The Texas A&M Equine Initiative, formed through a joint effort by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (AGLS) and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM), has seen success in elevating the excellent equine program at Texas A&M University.
The Initiative supports many highly recognizable organizations and activities at Texas A&M. These programs include the NCAA women’s equestrian team; Parsons Mounted Cavalry in the Corps of Cadets; teaching, research, and outreach in the two colleges; and work at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension.
Connected by the Initiative, these programs can more easily benefit from and help each other. The wide variety of equine extracurricular activities such as the Polo Club, the Horse Judging Team, and the Stock Horse Team help prepare the next generation of equine industry leaders. Researchers in animal science and veterinary medicine thrive by interacting with each other as well as with students, horse enthusiasts, and industry partners. The equine industry benefits from educational opportunities, top-notch veterinary care, exceptional program graduates, and the results of world-class research.
The Initiative is led by Dr. Jim Heird, Glenn Blodgett Equine Chair and executive professor. Heird is an internationally renowned equine scholar who was recruited from Colorado State University in 2009 to start and lead the Initiative. Based on an assessment conducted by equine industry experts, he developed four main objectives: facility building, partnership development, outreach and engagement expansion, and curriculum enhancement. He has accomplished much on all four fronts.
Facilities and Partnerships
Perhaps the most visible accomplishment of the Equine Initiative is the Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ‘56 Equine Complex, completed in April 2014. The $32 million facility includes a comfortable locker room for the women’s equestrian team; ample stables and arenas to accommodate the team’s horses; and classrooms, offices, and spacious meeting rooms.
“You can’t be a leader in teaching and research without cutting edge facilities and arena and classroom space,” Heird says.
The potential users of the Equine Complex and future equine facilities were asked to provide a wish list for the architects. The user group continues to meet, which brings separate parts of equine-related work at the university into closer contact.
The Initiative has now raised roughly $40 million for its goals. That fact attests to the friends and support that Texas A&M and its equine programs have, Heird says. The Initiative will recognize the donors in October, prior to moving officially into the next phase of building.
Planned phases of construction will include the following, as noted in the October 2014 issue of Texas A&M Animal Science Monthly:
- A new mare reproductive research and educational facility, a new stallion reproductive research and educational facility, and remodeling of the CVM reproduction pavilion.
- A teaching arena for equine science classes and the Polo Club, an equine nutrition and physiology research complex, and an equine reproduction teaching complex.
- Remodeling the Freeman Arena, to be used primarily by the Rodeo Team and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Summer Horsemanship School Program, and a thoroughfare from the Freeman Arena to Parsons Mounted Cavalry.
- An equine rehabilitation center.
As part of an array of outreach efforts, the Initiative works with Texas livestock shows to run equine educational contests for youth, says Anna Morrison, the Initiative’s program coordinator. Contestants are not required to bring a horse, Morrison says, and winners receive college scholarships from the livestock shows.
Internationally, Morrison says, the Equine Initiative teaches horsemanship seminars in South and Central America. These seminars are supported by the William R. Verdugo International Horsemanship Camp Grant through the American Quarter Horse Foundation.
At a recent workshop given by the Initiative in Paraguay, the riders’ skills had clearly improved based on recommendations from previous workshops, says AgriLife researcher Dr. Josie Coverdale, associate professor of equine science in the Department of Animal Science in AGLS.
“I had not been back to Paraguay for five years,” says Coverdale, who taught at the workshop along with Heird and Morrison. “The improvement in the skills of riders and quality of horses is a huge testament to the relationships that Dr. Heird has built there.”
Coverdale recognized many participants from previous workshops she had taught through the Equine Initiative.
“You could look around the room and you knew everybody,” she says. “It makes the world a whole lot smaller.”
The equine industry is changing, says Heird. Most jobs no longer involve touching a horse. Care of horses has become more expensive and science-based. To succeed, students must be fully prepared for the new range of career possibilities.
The Department of Animal Science in AGLS now offers an enhanced curriculum that includes a new Master’s degree in Equine Industry Management and an undergraduate Certificate of Equine Science. Heird and Morrison are among the teaching faculty at the department.
Also teaching a course at the department is Dr. Noah Cohen, professor of large animal clinical sciences in CVM.
“We want to give our students the best and most current information, so our job is to move knowledge forward through research,” Cohen says.
Cohen teaches Equine Disease and Epidemiology; his research covers industry-relevant topics such as bacterial pneumonia in foals, and colic. His research is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary by necessity, he says.
“You can’t be creative or innovative if you are stuck in one way of thinking,” he says. “All of us benefit from reaching out. Dr. Heird’s work is to create bridges.”