On a Sunday evening in late May, a handful of Equestrian Studies students at William Woods University, working in the University’s horse stables for the summer, got an experience they may never get again in their budding careers in the industry.
At 6:30 p.m. on May 22, just as the evening shift of student workers was beginning their work for the night, one of WWU’s horses – Roxie – began to foal, or give birth to a baby horse. Because the primary purpose of the William Woods herd of horses is to provide riding and competition opportunities for students, the University does not have young horses very often and almost never has mares (female horses) foaling at school. In fact, this was an event that hadn’t happened since at least 2005 at WWU.
And several WWU EQS students – Shay Leake ’23, Emma Boschert ’24, Miranda Faulkner ’25 and graduate assistants Haley Cronin and Carley Sukkert – were right there to witness it.
“Being able to be there and watch/video tape Roxie giving birth was a sight to see,” said Faulkner. “I was able to learn so much about what happens when a foal is born and what it looks like for the mare to give birth. It was also wonderful to watch the foal get up for the first time and keep trying to get up after it was born.”
“Many of the students who have stayed on to work at WWU over the summer had never seen a foal born,” said Jennie Petterson, professor, and Director of the School of Equestrian Studies at William Woods. “While we show video and explain the process in many of our courses, it all means so much more when you are watching it happen right in front of you. Breeding is an important part of an equine business, so the exposure for our students is important.”
The unexpected bonus of observing a mare foal in person was a perfect example of the kind of unique experiences that William Woods Equestrian students get to benefit from when they stay on for the summer as one of the University’s barn workers. William Woods will generally hire 7-10 students to work in the University’s stables each summer, and while most are Equestrian majors or minors, there are also always a few individuals from outside the EQS world such as international students and athletes that work on-site each summer.
For anyone that experiences it, there are great opportunities to learn and grow.
“It’s a great way for a student to have access to faculty, the horses, and the facility while still working a full-time job,” said Petterson. “We encourage students to ride all of the disciplines (Saddle Seat, Western, Hunter-Jumper, and Dressage) during the summer and many of our instructors give regular lessons to our summer staff. We work hard to provide showing opportunities when we can for our summer workers as well. They have the chance to assist I many areas of horse and stable management that they may not be able to do during the school year.”
“Staying for the summer helps benefit someone who is looking for a career in the equine industry by showing them what it takes to care for the horses, even in weather where you would rather be inside in the air conditioning relaxing,” said Faulkner. “It also shows you what it takes to take care of them all of the time, and not just when you are riding them for class. It also shows you what it means to be flexible when it comes to working around horses and how to manage time effectively when working with these animals.”
Students that stay on during the summer months get a valuable education on all the responsibilities expected of someone who runs a horse barn or stables. The summer staff assists the regular crew with cleaning and bedding stalls, feeding the horses, taking horses to turnout for exercise, grooming, barn and tack maintenance and keeping the facility ready for visitors. William Woods hosts a number of events throughout the summer, and most of the major barn maintenance projects happen then as well. Students are also frequently called upon to assist with these activities, including keeping the horses on campus out of the way so that any necessary projects can be completed quickly.
“This job is beneficial for someone pursuing a career in the equine industry for many reasons, most notable, we receive more hands-on experience with horse handling,” said Leake, a native of Center, Missouri. “It is a great learning opportunity to handle horses of different breeds and backgrounds that we might see later in our careers. Along with the opportunities to ride outside of our main seat, this gives us an edge that sets us apart from others to future employers and clients.”
A typical day for students is packed with responsibilities and experiences that mirror what they will find when working in the industry. The day shift for workers starts at 8:00 and ends at 2:00. The feed crew is run from 3-4:00 and then the evening shift is from 6:30-8:30. Workers are scheduled for five days a week, and weekends are harder for the staff because they don’t have the support of the permanent barn crew on Saturday, Sunday, or some holidays. WWU works to schedule the entire summer staff for weekends, and then they take their off days during the week. A summer staff student’s normal day might include working from 8-2:00, taking horses to turnout, and bringing them back to the barn on the hour throughout the shift. Between turnout switches, they will groom the horses who just came in, prepare feed and medications, sweep and rake aisles, restock supplies and maybe wash a tail or two. When the shift ends at 2:00 you will find many students riding.
“Staying for summer benefits the students and the graduate assistants because it allows for them to get more horse handling experience in more of a real-world setting,” said Cronin, a graduate student from Wauconda, Illinois. “Class is not in session, but it allows for students to still learn without feeling like their jobs are in peril or they can’t make mistakes. Because the crew is so small, they get to handle and deal with all four seats, and have the chance to learn more about them. It makes them more independent but also more team-orientated because they have to work with the other workers to ensure that all the horses get fed, brushed, and turned out.”
The experiences that students in the William Woods Equestrian Studies program receive are unique and, as in the witnessing of the birth of a new baby horse, sometimes practically unprecedented. There may be no time when this is more true than for the fortunate EQS students who get to stay on during the summer months for work, education, and hands-on experience, proving that the WWU EQS program is truly one for all seasons.