South Farm Research Center University of Missouri Superintendent: Tim Reinbott Address: 3600 East New Haven Road Columbia, MO 65201 Phone: 573-882-4450 Website: southfarm.cafnr.org ~ Photos: Stephanie Sidoti ~ MU EQUINE TEACHING FACILITY OFFERS HANDS-ON EXPERIENCES The University of Missouri Equine Teaching Facility may be one of the more unique facilities housed in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Located at the South Farm Research Center in Columbia, the facility is home to anywhere between 15 and 25 horses throughout the year. “We’re unique for a couple of different reasons,” said Marci Crosby, equine instructor and facility supervisor. “First, it’s a facility that is completely student-operated. The nuts and bolts running of the farm and the decision-making process are in the students’ hands. I oversee the facility and work alongside the students. “Second, we are a teaching facility. That really opens a lot of doors for us to do some cool things.” The MU students who operate the facility get to be a part of a multi-level process at South Farm. Each step is quite different – yet equally busy. The spring offers a variety of opportunities in terms of foaling and general equine care. Crosby said there are generally 50 to 60 students who are part of an equine practicum class/horse farm volunteer program during the spring semester. Those students take care of the horses twice a day every day. Each student does two to three shifts per week. There are around 20 students in the practicum class and around 40 who are volunteers. “Our facility attracts students of all backgrounds,” Crosby said. “I would say 20 percent come in with actual equine experience. We’ve been able to create a place where students can be comfortable no matter their experience level. It’s OK not to be familiar with horses and serve as a volunteer. “We feel like we’re able to help bridge gaps for students as well. Horses aren’t really companion animals, but a lot of people view them as such. That makes horses somewhat more approachable and more personal. A lot of the students begin with equine before moving to other livestock settings.” Springtime is also home to classes on breeding management and equine reproduction. Students monitor mares during this time of the year, as the horses get closer to foaling. Students are actually on 24-hour foal watch, taking turns in shifts to keep updated with how the mare is doing. “There is certainly an anticipation throughout this time,” Crosby said. “We perform milk calcium titration tests on the mare’s milk to aid us in pinpointing the birthing timeframe to about 48 hours. So while there is some downtime, it is actually relatively short. The excitement far outweighs the downtime.” Crosby said there are usually around 15 students who enroll in the equine course, which focuses on managing all aspects of foaling and breeding. Crosby or an assistant graduate student manager is always onsite for the foaling. Additionally, the team is assisted by foaling volunteers, who help to serve as teaching assistants for the course. These are individuals who have been through the classes before and have an understanding of foaling, and assist students through the experiential learning process. Those assistants can be undergraduates, part of the MU veterinary school or even CAFNR alumni. “Foaling is my favorite time to teach,” Crosby said. “It’s a fun group who are extremely passionate and there are numerous teaching moments.” After the water breaks, the foal is normally on the ground in less than 25 minutes if there are no problems. Crosby said the mares at the equine facility average around 12 minutes. “Once it happens, everything moves quickly,” Crosby said. “Our students generally camp at South Farm. We have a fun tent and hammock community that has developed over the years. “While the majority of our mares don’t have problems, we want our students to be able to be right there when the mares give birth in case something does come up.” The beginning stages of training for the newly-born foals is done during the spring as well. The spring group also gets to breed back the mares so the equine facility will have new foals the following year. Crosby said they try to time breeding where new foals are born March through May. “We do our breeding through artificial insemination,” she said. “Not only are our students learning about how to deal with the foals, they also have an opportunity to handle our stallions during this time of the year.” The summer is a little different at the MU Equine Teaching Facility. This group is smaller but gets to participate in a few more educational opportunities, such as veterinary appointments, health checks and farm tours. This group also gets to further the training of the foals. “This is a great opportunity for students to dive in and really get to work with young horses,” Crosby said. “They get to fine-tune those halter cues and teach the foals to lift their feet for the farrier. This is an important time in the development of a foal.” Crosby said the majority of the farm tours take place during the summer months. Those tours give the students a great opportunity to not only showcase the facility, but to work on their public speaking skills. “The summer is an ideal time to take a tour of our facility,” Crosby said. “We always welcome the public, though. Plenty of people take their evening walks through the farm. We just ask that you be respectful. Don’t enter the enclosures or feed the horses. Other than that, there are always students around who are willing to talk.” Things rev back up in the fall, when the group starts doing more one-on-one work with the young horses. The students rarely ride the horses at South Farm due to the young age of the horses – the majority of the work is done on the ground. “Our main goal is to help desensitize the horses to their environments,” Crosby said. “We want to teach horses to ignore their prey instinct to flee. We want them to stay present with their handler. When you see us using a large bouncy ball for example, it’s not about doing tricks or anything like that. We’re teaching the horse to assess the situation and trust their handler. “We also go over cues that are used while riding. We’ll teach the horses to carry a saddle and a bit. This also includes practicing rein cues and steering by ground driving.” Crosby said they generally have eight to 10 students doing the one-on-one training in the fall. It really just depends on how many horses they have to train. Each student is assigned a horse to train throughout the semester. That system provides the students an opportunity to think about animal behavior in a very broad sense. “Animals respond instantaneously and instinctually,” Crosby said. “Our students need to think about timing of reinforcements, cues and how to be calm under pressure. It’s important training whether you’re working with horses or livestock in general. “If a horse is having a nervous moment, it is often a reflection of the student’s nervousness. The horse reads the situation and isn’t comfortable. It’s a fun puzzle to solve. It’s rewarding to work the student and the horse through the situation. That’s why we have a smaller class size so that students can get individual direction on how to solve problems as they arise.” The fall also offers a facility management and marketing course. That class includes an online horse auction, which has become a staple with the equine facility. The MU Online Horse Auction and Fundraiser begins with an open house, with online bidding usually ending during the second week of November. The auction typically sells around eight or nine MU horses, with the majority of the sale horses being raised at South Farm through the equine courses. There are occasionally donated horses in the training and sale program. The horses sold during the auction are usually weanlings or yearlings, which are six months or 18 months old. “The students put together an entire sale portfolio for the horses,” Crosby said. “This portfolio documents all health care and training sessions so that our buyers know everything good, bad and indifferent about our horses. We emphasize honesty and integrity in marketing animals. We get bidders throughout the country, as well as Canada. We probably sell half of our horses locally to Missouri and Illinois. The other half is sent all over the country.” Within the equine industry, horses are generally used for riding or for competition. The horses at South Farm are bred with competition in mind. “We do our best to produce quiet and easy-going horses with quality performance ability,” Crosby said. “Those type of horses excel in competition settings. They also do extremely well in recreational settings. It’s a win-win situation.” The broodmares and stallions at South Farm have been acquired through donations. Crosby said they are selective when it comes to donation horses, monitoring the best fit for the horse and the program. “We have a really nice group of high-caliber horses,” she said. “Most are sons or daughters of horses that have earned Hall of Fame titles for producing quality horses. Having so many high-end horses really speaks to the community support of our equine program.” Horses have an average life span of 25 to 35 years. This is part of the reason why Crosby is very selective with acceptance of the donated horses. “I want to have horses that will be around in this teaching program into their 30s,” she said. “If we can find the right horse from a reproductive health and eventual marketing standpoint that also has a quiet temperament for teaching, we keep them around a long time. We also accept a select number of horses for our training and sale program. These horses must be healthy for riding and have a quiet temperament, but may be any age, breed, bloodline or gender.” Crosby said the facility is happy to receive donations, including horses, supplies or feed. Cash donations for teaching supplies are always welcomed, too. The teaching facility also contains a boarding barn for students, faculty and staff to house their horses close to campus. “This barn was built with student capital improvement fees from campus in the late 1970s,” Crosby said. “The premise is to provide a place for our MU community to keep their horses close to campus at an affordable rate. There is an outdoor arena and several trails throughout South Farm to keep the horse busy.” If they take all of the equine classes within the Division of Animal Sciences, students build an impressive resume. “There are so many leadership opportunities at the farm,” Crosby said. “For example, in our volunteer program, we use a peer-teaching model where our experienced group mentors our younger students. It’s always exciting to see how much the students grow throughout their time in our program.”
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