For MSU Equine Unit employees, foaling season offers solace during difficult times

Hannah Valigura, left, agricultural technician, and Ashley Glenn, facilities supervisor, enjoy time in the field with horses at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station

Hannah Valigura, left, agricultural technician, and Ashley Glenn, facilities supervisor, enjoy time in the field with horses at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's Equine Unit at MSU's H. H. Leveck Animal Research Center. (Photo By: David Ammon)

By: Taylor Vollin

As society copes with much disruption and hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the normalcy of springtime is comforting for employees at Mississippi State's Equine Unit during the busiest time on the farm—foaling season.

Home to 80 horses, the MSU Equine Unit is a research facility of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and is located at MSU's H. H. Leveck Animal Research Center, commonly known as South Farm, and used for teaching in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine. Like all of the university's farmlands, it requires hands-on dedication as—even in the midst of a pandemic—horses must be fed, stalls must be cleaned and mares continue foaling.

Ashley Glenn, facilities supervisor, manages the daily operations and said while life has been disrupted due to the current health crisis, she finds the ongoing farm work refreshing.

"We have done some things to ease the workload while students are away by turning horses that normally stay in the barn to pastures, but we are in full swing with breeding and foaling, so our days are long," Glenn said.

She operates the facility with Hannah Valigura, agricultural technician, and the duo begin their routine at 7 a.m. with feeding, followed by cleaning stalls. Sick or injured horses are then cared for, and mares are examined by veterinarians. The routine repeats beginning at 3 p.m.

During the academic year, the facility is usually teaming with interns, student workers, class laboratories, equestrian team members and veterinary students.

Glenn said the daily goal is to end the workday at 5:30 p.m, but that work now often stretches longer because of staffing changes during the pandemic combined with the demands of foaling season.

"On a good day, we are done by 5:30," Glenn said. "However, foaling season requires us to return at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. in order to check on the mares expected to foal."

Eleven mares have foaled, producing quarter horses, some double registered quarter horses and Paint horses. To help with expenditures and keep the herd size manageable, two-year-old horses are sold after being started under a saddle.

"The mares usually foal in the middle of the night, but we have had a few this season make it easy on us and foal in the middle of the day," Glenn said.

She said the decrease in foot traffic has allowed Glenn to enjoy more one-on-one time with the animals.

"Since students aren't here, it's given Hannah and me more time with each animal. The faculty in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences also have graciously provided us with several lunches in appreciation for all the hours we have put in," she said.

The horses, under normal operations, provide teaching and research opportunities for scores of students and faculty and also are used in extension programming.

The MSU Equine Unit strives to engage in meaningful research relevant to the equine community across the board, with an emphasis on reproductive and nutrition studies. Strategically, the unit has its own herd of 15 mares used specifically for reproduction studies, adding convenience and serving as a point of pride. Additionally, an upcoming research project will delve into exercise physiology. The study will use a therapy plate, better known as a TheraPlate. The device uses vibrations to counter chronic inflammation conditions and injuries in horses. Another study examines the relationship between the development of equine knowledge and feelings of emotional safety in college students enrolled in animal science courses.

Clay Cavinder, animal and dairy sciences professor and MSU Extension horse specialist, noted the impact the MSU Equine Unit has on the university as a whole.

"Numerous college students, veterinary students, interns, graduate students, faculty and staff are impacted by the ability to conduct research programs, MSU courses and extension education programs at the equine unit," Cavinder said.

He continued, "This facility provides competitive advantages to Mississippi State to showcase the quality of education, research and outreach opportunities provided by our land-grant university."

For Glenn, the global pandemic has caused uncertainty, but the continuity of spring foaling season remains reassuring.

"Our priority has and always will be caring for the horses," Glenn said. "It's an honor to serve the university and fulfill its land-grant mission while doing something that I love."

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