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10-Day Trip Highlights French Equine Industry

Posted: September 10, 2012

Twenty students in the Department of Animal Science got an insider's view of the French equine industry as part of an embedded course, visiting stud farms, training and research facilities and racetracks.
Students visited Les Haras du Pin, the national stud farm in Normany, France.

Students visited Les Haras du Pin, the national stud farm in Normany, France.

Twenty students in Penn State's Department of Animal Science received an up-close view of the French equine industry as part of a course taken for credit that included both classroom experience and a trip to the heart of the French equine industry, Normandy. The trip provided an exceptional opportunity to tour stud farms, training facilities, racetracks and equine research facilities.

Katie Branham, Lincoln University, PA, expresses the sentiments shared by the group, "It was a wonderful experience." Thrilled with the opportunity to visit premier equine operations, she added, "It opened our eyes to the whole range of career opportunities for people who are interested in the equine industry. The training facilities we visited were fantastic, and it was exciting to get a close look." Branham, who wants to study reproductive biology, was especially intrigued by a visit to the M Stud Farm, a sport breeding and training farm, highly regarded throughout Europe for their advanced breeding techniques.  Of particular interest was a foaling device hooked onto the horse's vulva so that when the mare was foaling, the device alerted owners by cell phone.

Alicia Rickabaugh, Stormstown, PA, junior in Animal Science, said, "I loved the whole trip. It was especially interesting to visit the Lecole De Course Hippiques, and see how concentrated and strict the schedule is. It offered a complete grounding in all aspects of the equine industry."  A particular thrill for the students was the chance to drive a sulky around the track - with a former racehorse and an expert teacher to guide them.

Expanding knowledge and horizons while exploring career opportunities were two goals of the trip, according to Ann Swinker, Ph.D, one of the course instructors.  "The course brings together the entire gamut of the equine industry, from breeding and training, to trade issues, agriculture trade policy, research, equestrian event management and so much more. The international component includes exposure to the equine industry, but we include French culture, geography and history to really expand the students' global perspective. This is the first year we have offered the course, of which the international trip is an integral part." She noted that they are currently reviewing the course syllabus and hoping to offer the course and a return trip to Normandy next year.

Terry Etherton, Ph.D., Head of Animal Science, said, "This course provides a tremendous learning opportunity about many facets of the equine industry. In particular, it is especially vital for our students to see the wide range of career opportunities available in one of Pennsylvania's most important animal industries.  In addition, the students benefit greatly from the international travel experience that provides a wonderful educational experience."

Justene Testa, Latrobe, PA, added, "Through the class I was truly able to learn a lot about our equine industry here in the U.S. and even more about France. What we experienced went from breath-taking to fascinating. Going on this short trip allowed me not only to experience going abroad, which I had never done before, but also to learn more about the equine industry and a new culture."

For John Boston, Warminster, PA, an ag engineering major, the trip afforded the opportunity to get to know animal science majors, his colleagues within the College of Agricultural Sciences with whom he previously had little interaction.  He said, "The introduction prior to the trip really gave us great background, and the course spurred my interest in investigating an equine science minor."

Gaining a better understanding of the equine industry was important to Kelly Corcoran, Monroe County, PA. She reflected on the experience, saying, "I learned so much about the horse industry in France. I know I'll continue to integrate this knowledge when I begin vet school. The trip also encouraged me to learn more about the U.S. horse industry, and I hope to compare my experiences in France to our own high-end breeding farms and racetracks."

It was especially interesting for the group to visit the Saint-Lo National Stud, which features technical centers for horse owners, museums, youth programs, and vocational training programs. Melissa Wise, Bloomington, IL, said, "Being able to see the rich history and the advances that have been made taught us a lot about groups of people coming together so that assets can be developed for all to enjoy."  Their hosts emphasized the unity that is shared by those who work in the horse industry, regardless of political or social divisions.

The trip was organized by the Normandy Horse Council, who will also be hosting the 2014 World Equestrian Games being held in France for the first time.  They also visited Cruchettes Stud Farm, home of French Trotters Breeding and Training and pioneers of modern horse breeding techniques; the Equine Research Centers in Douzele, pathology laboratories to study equine diseases; LeQuesnay Stud Farm; La Touques Thoroughbred Racetrack; Thoroughbred Training Centers; and Clairefontaine Racetrack and Deauville

In addition to the strong equine component, students visited several historical sites throughout the region - Mont St. Michel, Caen Memorial Museum providing an overview of World War II, the United States World War II Memorial Museum and Cemetery, and Versailles. Stops in Paris included Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Tuileries, Musee D'Orsay and the Eiffel Tower.

Part of the course requirement was keeping a daily travel journal, now used to reflect on the many outstanding memories created in Normandy. While no one was willing to single out just one favorite experience, the enthusiasm for this unique learning opportunity was universal. The French equine leaders left a favorable impression, of their breeding, their training, their career opportunities - and their warmth in welcoming a group of Penn State students eager to experience the culture and the rich, historic legacy of a thriving horse industry.