48-year-old woman jumps into agriculture and writing while attending Colorado State University
March 18, 2016
For one non-traditional Colorado State University student, there's always been something special about horses.
Victoria "Dixie" Crowe was born in 1968 into an Army family stationed in Virginia. She grew up in a suburban neighborhood and took riding lessons from fourth through eight grades.
At a Great Falls, Va., barn, a bay pony called Blueberry taught her the basics. Hunter/jumpers filled her summers at camp for two seasons. Equestrian experiences ranged from dressage to jumping to cleaning tack and mucking out stalls. Crowe recalled winning a patch for "Cleanest Stall," which she proudly saved, along with show ribbons, for decades. Trail riding experience benefitted her when she visited her grandparents in Los Angeles. There, she took a western trail ride and was immediately hooked on that discipline.
As a typical horse-crazy kid, she bought horse models from the local five-and-dime store with money hoarded from her paper route, household chores and allowance.
“The sale is the culmination of all the skills and experience we’ve been gaining over the course of our team involvement.”
She dreamed of owning a real horse of her own, a genetically-logical goal since her parents had grown up riding — Mom through horse-packing mountain trips and Dad in his native Utah's Wasatch Mountains. Crowe's great-grandfather raced horses in 1906 at Hollywood Park.
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High school sports and other life events put horses on hold until her mid-thirties, though. A subsequent barrel racing accident caused a serious back injury that again kept her out of the saddle until spring 2014, when Crowe took a packing and outfitting class.
She began classes at CSU in 2013, planning to use transfer credits to earn an Equine Sciences degree in two years before pursuing a long-ago faded hope of becoming a large animal veterinarian. Crowe decided animals were her true passion.
"I had to get back on that path," Crowe said. "I did some volunteer work in a wildlife rehabilitation center and, in 2005, started classes at the local community college in Portland, Ore."
After earning a degree from Portland Community College, she went on to work as a pharmacy tech for five years until horses drew her to Colorado.
After attending a CSU humane cattle handling lecture by Dr. Temple Grandin, where she mentioned the need for more writers in the industry, Crowe pursued a double major, journalism and animal sciences,
"Suddenly I felt like everything clicked," Crowe said. "Writing had been a core part of just about every job I'd had before coming back to school."
Her Collegian Newspaper editor was flexible and encouraged literary experimentation. Crowe was also published in 2014 in the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse magazine and she won the 2015 American Horse Publications Student Award. That honor included a trip to Publisher's Press in Kentucky, where she visited Churchill Downs, Keeneland Racetrack and the Kentucky Horse Park.
Crowe joined the CSU horse judging team in spring 2015. She wanted to experience a collegiate sport and recognized that team members who judged at the collegiate level acquired great poise and confidence for class speeches and presentations, skills she also sought.
Crowe said that CSU's unique training program includes a horse evaluation course to judge Quarter Horse conformation.
During a course oral presentation, students must detail in two minutes or less a defense of their placement reasoning for a typical halter class. The dissertation must be factual, memorized, and hold listeners' attention. Near the course's end, students can compete against peers at a Texas collegiate judging competition.
Crowe continued in fall 2015 with the Arabian horse portion of the team, learning breed-specific terminology and Arabian class requirements for Lady's Side-Saddle, Country English Pleasure and Show Hack.
Not settling for a judging role, Crowe began riding lessons with her team coach, Kristen Wheeler, at Colorado Equestrian Academy, where Wheeler's Friesian/Arabian cross Winter is her schooling mount.
"She did an incredible job helping me get over the fear of riding from my accident," Crowe said. "But also helped me connect the horse's movement to the judging terminology. The combination of all the team practices and riding really helped me evaluate horses and riders at a completely different level than before I started in the program."
That assistance took Crowe and her teammates to the Arabian Nationals Judging Competition in Oklahoma last fall, where they placed first in Reasons, fourth in Halter, third in Performance and third place overall. Her individual placings, which she labeled as a huge accomplishment, further piqued her admiration for CSU's program which, she complimented, "can take students from no experience to placing at the National level."
Grandin's class sparked a greater interest in cattle for Crowe, who is a member of the Collegiate Stockgrowers Club and the Seedstock Team. She advised that CSU has had seedstock cattle for more than 100 years.
The team consists of eight students who've taken, or are enrolled in, the Seedstock Merchandising class. From the 2015 calf crop, club members selected Angus and Hereford bulls and heifers to ready for the National Western Stock Show. This prep included training in halter, standing for washing/grooming/drying and show fitting with clipping. Crowe is very satisfied with her entire experience.
"I'll never forget showing at the National Western. We have also gotten to meet seedstock producers, beef industry leaders and company representatives for many cattle-related products at the Range Beef Cow Symposium, the Colorado Cattlemen's Association Mid-Winter Meeting and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Trade Show and Conference in San Diego," Crowe said.
The Seedstock team continues preparation for the 40th Annual CSU Bull Sale on March 19. Crowe is the co-chair of the event's written committee, responsible for pre-sale newsletters, Facebook media plan and execution and coordination of sale catalog production.
"The sale is the culmination of all the skills and experience we've been gaining over the course of our team involvement," Crowe said. "On the equine side, The Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale gave me similar sales experience working on the marketing team for the ninth annual sale two years ago. It's been really incredible working on both."
Crowe's career goal is to write and create multimedia pieces about science and health for cattle and horses. She will incorporate knowledge garnered at CSU regarding video editing, infographics, digital photography and creating multimedia packages for online news.
For the past year, she's worked part-time for Dr. McCue at CSU's Equine Reproduction Laboratory, compiling his material into a series of eBooks on clinical cases.
Crowe is also interested in livestock extension work combined with freelance writing. The undergraduate in Equine Science/Journalism and Media Communication would love to remain in Colorado, possibly to pursue a Master's at CSU. Recently, she has also taken a particular interest in range grazing conditions in cow-calf operations here and in other high plains states.
Lastly, she admitted she'd someday still like to own those hooved delights of her childhood dreams — horses. Except now, they'd need to share an acreage with cattle as well. At 48, Crowe is proof that it's never too late to jump with both boots into an ag-based career. ❖