UD’s equine science minor offers research, hands-on experiences

UD's equine science minor offers research, hands-on experiencesThe first students to receive minors in equine science graduated from the University of Delaware this spring, and with dedicated faculty members and state of the art facilities for both laboratory and field work, the minor is off and running in its second year.

The equine science minor, housed in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), was created through a generous gift from Stuart M. and Suzanne B. Grant of Greenville, Delaware. The couple have operated a horse breeding and racing enterprise since 2001, and in 2009, Stuart began taking animal sciences courses at UD.

“We want students to be proud of where they are 10, 20 years from now,” says Grant, who is also a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. “And when you look at the education and opportunities these kids are getting here at UD, you know they will be.”

Part of those opportunities are ones Grant has helped create. In addition to providing the funds to establish the minor, the Grants’ C-Dog Farm, a foaling facility that also has thoroughbreds and mares, in Chesapeake City, Maryland, will welcome students this spring to be involved in caring for mares and foals.

Amy Biddle, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, said the students will be doing their senior capstone course at the farm and that Grant has been “very generous in making that farm not only accessible for students, but retrofitting it with video cameras and viewing rooms to make it a place for students to come and learn.”

Biddle serves as the instructor for the minor along with Annie Renzetti, a supplemental professional in the department. The two instructors complement each other nicely, with Biddle serving in a research role and Renzetti bringing a wealth of clinical experience.

“Amy and I get along awesomely and she’s very much in the gut microbe research bent, which is fascinating to me. I’m a little bit more real world veterinary, in there slogging it in the trenches with the horses,” Renzetti said. “The two-prong approach is neat because you’ve got the laboratory for people who want to pursue a lab internship path, and I’m there for more of veterinary information, the whole horse picture.”

“Dr. Renzetti brings a wealth of clinical experience and a real enthusiasm for teaching,” Biddle said. “She has an incredible amount of information but also connects well with students, so she’s just a fantastic teacher.”

The minor, as well as individual courses, are open to students from across the University.

“From everybody who’s never seen or touched a horse to people who have a passing interest, all students are welcome – and it’s not just welcome to the minor but the different classes, as well. I really see it as a way to get some science classes in if you’re a music major or an economics major. It’s a friendly science program,” said Renzetti.

Biddle added that one of Grant’s missions was to make the program accessible to anyone at UD.

“It’s really important to his mission to involve students as much as possible and that the minor be attracting students from a wide range of the University, because there’s strength in that,” said Biddle.

The two instructors added that Delaware’s location is ideal for an equine science program.

“Delaware is uniquely situated for horse research and education because we have so many different equestrian activities close by. Besides thoroughbred and standardbred racing at Delaware Park and Dover Downs, we have Fair Hill Training Center, with amazing facilities for race training, veterinary care and therapy, as well as Fair Hill International which hosts a wide range of competitive events, from eventing to endurance. UD’s backyard is rich with horse activity in every direction,” said Biddle.

Renzetti added, “Delaware is centrally located for many equine pursuits, not to mention the ones we have in and of ourselves at UD, and being so close to University of Pennsylvania with their New Bolton Center and being able to tap into that wealth of knowledge is just awesome.”

Equine graduates

Elizabeth Vacchiano is one of the students who graduated in May with a minor in equine science and is hoping to one day have a career in the equine field.

She said that the minor did a great job of combining in-class course work with hands-on experiences in the field, culminating with a capstone course where she and her group had to create an equine business.

“My group created a therapeutic riding center and we had to go through every single step of creating a business. We had to think about everything from the pastures, the diseases our horses could have, the vaccinations, the zoning laws concerning how to keep horses, nutrient management, every single little step, and I really enjoyed it,” said Vacchiano.

She also had the opportunity to do a foaling internship at C-Dog Farm and her pasture management class was able to take samples and evaluate the pastures at the farm.

“I loved learning all about it in class, theoretically putting it together and then being able to actually go out and do it. I feel so prepared to go out and know what I’m talking about because I did it,” said Vacchiano.

Vacchiano said she is grateful to the farm manager and assistant farm manager at C-Dog Farm for taking the time out to answer any questions that she had, and she hopes to one day be in charge of a facility that allows her to teach University students much like she was taught.

Vacchiano said the minor covers all aspects of horse health, and that she enjoyed the plant science classes and the behavior classes, and that the minor is science based which is incredibly important for a young person going into the equine industry.

You’re taking other science classes that aren’t just about horses. That is something that I think a lot of people forget about. The animal is obviously very important but what’s going into that animal? What’s in your pastures, and your water, and your hay quality? There’s a lot of important things that this minor is going to show you,” said Vacchiano.

Vacchiano said anyone interested in research should look into getting involved with the industry.

“The equine industry is an untapped area for research. There are so many more things that we can learn and we can discover, so many questions that we don’t have answered, and it would make the industry so much better if we had those answers,” said Vacchiano.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan and Lindsay Yeager

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.