New equine education program in Middleburg, Va., in development
The Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has announced plans to create a new equine education program at the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MARE Center) located in Middleburg, Va.
An undergraduate student learning experience in equine sciences will serve as the cornerstone for the teaching program at the center. In addition, Virginia Tech will relocate its world-class group of sport horse mares from Blacksburg to Middleburg, adding to the band of horses in residence at the center.
“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to expand the equine programs at Virginia Tech by taking full advantage of the facilities and location of the MARE Center. Providing a novel, cutting-edge learning experience in equine education is consistent with the high ideals and standards already set by the university. The MARE Center already plays a critical role in the college’s discovery and outreach functions, and this addition enhances Virginia Tech’s commitment to the education of tomorrow’s leaders,” said David Gerrard, head of the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. “Our long-term goal is simple: preeminence in the area of equine sciences.”
The semester-long experience will immerse students in an environment filled with horses. This experience will not only prepare students for positions in the equine industry, but will also provide them life skills, as the students will need to work as part of a cohesive unit during their stay at the center.
Along with the normal demands required by a structured curriculum, students will be expected to participate in all aspects of the daily operations of a large-scale equine breeding, show, and sales facility. Additionally, students will be able to participate in in-depth summer internship programs as well as a study abroad course.
“The difference between this program and the program offered in Blacksburg will be the amount of experiential learning that will be demanded of those enrolled in the program. This is a working operation, where horses require attention 24/7,” explained Gerrard. “There will be ample outreach and discovery opportunities for these students during their stay at Middleburg, exemplifying the comprehensive scope of the three missions of a land-grant university.
Mimi Abel-Smith, vice chair of the MARE Center’s Advisory Council, commented, “I am pleased that the emphasis will be on the management and research needs of sport horses — those used in eventing, dressage, and showing — and applicable to all other breeds and functions.” Dr. Matthew Mackay-Smith, an advisory council member and former medical editor of Equus Magazine, added, “The activities at the center will benefit every horse and horse person, from a child’s pet to the fastest race horse. This expansion provides the horses and programs essential to achieving excellence in both equine science and education, and adds to the layman’s understanding of this marvelous animal.”
As funds are secured, Gerrard anticipates significant expansion of the center’s physical facilities. The program will require large indoor and outdoor arenas for teaching purposes, along with serviceable breeding facilities and additional classrooms and research laboratories.
Rebecca Splan, associate professor of animal and poultry sciences, will relocate to Middleburg to join Shea Porr, superintendent of the center, to develop and teach the curriculum. Faculty members at the Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., have also expressed an interest in collaborating in the program.
The equine education program on the Blacksburg campus will remain largely unchanged but will likely benefit from future additions to the faculty. “Clearly, we have a rather large student body interested in an education centered on the horse, and we intend to do our utmost to ensure its viability and growth into the foreseeable future,” said Gerrard. “The program at Middleburg simply adds to our equine education portfolio and increases the flexibility of our program to meet the needs of an ever-changing and excellence-minded undergraduate clientele.”
Situated at the heart of Virginia’s horse country, the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center is one of Virginia Tech’s 13 ARECs. Philanthropist Paul Mellon donated the 420-acre farm in 1949 to establish the Virginia Tech research hub dedicated to improving pasture and animal productivity while enhancing the land. During the 1980s, an impressive gift of horses shifted the center’s research focus from cattle to horses. Today, the Middleburg AREC has grown into one of the world’s leading equine research units.
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