As a young Extension Agent working for The Cooperative Extension Service at The University of Tennessee I was given the opportunity, at least in part, to choose a focus area for my programming efforts. One of my selections was an easy one, to find a way to give back even more to the equine community that had been so generous to me. As a middle school student I had taken advantage, alongside an adult 4-H Horse Project Volunteer Leader, of a six week horse owner education program designed to improve the knowledge and skills base of its participants. Believing that it could be of benefit to both the youth and adults that I served, I liked the idea of re-visiting this or a similar program during my own career in Extension.
As a student, anxious to immerse myself in all things horse, my first equine “short course” was an exciting opportunity to add to my mostly home grown knowledge about horses. As I had grown older and increased my level of education I had served as a volunteer leader in the 4-H Horse Project but now, as an adult charged with the responsibility of working with 4-H youth, I knew that I wanted to provide similar opportunities to those living in the county where I now worked. Though I had not attended a similar seminar in many years, I quickly made organizing one a top priority. To my delight, the course I had organized met the level of success with both the youth and adult participants that I had experienced while attending the program many years ago.
Over the years, as needs of the equine industry have changed and evolved, so has the statewide educational programming offered by UT Extension. Today, the newest equine program is called the “Tennessee Master Horse Program.” Jennie Ivey, PhD, PAS, Assistant Professor, Extension Equine Specialist, The University of Tennessee Department of Animal Science oversees the program at the state level. According to Dr. Ivey, “The TMHP was launched for public participation in October 2016. UT Extension has a strong presence in every county and does an excellent job of providing information to the public. The TMHP is a statewide program developed specifically for equine owners, business operators, and enthusiasts alike, and supplements the efforts from each of the counties individually.”
The program is geared toward both beginners and veteran horse owners and is designed to present unbiased, science-based information that is relevant to all horse or other equine owners independent of what breed of horse they have, or what discipline they ride. The educational material within the TMHP can provide a great foundation for the novice horseperson, while still providing sound information that can be utilized by those that have owned horses for many years. Information is presented that can be directly applied to a variety of management practices and farm operations.
While the TMHP is unique to Tennessee, Dr. Ivey describes, “Many states have very successful equine extension programs. The best way to learn more about equine educational programs in each state is to contact your local county extension office or the land-grant university itself. Extension personnel across the country are dedicated to providing quality information to the public on a variety of topics impacting the equine industry.”
While the program that I participated in and later organized was six weeks in length, the new, current program offers participants more flexibility. Dr. Ivey states, “The TMHP allows county agents to tailor how long the program is delivered within their area. The program is developed to provide 16-18 hours of classroom and hands-on education, which can be delivered to the public in a variety of ways. For example, some counties may choose to hold the program for one weeknight per week, over the course of eight weeks, while other counties may choose to hold the entire program over a long weekend.”
Regarding the curriculum covered in the program, Dr. Ivey goes on to say, “The educational modules are broken up into core and supplemental modules. Each module is designed to be presented in one to three hours, depending on the difficulty and depth of the material.” The following core modules are offered each time the TMHP is offered, and includes the following topics:
- Responsible horse ownership
- Equine nutrition
- Pasture management
- Equine health
- Waste management
- Equine economics
Dr. Ivey adds, “The TMHP is set up such that at least one supplemental module must be offered each time the program is offered; however, more can be offered if the program coordinator wishes to offer more. The supplements are used to help the agents tailor each TMHP to their prospective audience and aid in delivering a program that meets the needs of the participants in that region.” The supplemental modules include:
- Equine senses, communication and herd behavior
- Stereotypies (vices) and problem behavior
- Developing training programs
- Youth and equine programs
- Equine law and liability
- Hot topics (covering current topics relevant to the industry or current events. For example, since parts of Tennessee spent much of this year under severe to extreme drought conditions, one hot topic addressed in this year’s program was managing horses during a drought).
Just as when I was a participant and later a program coordinator for extension programs, speakers for the TMHP are chosen to present on the topics covered by the county agents coordinating the program. Dr. Ivey clarifies that these speakers, “most often consist of UT Extension Specialists or Agents, UT Institute of Agriculture Faculty, industry representatives, or local veterinarians and other professionals with expertise in a particular field relating to the topics covered in the TMHP.” She affirms, “Topics for the various modules were selected by the UT Extension Equine Workgroup, a collection of UT Extension Specialists, UTIA Faculty, county agents, and equine industry representatives. The topics were ultimately determined based upon the need for all horse and equine owners or business operators to have a fundamental, working knowledge of a variety of topics independent of their location within the state, breed preference or discipline choice. When selecting these specific topics it was on the forefront of the workgroup’s mission to develop a program that would be impactful in improving equine welfare and care in the state, while aiding in increasing the knowledge and awareness of the equine industry overall.”
Graduates of the program can be proud of their accomplishment. Participants who complete the program receive a metal TMHP sign for display, a TMHP boot/bit towel, and a certificate of completion. The program is organized so that individual counties may also choose to provide additional incentives or items upon completion. Meals may also be included in the registration fee depending upon the location. If you are considering enrolling in the program it is best to check with the coordinating county to see what incentives are offered both during the course and after completion.
However, the real benefits to each attendee span from the knowledge gained during the course and ways to improve the health and well-being of their horses or other equines. Attendees will receive information on current recommendations for improving their management strategies that they can directly implement on their farm or other operation to help save money, improve pasture and soil quality, and ultimately have a greater understanding of equine husbandry.
The program is an attractive educational option. For all that it offers it is very affordable. Dr. Ivey enlightens, “The cost to participate in the program will vary based on the county offering the program as each county can decide how they wish to orient their program (i.e. Weeknights vs. weekends, inclusion/exclusion of meals, additional activities, and analyses of individual forage or soil samples, etc.) However, each attendee will receive a copy of the TMHP manual, valued at $65, along with the incentives mentioned above.”
Evaluations of the program by its participants have been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the average rating was 4.5 out of 5 and all participants said they would recommend the program to others. More importantly, participants were asked to rate whether or not strategies learned throughout the program would impact their current management strategies. On a scale of one to five with one being not likely and five being very likely, attendees had the following responses:
- Adjust feeding amounts or types based on horse’s or other equine’s body condition score Average response: 4.9
- Use forage testing results to make adjustments for horses or other equines in your feeding program to save on feed costs Average response: 4.6
- Vaccinate horses or other equines based on recommended practices Average response: 4.9
- Deworm horses or other equines based on fecal egg counts and other recommended practices Average response: 4.9
- Schedule regular hoof care for horses or other equines Average response: 4.9
- Schedule routine dental examinations and corrective dentals on horses or other equines Average response: 4.7
A few of the topics indicated as especially helpful by program participants were: the differences in protein vs. fat in feed for horses, pasture maintenance, and dental anatomy and physiology including age determination and dental examination.
If you are a resident of Tennessee and are interested in participating in the TMHP Dr. Ivey informs, “The program will be offered on a county-driven basis within 2017 and future years. Interested owners can contact their local extension office to determine if a program will be hosted in their area along with checking the UTHorse.com site for postings regarding future program dates.” Those living in other states who are interested in participating in similar programs should contact their local county extension office or land-grant university.
Currently, the UTHorse.com website is used for registration and publicizing the TMHP. In addition it houses a variety of resources written by UT, other land-grant universities and reputable equine organizations. The link specific to the TMHP portion is: https://ag.tennessee.edu/AnimalScience/UTHorse/Pages/TMHP.aspx. There is also a printable brochure, TMHP Brochure, about the program that provides an overview for would be participants.
It’s important to know the implications of the latest research on the care that you provide for your horse. In today’s society, with a deluge of information at every turn, it can be difficult to know where to go for the most accurate, up to date information possible. The Tennessee Master Horse Program, and those programs similar to it in other states, can provide one way to bridge the gap between the homegrown knowledge that we all gain along the way as horse owners to factual, researched based information that we can put to use every day.