by Aimee Nielson
Horse enthusiasts can look to the College for answers to a variety
of questions, from horse farm design and pasture research to extension
programs across the state.
Designing Horse Farms
For more than 20 years, Horst Schach, chair of the College’s
Department of Landscape Architecture, has been a consultant to
several Thoroughbred farms in his off-time from UK. He has a reputation
for creating designs that turn hundreds of acres into the pristine
horse farms for which Kentucky is famous.
“A landscape architect
is more likely to analyze the topography, soils, sight lines,
and other features to lay out roads, paddocks, and barn locations
in a manner that takes full advantage of the existing landscape,”
Schach said. “The farm must be functional as well as aesthetically
pleasing—that is why the design of a horse farm is a combination
of art and science.”
“Very few landscape architects were involved
in designing horse farms until the 1970s or '80s,” Schach
said. “That’s when out-of-town investors began creating
many of the now-famous Thoroughbred farms in the Bluegrass.
“In most cases, they purchased mixed-use farmland and converted
that into an equine operation that required a master plan from
which to build the farm,” he said. “So several landscape
architects, me included, got involved in designing horse farms.”
Schach said he believes farm owners appreciate his connection
to the College because of the network of knowledge from which
he can draw.
left, and the farm’s
operations manager, Andrew Panzera.
Juddmonte Farms, Lexington
“We have experts in soils and other things that assist in
the master planning process, while others can help with problems
related to plants, insects, and diseases. They see the College
as a valuable resource for many aspects of their operation,”
Wayne Long, a former UK Extension associate in plant and soil
sciences who is now privately employed, and Jimmy Henning, extension
assistant director for agriculture and natural resources, began,
in the fall of 2001, looking for what they refer to as sentinel
They wanted to find possible answers for what caused Mare Reproductive
Loss Syndrome (MRLS), which had caused significant foal loss in
the spring of that year.
“My charge was to identify the farms that we wanted based
on history of problems in spring of 2001, when MRLS really started,”
Twelve farms were identified for the study. They were similar
in size and type and number of horses to farms that had problems
with MRLS. The monitoring program strongly confirmed the link
between MRLS and the presence of Eastern tent caterpillars. It
also found, on certain farms, a possible involvement of endophyte-infected
tall fescue in late fetal losses. The MRLS monitoring program
continued in 2002, beginning in February and ending in June.
Henning said the study identified a real need to help farmers
learn to properly manage pastures for horses.
“We learned they needed to know how to assess their pastures
and what to do if there is a problem,” Henning said. “It’s
not just about MRLS. Tall fescue has caused problems in horse
pastures for a very long time. In our research through the years,
we have discovered a lot of things about tall fescue, and we need
to apply what we know to the equine community more.”
Bill Witt, left, with Jim Bunce, pastures manager at
WinStar Farm, Versailles.
UK Weed Scientist Bill Witt has been studying fescue
and pasture weeds like nimblewill since he came to UK in the 1970s.
His focus has been mainly on how to remove tall fescue to alleviate
the toxicity problems it creates in horse pastures.
“The biggest question I get in this whole area is if you’re
approaching 50 percent fescue in a pasture, are you better off
to kill everything and start over?” he said. “What
we are trying to do is selectively remove tall fescue. But if
you have 60 percent or so and you kill it, you have a tremendous
amount of weeds that come in if bluegrass doesn’t fill in
Horse farms essentially lose a year on that pasture if they have
to kill everything and start over, he said.
“I’m trying to get them (farm managers) to spray early
in the summer and reseed in August or September and then start
grazing again the next spring,” Witt said. “We try
to always make science-based recommendations from real research
and real results.”
In the late 1990s, some county extension agents saw
the need for adult educational programs specifically for adult
horse owners. They began hosting evening seminars on specific
McCreary County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources
Greg Whitis developed a multiple-night program similar to Cow
College. With a few minor changes, Lyndall Harned offered the
program in Boyd County over the next two years. The two initiatives
led to a defined curriculum for what is now called Horse College.
The first official Horse College was held in the Mammoth Cave
area in 2003 and consisted of seven nights and nine topics. Between
2004 and 2005 five colleges were held, with representatives from
19 counties. Programs were held in two-hour sessions over four
or five nights. Average attendance for a Horse College has been
38 participants. College faculty and extension and industry professionals
now take part, with leadership from Bob Coleman, UK extension
“Two topics are a given—nutrition and health,”
Coleman said. “That’s what people are truly interested
in, and they are areas that can help them quickly. After that,
agents tell us what would be the most effective topics for the
people in their area. That gives the agent an opportunity to establish
Coleman likes to have a local veterinarian at each Horse College
to address vaccinations, general health, deworming, and other
He frequently also brings in Mitch Taylor, owner and operator
of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Mount Eden, to discuss
“We want to teach them about what we refer to as functional
anatomy so they know how the system works,” said Taylor,
a UK alumnus originally from Colorado.
“They need to understand all the parts of the leg from the
knee and the hock down and the function of all the ligaments and
tendons,” Taylor said. “We aren’t training them
to be farriers, but we do want them to know what good hoof care
looks like and why.”
Coleman said most important thing about Horse College is that
it provides an educational opportunity for Kentucky horse owners
to learn basic horse care.
“Another valuable thing is that participants are learning
from each other,” Coleman said. “They are starting
to network. At one program there was someone who needed help getting
feed, and it just so happened that someone there was selling hay.
Things like that are important. They help each other.”