Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Almost Secret LBCC Horse Center

Nicki Sinfield gives Marshmallow a cool rinse after their work out together in the arena.

 Nicki Sinfield strides across the LBCC Horse Center arena wearing a black tee shirt that says, “Heels Down & Eyes Up”. It is good advice for anyone sitting in a saddle astride a 1,000 pound horse.  Nicki is a student in Jenny Stroobands’ horse management class. The Horse Center is somewhat of a secret at LBCC. Many students do not know it exists, partly because it is not located on the main campus. But just a mile down 53rd St. is a big red barn, riding arena, stables and pasture pens full of horses. Several of those horses are pregnant and expected to foal in the next six to eight weeks.

The Horse Center has several purposes. Because its daily operations are not funded by the school, horse owners from mostly the western parts of the U.S. can board their horses for a fee at the center. Each semester the students are assigned a horse that they will work with all term. Besides being taken care of, the young horses are trained by the students to wear a halter and bridle, saddle, walk, trot, canter, and follow stop, go, turn and back up commands. Dana Sanders is one of the students. 

“I thought I knew a lot about horses but they have taught me more here than I ever knew," said Sanders. 

She is referring to Jenny Strooband, who heads the program, and her barn manager Cindy Gooch.

Strooband was hired in 2002, the same year that LBCC purchased the Horse Center property that they had been leasing since its inception in 1984. That was when Jim Lucas ran the Agriculture Science Department and saw a need for practical experience in Equine Management. 

There are two degrees offered through the Horse Center program: Associate of Applied Science which also overlaps with Associate of Science in Equine Management. This is a good place for pre-veterinarian students to get started while the former is a two year program geared toward obtaining employment directly into the horse training field.

Another important activity that generates income for the center is breeding. Currently there are four stallions from which the students collect, process, and ship semen around the country. Jenny explained that there are quite a few horses here with very high pedigrees. People pay money to obtain the semen of these stallions to then artificially inseminate their mares.

All the students admit that the class is labor intensive. When the horses are in the stalls, they have to be cleaned out daily, besides twice daily feedings. Just lifting a 25 lb. saddle onto a six ft. horse can be daunting. It’s hot and dusty in the summer, cold and muddy in the winter. Most of them have been either kicked or nipped by a horse. Some even get thrown off. But the students all agree that Jenny and Cindy make everything worthwhile. They infuse all the activities with passionate enthusiasm. 

In fact, Jenny said, "I have the best job on campus". 

She loves what she does and it seems to infect everyone, including the horses. It is rather like a large extended family. Because horses are highly social beings, living at the center allows them to see, hear, smell and talk to each other constantly. When there are 4-8 horses turned out together in the arena during training it could almost be like going to class with your friends. Only a bit more aromatic!

Horses are strong animals yet can be very gentle. They are usually patient and even playful. But sometimes, just like humans, they can get a bit cranky. I witnessed a bit of this when visiting the center. A young girl was attempting to mount her horse, using a step stool for just that purpose, when he pulled away and she got her hand caught just enough to give her a hard pinch. That’s when Whitney Whitaker stepped in. 

Whitney said as she walked towards the arena gate, “I plan to be a horse trainer so doing things correctly is important”. 

She then helped the girl start the exercise over from the beginning.

Nicki’s horse this semester is Marshmallow, a three and a half year old appaloosa. But it is not her first horse or even her first class. She loves it at the Horse Center so much that she re-enrolled after finishing the first time, got hired to help Cindy look after the horses when the students are not there and even lives in the small living quarters that were built after the 2002 purchase.It is a testament to the kind of commitment that is required to care for these magnificent beings.

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