Over the last few months, animal science as a degree has endured some negative publicity, even mocking by bloggers and various websites
. How does this affect the equine industry? Deeply. A large percentage of our large animal veterinarians, nutrition experts, horse trainers, and educators come out of this pool of students. Interestingly, there is evidence
that very good faculty members are out there, and I recently met one of them.
Dr. Clay Cavinder, assistant professor of equine science at Texas A&M and came to speak at the Animal Transportation Association (ATA) International Conference in March at Vancouver. He was asked to share his cutting edge ideas for initiating a new (2011) course that is receiving high marks from his students in the Animal Science Department (the largest university animal science department in the United States, with 56 faculty and 831 undergraduates). His new "Equine Marketing and Development" course answers the requests from A&M students looking for alternate careers in the horse industry. Currently the standard responses from students are that they can be: trainer, veterinarian, educator, or owner. Awareness of alternate and interesting career options includes reaching outside of normal equine instructional and career paths into things like: disease, outbreaks and effects; liability and law; safe handling; marketing skills; emergency and disaster preparedness; or research in the equine industry.
Besides two graded exams, there are three oral presentations, field trips, and guest speakers to provide a variety of exposures to the students outside the classroom. This new course also hopes to soon fulfill the school's requirement that students achieve three credits in an "international cultures and diversity" course.
There is strong emphasis on oral communication and presentation skills so that students feel confident for job interviews, delivering information, etc. During the inaugural course, Dr. Cavinder included a historical overview of equine transportation in his lectures and a review of modern transportation methods. (Many of his students were not aware that horses also travel on planes!) The class visited a farm that quarantines horses for international travel and discussed quarantine procedures, avoiding liabilities, shipment procedures, and the impacts on economics of the equine industry.
During the course, the welfare of horses during transportation was investigated, companion animal versus livestock definitions, and the Unwanted Horse Coalition and issues associated with slaughter were explored. Dr. Cavinder noted that the USDA's role in equine health monitoring has changed significantly in the last century. In 1900 over 79% of farms had horses, while today only 18% of farms are estimated to have horses. Interestingly, we have about half the number of horses in the USA today than there were in 1900--even though they are not considered required for transportation any more.
Specifically, transport issues (safety concerns, balance methods used by the horse, moving trailer physics, and how horses try to maintain themselves in transport) were explored by the students. Obviously, transport is required in an industry that requires animals to be moved for purposes of commerce, show, competition, and breeding; and the importance of ATA recommendations and OIE guidelines for the welfare of the horses was stressed. Additionally, the logistical and educational challenges of evacuation and transportation for disaster preparedness were investigated.
Currently, Dr. Cavinder is looking for internships for his students to give them a chance to expand their horizons in the equine industry. He can be reached through the university email system.
I would like to applaud Dr. Cavinder for reaching out into brand new territory and making the effort to involve his students in new aspects of the equine industry, and I further hope that his example will be followed at other programs around the country. The only way to keep our industry fresh and cutting edge is to ensure that our students are well educated and have a variety of experiences and choices in their educational paths.