The search for a well-rounded equine experience where she could learn about all aspects of the sporthorse breeding industry led Melissa Frerichs of Davidson, North Carolina, a rising senior majoring in animal science and industry in the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University, to the Virginia Tech Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Middleburg, Virginia.

There, since mid-May, Frerichs and five other interns -- two Virginia Tech undergraduates; a 2014 Virginia Tech graduate; and undergraduates from the University of Arizona and Harper Adams University College in the United Kingdom – have been immersed in a three-month Sporthorse Breeding Internship at the 420-acre facility located in the heart of northern Virginia’s hunt country and home to Virginia Tech’s internationally regarded sporthorse breeding program. 

The Sporthorse Breeding Internship focuses on an understanding of scientific method -- including experimental design and implementation -- and promotes critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, collaboration, and independent learning skills.

“It is geared primarily toward students with a sincere desire to find employment in the horse industry and/or pursue post-baccalaureate education in veterinary or graduate school,” said Rebecca Splan, associate professor of equine science in Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the internship program.

“Our interns actively engage in all aspects of horse breeding, showing, sales, and research at the center,” Splan said. “The substantive and authentic experiences they have here result in the ultimate capstone.”

As an intern, students

  • Participate in daily horse care and management;
  • Participate in reproductive management, including foaling;
  • Prepare and exhibit youngstock bred by Virginia Tech in United States Dressage Federation Sporthorse Breeding or United States Eventing Association Future Event Horse classes;
  • Develop skills in handling and training young horses;
  • Travel to regional breeding farms and events;
  • Develop proficiency in breeding stock selection, conformation and gait evaluation, pedigree analysis through classroom sessions, projects, and review of scientific literature;
  • Cultivate instructional, outreach, and leadership skills by assisting with summer events hosted at the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center; and
  • Assist faculty and graduate students with ongoing research projects.

“I have already had the opportunity to show one of the fillies at a Lexington, Virginia, horse show this summer and the work we put into practicing and training before the show was so rewarding,” said Emily Hendricks of Stafford, Virginia, a rising senior majoring in animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. “This experience has really helped me grow in my confidence and knowledge regarding horses, especially since I had not worked with young horses before this summer.”

Hendricks said that extension work is her career goal after graduation and she would like to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition or physiology.

Another intern, Sarah Greenway of Nokesville, Virginia, a rising senior majoring in animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, aspires to become a veterinarian. “The most valuable thing I've learned with this internship is how to evaluate conformation of the horse and how to improve a horse during breeding by selecting a match to balance out flaws,” Greenway said. She noted that the Sporthorse Breeding Internship also provided a great way of getting involved in undergraduate research.

The students also cited getting to know the other interns as an advantage of the program. “It has been great spending so much time with such wonderful people who have the same passion and aspirations as I do,” said Frerichs.

The Sporthorse Breeding Internship began in 2006 at Virginia Tech’s main campus and was moved to the Middleburg location in 2010. Application information for the summer 2015 program will be available in late October. For more information, contact Rebecca Splan



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