and judging, equitation, farrier science and training. Some of the courses were offered for college credit, but those seeking credit had to meet the college entrance requirements.

Horse Science Institute
Horse Science Institute
Horse Science Institute
Horse Science Institute

“Horses A to Z” and the Horse Science Institute were presented to acquaint interested people with recent developments in the horse industry. Current information for the amateur as well as for professionals was presented in an interesting and informative manner. Courses were offered in more than 26 instructional areas. Horse Management and Training; Riding School Instructors Course; Student Equitation; Reining Course; Colt Training; and Youth Horsemanship Camp are the current offerings.

The outreach activities of “Horses A to Z” and the Horse Science Institute were vehicles by which courses could be tried and tested, and then adapted for the collegiate experience. In 1964, Dr. James Dollahon was teaching a course in Light Horse production. In 1972, a two-quarter course sequence entitled, “Colts in Training” was introduced and taught by Mr. Jack Brainard. Two-year colts and fillies were halter broke, brought under saddle and taught to respond to neck reining by college students. For this first training class there was no indoor arena and students and horses were outside in all types of Wisconsin weather. These students and their horses also didn’t feel confined to campus in their training and were often seen along the Kinnikinnic River and in River Falls. The course “Colts in Training” was initiated to give college students a unique opportunity to start and train young stock under the instruction of expert horse trainers in a safe learning environment. Today local, regional, and national horse breeders submit colts to the program for training. The horse owners pay a training/boarding fee to cover associated costs. Each student is assigned a colt to be trained. The end result is a sale at the end of the spring semester whereby the newly trained colts are sold to local, regional, and national horse enthusiasts. The 32nd Colts in Training Sale was held in 2008.

Two courses in equitation (Introduction to Horsemanship and Advanced Horsemanship) became part of the Animal and Food Science curriculum in 1973. Ms. Bonnie Morness was the first equitation instructor, followed by Ms. Jill Randles 1977 – 1979, Dr. Shelia (Joosten) Schils in 1979 , Dr. Peter Rayne in 1998 and Dr. Kris Hiney in 2002.

Sheila Schils
Sheila Schils
Peter Rayne 1998
Peter Rayne 1998
Kristina Hiney
Kristina Hiney

Other elective courses in equitation have been added over the years but the equitation portion of the equine program has allowed the student to focus on Reining or Dressage/Combined Training according to their interest. A Farrier course was added to the curriculum in 1975 and is taught by certified and practicing farriers as adjunct faculty.

In 1973 the indoor arena was finished and put to use by the equitation classes and the Colts in Training course. Through the years, the indoor arena was a multi-purpose building resulting in some interesting mixes of livestock and horses. Additional barns and shelters were added to the facilities including a permanent round pen. In 1990, the indoor arena went through a major remodeling. A major addition to this facility occurred in 2002 with the opening of a new colt barn. Attached to the arena, the barn contains 50 stalls, two offices, a wash stall, a tack room and a laundry facility. Jennifer Easton, a former student in the Animal Sciences program, donated the total cost of the project ($504K).

A history of a college program would be incomplete without mention of students, faculty and staff even though there is always the danger of leaving out a key accomplishment and the key contributions of individuals. Two faculty members, however, have to be cited in the history of the equine program. The first would be Dr. James C. Dollahon. Dr. Dollahon was hired in 1960 as an assistant professor of animal husbandry to replace recently retired Professor A.N. Johnson. Dollahon received his B.S. degree from New Mexico State University and Masters and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida. Prior to coming to River Falls he had been on the staff of Mississippi State University. Dr. Dollahon had a life-long interest in the horse industry and was an accredited American Quarter Horse judge. He taught the Light Horse production and Colts-in-Training and directed the Horse Science Institute until 1977. He is also credited  with developing much of the early curriculum for the program. Even after Dr. Dollahon became Dean of the College of Agriculture, he continued his involvement in horse outreach activities until his untimely death in 1981.

The second faculty member was hired in 1973. Lawrence H. Kasten, a Minnesota native, joined the faculty from the graduate program at Texas A&M. He had received his B. S. degree from the University of Minnesota and his M.S. degree from Kansas State University. Larry taught many courses including genetics, monogastric nutrition, equine evaluation and nutrition, horse production, advanced horsemanship and colts-in-training. For 30 years he provided leadership to UWRF’s nationally recognized horse science program. He served as the Director of the Horse Science Institute and taught the Colts-in Training course for his entire tenure at the University. He organized and directed each of the first 30 Colts-in-Training Sales. He supervised the construction and remodeling of the horse facilities including the Colt Barn completed in 2002. Mr. Kasten pushed the program towards the more competitive and training intensive Reining and Dressage/Combined Training horse programs. He served as advisor to the Horseman’s Association and the horse judging teams for his entire teaching career and initiated and advised the Intercollegiate Horse Show Team. Mr. Kasten is an approved American Quarter Horse Association and National Reining Horse Association judge and used those contacts to place students in internships, both nationally and internationally. Former students identify Mr. Kasten as the personification of the equine and equitation program.

Larry Kasten 1977
Larry Kasten 1977

Since its inception the Animal Science major with the Horse Emphasis has been popular with students.  Arguably, it is the most popular major among incoming freshmen at UWRF. The horse program has attracted students from across the United States as well as internationally. The program is the second largest in the nation, and its  graduates are employed throughout the horse industry. There is even an Olympic medalist within their midst. Over a dozen UWRF graduates from the equine program have continued their education, receiving Ph.D.s and teaching and/or doing research in a University setting. Seventy-five (75) continued their education and are now practicing veterinarians. At least two graduates have completed medical school and are practicing MDs.

Now nearly 50 years later, after abandonment by the Department of Agriculture as a commodity, there are 9.2 million horses in the United States., including horses used for racing, showing, competition, sport, breeding, recreation and work. There are 4.6 million Americans are involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees and volunteers. Tens of millions more participate as spectators. Over 2 million people own horses. The horse industry has a direct economic effect on the U.S. of $39 billion annually. (Source: American Horse Council Foundation)

The industry has a $102 billion impact on the U.S. economy when the multiplier effect of spending by industry suppliers and employees is taken into account. If one includes off-site spending of spectators the effect would result in an even higher figure. The industry directly provides 460,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. Spending by suppliers and employees generates additional jobs for a total employment impact of 1.4 million FTE jobs. The horse industry pays $1.9 billion in taxes to all levels of government. (Source: American Horse Council Foundation). Nearly 50 years ago, faculty and friends at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, saw an opportunity and a need, and created a program that has stood the test of time.

In June 2006, UWRF graduate, Anne (Huffman) Campbell of River Falls, contributed the following:

Just a note on one of the “graduates” from the College of Ag.  FASHION KEEPER (Dawn) foaled 4/1/71 and died on 4/4/06.  Dawn was my training colt in the first colt training class.  She was the last survivor of that class.  I bought my training colt, showed her for 10 years and raised 8 foals out of her.  One of her foals is an AQHA champion in England.  She was a real “lady” ‘til the end.  Jack Brainard was my instructor.  

I’m a 1973 graduate from the College of Ag and have stayed in the horse industry for the last 35 years.  My “yellow horse” had become my trademark.

Fashion Keeper 1978
Fashion Keeper 1978
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