Colorado Northwestern Community College gives horse lovers a chance to follow their passion
March 17, 2014
If you're a person who truly loves horses, what comes to mind when you think off the ultimate travel destination?
For this year's equine science students at Colorado Northwestern Community College, it's Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
"We're attending the 'Road to the Horse' contest there during spring break, from March 13–16," says Dustin Davis, the director of the program. "The four best international horse trainers will be competing against each other. We will not only be watching from the grandstand, but we'll be taking a tour of the park, as well. It's going to be a great learning experience, for all of us."
It's the perfect field trip for those who currently participate in the two-year program, which got off the ground in 2007.
Aimed at youths who are serious about making a living in the horse industry, the curriculum gives them starts as trainers, barn managers, veterinary assistants, wilderness guides, reproductive technicians, farm/ranch managers and more.
"We're trying to create self-sufficient people who can handle any horse, or research the information that's available, and evaluate from there," Dustin continued. "They not only get hands-on experience in the classes, but we also travel with them to shows, clinics and rodeos."
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Not surprising, CNCC even has its own rodeo team, which currently consists of 15 members.
Students may bring their own horses, but those who don't own one are covered. The school can provide Quarter Horses from the local community. In addition, if there's a need for financial aid, "we just got approved for scholarships," Dustin adds proudly. "There is a work-study option, as well. We have quite a few ranches in this area, where youths can be farmed out."
But for the most part, they're kept busy in the program.
It's an extensive course, with required classes that focus on equine evaluation, reproduction, lameness and hoof care, business management, Western and English equitation, colt training and outfitting.
During the general outfitting and guiding class, for example, kids go along on a week-long trip, in the Meeker, Colo., area, with 30-year veteran Shawn Welder. (A "fantastic asset" to the school, Welder also teaches basic hoof care.)
Students go on regular field trips to meet other trainers and tour large facilities that showcase racing, reining and performance horses.
For horse show enthusiasts, CNCC has an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association horse show team that competes in Western events in Zone 8, Region 3.
"We currently have eight team members, and the IHSA accommodated riders of all experience levels, beginner through professional," says head coach Stacey Bailey.
It's a dream job for this young woman, who is also a regular instructor.
"I always knew I wanted to get into the horse industry, and coach young people," she said.
With that goal in mind, she focused on getting a Bachelors of Animal Science degree, as well as a Masters of Equine Education, while at Middle Tennessee State University.
"Everything fell into place" when she interviewed for the position last year. She and her husband moved to Colorado in May.
"Teaching has been a very rewarding experience," Stacey exclaims. "I help our students find the holes that need to be filled, while helping prepare them for careers."
Understanding that the equine science program was fairy new to Colorado Northwestern Community College, Stacey "wanted to help get it off the ground." She hopes to be remembered for having a hand in the futures of her graduates, both large and small.
As a bonus, the constant time spent in the saddle helps keep her sharp. Growing up in Coshocton, Ohio, she got her first horse at age 7, but later sold it when she went to college. While studying for her masters, Stacy went to work for a man who specialized in reining and cow horse events.
Now, on her own registered paint (which is used in the school), she is training for the Paint Horse World Show in Fort Worth, Texas, to be held in November.
No doubt, it's just as inspiring for the students to watch, and make notes, as she pushes towards that goal.
Dustin brings his own, special knowledge to the program, as well.
Born and raised on the Bow & Arrow Ranch in Valentine, Neb., he's a life-long cowboy who rode horses every day, especially during calving season. "We didn't use 4-wheelers," he explains. "We rode horses to do cattle work."
Running an average of 1,800 pair, his family most definitely had lots of them to consider.
"Branding was a social event each spring," Dustin recalled. "We usually attended about 25 of them."
At CNCC, Dustin started out as an instructor, but was promoted to director last May. Since the program got off the ground, "it's had its ups and downs," he admits, but over the years things have balanced out.
What's most important is, "the students get quality internships, some of which lead to full-time jobs. They're pretty marketable after leaving this college. People want to give them a shot."
With study, hard work, and some newly-learned horse savvy, that one shot just might end up going far. ❖
For more information on CNCC's Equine Science Programs, contact Dustin Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.