Professional Horseman’s Course at Kentucky Horse Park

January 17, 2012: My Kentucky Horse Park Experience Begins

If you’d like to read about how I found myself in Kentucky, read about my journey at

A typical day (so far) at the Education Barn, home of the Professional Horseman’s Course

8am: School begins in the classroom that is attached to the 100 year old wooden barn known as the “Education Barn.”

8:15: We dress warmly, put on our muck boots and gloves, and jump in the bed of a pickup truck along with 6 bales of Timothy hay. There are about 7 large, fenced in grassy pastures with run-in sheds in our section of the Park, and we’re responsible for feeding the 30 or so horses who live there, twice a day.

8:45: Back to the classroom, where we have a lecture that lasts about an hour. If there’s a project due, we present our homework to the rest of the class. With a total of 5 students, there’s a lot of discussion, and plenty of opportunity to answer questions posed by our instructor. I’ve found a nice balance between participating when I know the answer, and being careful not to be the obnoxious “know it all” in the class.

11am: If we’re planning to ride that day, it’s time to catch our assigned horses (this takes from 5 minutes to 15, depending on the mood of the horse!), bring them into a stall in the barn and groom them. If we’re not riding, there might be a “lab” related to the lesson plan. For instance, we’ll have a hands-on lesson using a horse to demonstrate proper clipping and grooming technique, or pile in the pickup truck and ride around the park to find examples of common equine colors/markings.

12 am: Lunch! It’s the only time during the day (except for during lectures) that we’re sitting down. The rest of the day, we’re lifting, shoveling, catching horses, cleaning stalls, throwing hay, using a lot of “elbow grease” when grooming the horses, riding, hauling water buckets. . ..

Afternoon: Not every day is typical where horses are concerned. For instance, on Monday, we spent a few hours catching mustangs (15 of them!) and bringing them from their pasture to the barn to be evaluated for participation in a clinical trial. Each of the horses were led into the barn and then trotted up and down the barn aisle as a vet looked on. If a horse appeared to have some sort of lameness (very common in older horses like the mustangs), a flex test is performed to exaggerate any problem joints, then radiographs are taken to see the nature of the problem.

Out of about 15 horses, 5 qualified for the trial. Yesterday afternoon, we groomed and vacuumed their coats, then loaded them in a stock trailer and brought them to the equine vet. We were allowed to stay and watch as one of the horses was evaluated. Once again, the horse was trotted while the vet looked on, but this time a nerve block was injected into the joint to make it possible to isolate the problem area. After the injection into his fetlock, the horse was trotting without any sign of lameness, which was confirmation to the vet that the fetlock was the problem area on this particular horse.

Because they’re evaluating the efficacy of a new medication, its important that each test subject have only one joint that is effected.

“Charlie,” my assigned riding horse, actually qualified for the clinical trial, so he’s going to be out of commission for the next week. But, if the new drug they’re using helps him to be more sound and free from pain,  it’s a very good thing for him!

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