A closer look at K-State’s equine research and teaching program

Horses stand at the K-State equine unit on March 6, 2017. (Regan Tokos | The Collegian)

Kansas State students who have an interest in equine science and production, and large animal herd management, have the opportunity to learn the importance of equine management and receive an in-depth look at the research process at K-State’s “very unique equine research and teaching unit.”

Kallie Emig, manager of the equine facility, said the horse unit is an asset to the university and to the students.

“We are very unique when compared to other livestock facilities in the K-State Animal Science department, because not only do we have research projects out there and manage the horses, but we also have on-site classes that students are able to take throughout the entire year,” Emig said.

The herd

The equine program currently has a total of 60 horses, with 20 of those being female horses, also known as mares. These females are kept as yearlings, which are two to three years old in the breeding program; however, most of them are sold after they are four years old at auctions. Typically, the young colts, which are males, at the horse unit will be sold by private sale to individuals in the area.

Within the program, there are also two older stallions, which are “very well-mannered and well-behaved” animals, that were both donated to the facility a few years ago. Most of the breeding for the program uses other stallions outside the K-State horse unit, who are more well-known and “genetically proven” animals with advanced and improved genetic characteristics.

“We are … fortunate enough to know people who donate those stallions for our herd to improve production,” Emig said.

The K-State horse unit breeds all of its own horses that are housed there. Although they cannot purchase any horses as a facility of a university, they can accept donated horses from outside breeders and owners.

There is also a lot of horse training that occurs within the equine program, which accounts for about 30 horses in the K-State herd. These horses are trained by faculty and students and then some are sold to prospective buyers in the industry. Training of these animals includes halter-breaking and taming them to ride.

All students and other visitors are able to tour the facility, with appropriate faculty and staff, at any time of year to look at the horses and the operation that K-State has to offer for production in the horse industry.

In the classroom

Since the facility has several on-site classes, there is a wide range of classes to provide students with visual learning. Some include include foaling and horse reproduction, a weanling class, which is a foal that has just been weaned from its mother, and a class that covers working with colts that are just starting out being trained and broken to ride in the program.

Along with the variety of classes, graduate students are also able to conduct research at the facility with the remaining nine horses. The students develop research trials on the bred, or pregnant, mares, and the open mares, also known as a female that did not become pregnant. The two current research projects are focused in equine reproduction.

Student employment

At the unit, there are currently five undergraduate students who are employed under the manager. These students are in charge of daily chores, occasionally assisting graduate students with tasks, and training several of the horses.

“I think it’s really rewarding, from when I started here, to see how many rides the colts had and to see where they were at, and to this day see the progress that they’ve made and just so know that I’ve had a part in that,” Bailey Jeffries, junior in animal sciences and industry, said.

The students said they are able to enhance their hands-on learning in equine production and herd management, as well as learn knowledge of basic large-animal maintenance at the unit. They said this knowledge and experience has helped them advance in jobs and internships to find a future career that is best for each student and his or her own interests.

“I think just having ‘KSU Horse Unit’ on my resume helped with the application process a lot for me and helped me get in the shoes I am in today,” Jeffries said.

Several of the students have a background with horses; however, some of the workers do not, and they said they have gained several management skills while employed at the horse unit as a student.

“Being around the horses and learning new things about them is my favorite part about working there at the unit,” Colin Acedo, junior in agribusiness, said.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series showcasing K-State livestock units. Next week’s story will feature the poultry unit.