University of Kentucky (UK) Ag Equine Programs held its second Equine Summit, which focused on developing tomorrow’s workforce, on April 26 at Spindletop Hall, in Lexington.

Nearly 100 people, including representatives from five academic institutions across three countries, attended the sessions over the course of the day. Faculty and staff from UK listened as invited panelists offered insights on how UK’s educational programs contribute to developing a relevant workforce and engaged in roundtable discussions identifying current industry needs and future trends. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and the North American Equine Ranching Information Council (NAERIC) sponsored the event.

The summit brought together a cross-section of equine industry leaders, recruiters, and others representing a broad range of organizations. The summit represents a philosophy of collaboration between the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and key industry leaders to identify new initiatives, strengthen existing programs, and advance student professionalism and preparation to join the equine workforce.

Alex Waldrop, NTRA CEO, began the day with his presentation, “Equine industry perspectives: What is the industry and how big is it?”

In his remarks, Waldrop gave industry statistics, from the number of horses to the economic impact of the industry and how Kentucky and UK graduates fit into that world. He talked about a highly decentralized gaming policy in the United States, an “explosion” animal welfare interest, and the challenge that scrutiny presents to the industry. How the industry answers those challenges in the coming years will be the key to the racing industry’s future, he said.

“The challenge for horse racing and breeding, and for all equine pursuits in the 21st century, is not just local, it is not regional and not even national,” Waldrop said. “Our challenge is to think globally about how Kentucky’s rich tradition in equine agribusiness will compete in a very challenging sports gaming and entertainment environment in the coming years. That is what students graduating today from the UK Equine Program need most of all—a broad range of skills and attitudes that will help them participate in rapidly changing international environment for horses and horse-related activities.”

He challenged UK’s program to train students to help create demand for horses and horse sport in order to ensure a vibrant industry.

“Do you want to make sure there is always a market for these incredible animals produced in such rich supply here in Central Kentucky?” he asked. “Then start focusing on ways to not only supply the industry with graduates to care for the animals but think about ways to use the UK educational environment to supply graduates prepared to help create demand for these amazing creatures.”

Following Waldrop’s talk, David Switzer, a member of the college’s equine industry external advisory committee, consultant, and longtime advisor to the college, addressed the status of the industry and careers within it.

He touched on the skills graduates will need for a changing world and how the job a graduate might secure will likely will look very different from the one he or she has a decade or more later. He also touched on increased scrutiny into animal welfare issues and maintained the importance of skills such as communications, mathematical ability, and business acumen in a diverse industry.

“The summit was a unique opportunity to get input from the equine industry,” said Mick Peterson, PhD, UK Ag Equine Programs director. “Listening to the industry allows us to help guide our graduates into careers in the industry that are impactful. The support of NTRA and NAERIC made this event possible and we look forward to working with partners both in Kentucky and in the international equine industry as we fine tune our program.”

The day included four panels focused on segments of the industry. Common themes emerged from the day, including a consensus of the importance of skills in communication, business, information, and technology on top of the core skills students emerge with from UK’s equine undergraduate program. Additionally, an understanding of the industry is considered crucial, as are interpersonal skills and some work or internship experience.

The first panel of the day focused on equine health and nutrition careers and skills. Panelists included:

  • Karl Dawson, PhD, vice president and chief scientific officer for Alltech;
  • Derrick Drinnon, regional equine president for Patterson Veterinary;
  • John Francis, vice president and general manager of MWI Animal Health;
  • Jeannie Jeffery, national director of equine sales for Henry Schein Animal Health;
  • Kenton Morgan, DVM, Dipl. ACT, equine technical services veterinarian for Zoetis;
  • Mary Grace Rutland, veterinary field sales manager for Neogen;
  • Deborah Spike-Pierce, DVM, veterinarian and incoming CEO of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital;
  • Bryan Toliver, senior associate director of equine sales for Boehringer Ingelheim;
  • Brandon Tucker, equine team leader for Zoetis; and
  • Clark Weaver, director of equine for MWI Veterinary Supply.

The second panel focused on racing and breeding careers and future directions and needs within that segment. Panelists included:

  • Bryan Cassill, animal resources manager at UK Maine Chance Farm and president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club;
  • Matt Koch, co-owner of Shawhan Place Farm;
  • Kenny McPeek, owner of McPeek Racing, Magdalena Racing Partnerships, and Magdalena Farm;
  • Joe Morris, senior vice president of West Coast Operations for The Stronach Group; and
  • Fred Sarver, owner of Cornerstone Farm.

The third panel’s focus was on communications, marketing, and nonprofit development. Panelists included:

  • Sarah Coleman, director of education and development for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program;
  • Ginny Grulke, executive director of the Appalachian Horse Center of Kentucky;
  • John K. Keitt, Jr., CEO, publisher, and editorial director at BloodHorse;
  • Glenye Oakford, senior content editor for US Equestrian;
  • Christie Schulte, director of Time to Ride;
  • Chelsea Smith (UK ESMA ‘12), owner of Smith Equine Media LLC;
  • Patty Tiberg, VP Morris Media Network Enthusiast Group and publisher of Quarter Horse News; and
  • Natalie Voss (UK ESMA ‘10), features writer for Paulick Report.

The final panel of the day focused on graduate and professional education and included:

  • Emma Adam, DVM, PhD, a freelance consultant and surgeon/internist;
  • Jim Chiapetta, PhD, senior managing IP counsel for Boston Scientific;
  • Stephen Koch, executive director of the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance;
  • Jamie MacLeod, VDM, PhD, professor of veterinary science at the UK Gluck Equine Research Center; and
  • Walter Robertson, attorney at Stites & Harbison PLCC.

The UK Ag Equine Programs Summit was created in 2015 in response to the 10th anniversary celebration of UK Ag Equine Programs. The first event in April 2015 celebrated the achievements of the first 10 years of the program and set out to refresh existing and establish new research relationships by improving public-private partnerships and explore ideas for new projects. Local equine practitioners and special invite-only organizations met with UK equine researchers to discuss how UK and the industry can better work together and to brainstorm a vision for future endeavors.

Holly Wiemers, MA, APR, is communications and managing director for UK Ag Equine Programs.

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK Ag Equine Programs.