Cal Poly’s Foaling Enterprise Brings Learn by Doing Full Circle for Students

By Lauren McEwen

For fourth-year animal science student Morgan Lunn, nothing has been more rewarding during her time at Cal Poly than seeing the fruits of her involvement in the enterprises at the Oppenheimer Family Equine Center.

Like many of the students involved in animal science classes at Cal Poly, Lunn has had the opportunity to assist in equine enterprise classes. Such classes reveal to students the reality of Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing motto as they are involved in every stage of a horse’s life, from breeding and foaling, to training and the final auction where the horses are sold to the public at Cal Poly’s annual Performance Horse Sale.

“Being a part of every step in this process was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity for me,” Lunn said. “Watching a foal's birth and first few steps and then swinging into the saddle on that same horse a few years later is an experience I will always cherish.”

After mares are bred in the breeding enterprise, students in the foaling enterprise are involved in every moment of the mare’s pregnancy, birthing and post-foaling care through winter and spring quarters of the academic year.

“The students are responsible for all aspects of care and management of 15 to 18 mares, including providing 24-hour, around-the-clock monitoring of the mares for signs of parturition, and they assist with foaling as needed,” said Julie Yuhas-Volk, who is in her seventh year of overseeing students in the foaling enterprise. “Every year, I continue to be amazed and very proud of the hard work and dedication these students give to the mares and foals,” she said.

Students in the foaling enterprise commit to two quarters of care, working with the horses at least 10 hours a week outside of regularly scheduled class time.

Tseten Wangyal, a fourth-year animal science student who is also a manager of the foaling enterprise, shares how in addition to horsemanship skills, she has developed a keen sense for leadership and communication with her peers. “I've taught my peers all about the foaling-out process, what to look for before, during, and after parturition, what the unit’s protocols are and why we have them in place, and how to safely start the training process of these babies,” she said. The leadership skills learned by students in the enterprise provide a foundation that is transferable to future endeavors. 

Both Lunn and Wangyal hope to become veterinarians and are grateful to the programs at Cal Poly for helping them to realize this passion.

“The hands-on experience I am gaining at Cal Poly puts me one step ahead for my career,” said  Wangyal. “I believe that some things just can't be taught out of a book, and learning how to properly work around animals is one of them.”

Lunn said that learning how to properly run a breeding operation has been invaluable in her preparation for veterinary school. She said that Cal Poly is unique in that “there are very few other undergraduate programs that provide their students the opportunity to be this hands-on in every step from breeding the mares to starting colts under saddle.”

Irini Pateras, the equine center manager, graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2018 and participated in many of the equine science enterprises such as breeding and foaling as a student. Now returning as the center’s manager, she described how she has seen changes to the equine unit since her time as an undergraduate.

“The Performance Horse Sale has grown ten-fold, and that’s a testament to how all the enterprises are connected,” Pateras said. Through the efforts of students and staff, “they have helped us to breed these really nice horses that in turn have made us have a really successful sale.”

The students, while learning the many facets of horsemanship, are also garnering practical communication skills, albeit in a manner unconventional for most other college students. “The foals tend to be really popular with the public, so the enterprise students gain skills in communicating with students who aren’t in equine classes or with the public and I think this is a super valuable experience as well,” Pateras said.

The facilities, experience of the instructors and the motivation of the students culminate in the success of the horses raised at Cal Poly. The university’s reputation in forming young minds is manifested directly through these enterprise courses.

Through it all, Lunn values her time as student at Cal Poly and awaits her next chapter as a veterinary student at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine this fall. “When working with horses,” she said, “there is always more to learn. I look forward to being a lifelong learner implementing the Learn by Doing philosophy as I continue through my education and career.”


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