One of the early draft horses used for farm work at Penn State. Buildings in the background were part of the old East Barn Complex.

One of the early draft horses used for farm work at Penn State. Buildings in the background were part of the old East Barn Complex.

Horses of various types and breeds have long been a part of Penn State history. Draft horses provided the power necessary to plow, harrow, cultivate, mow, rake, harvest, and haul the crops grown on the College farms. They also moved soil in excavating basements for buildings, hauled stone for buildings, walls, and, in general, did the heavy work required as the College grew.

Horses were indispensable in an era without trucks and tractors. Barns to house these heavy horses were constructed in several locations on what is now the central campus. In addition to draft horses, light-leg driving horses pulled carriages that carried dignitaries to college functions, and riding horses furnished another means of transportation and recreation.

In what is now the Department of Dairy and Animal Science, horses have contributed primarily to the teaching program for undergraduate students. The aim has always been the production of quality animals that would contribute to the education of students. A complete program of selection, breeding, feeding, stable management, and marketing has been followed.

Draft horses were first used in this program; Belgians and Percherons were selected as the breeds to be emphasized. One of the notable Percheron stallions used during the early years was a son of Laet, considered to be the premier stallion in the history of the Percheron breed. Three Land-Grant Universities (Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State) headed their Percheron breeding operations with Laet sons. All became prominent in the production of quality animals.

A large barn designed for draft horses was constructed in 1929. This barn, located near Beaver Stadium, is still being used, although there have been some modifications and additions made. Another 24-stall barn has been added where stallions are housed and mares foal.

The 1949 Livestock Improvement Act had a significant impact on the horse program. The decision was made to acquire some of the very best Percheron horses available and to exhibit these horses at the major shows. Elmer Taft, a well-known conditioner and showman of draft horses, was hired to head this effort.

A number of champions followed, most notably the mare Linda Hope, who won numerous halter championships. Later during the1950s, the Department embarked on a rather short-lived Morgan horse breeding and showing project with considerable success in the show ring. Of note was the record of the mare Quaker Lady, who was many times champion model mare at the National Morgan Horse Show. In 1955 the Quarter Horse stallion Sorrel Chief was purchased as a yearling from Michigan State University, and the era of the Quarter Horse began.

The American Quarter Horse was the breed of choice for departmental emphasis because of their popularity in the state and nation and because livestock judging contests had replaced draft horses with Quarter Horses in those contests. Two mares, Akins Shirley and WMD Orphan Annie, became the foundation broodmares in the breeding program.

In 1963, E. B. Rickard of Ann Arbor, Michigan, donated the stallion Poco Shade to the department. Poco Shade was by Poco Bueno and out of the mare Shady Dell, the leading broodmare of the breed at that time. Poco Shade was bred to daughters of Sorrel Chief, producing some outstanding fillies that became part of the broodmare band. Charles Pritchard from Flemington, New Jersey, donated a group of 20 Quarter Horses to the University in 1969. Among the horses donated was the stallion Rebel Sir and the mare Coral Bars. These horses contributed greatly to the success of the horse breeding operation in the years to follow.

During this same period, the University received a donation of 18 high quality Arabians from a breeder in Akron, Ohio. El Effendi, one of the stallions donated, was the National Reserve Champion Park Horse. Because of limited facilities, personnel, and funds, the Arabian horses were sold two years following their acquisition.

Skip Sioux propelled Penn State to world class status as a breeder of American Quarter Horses.

Skip Sioux propelled Penn State to world class status as a breeder of American Quarter Horses.

In 1971 the palomino Quarter Horse stallion Skip Sioux was purchased from Hank Weiscamp in Alamosa, Colorado.

Skip became an almost instant success, siring the ROM performer Skip O' Mist in his first foal crop. Many outstanding produce that gained ROM and AQHA recognition and honors followed: horses like Ultra Skip, Color Me Skip, Hail To Skip, and Youth Supreme Champion Devious Skip. Skip was an outcross on the linebred mares in the broodmare band, and the resulting hybrid vigor was immediately apparent.

He was an extremely prepotent sire, stamping his outstanding qualities of conformation, breed character, performance, disposition, and refinement on his offspring. More than 30% of his offspring were AQHA point earners. His success as a sire propelled Penn State to world class status as a breeder of American Quarter Horses. Penn State was recognized in 1982 as the sixth leading breeder of Quarter Horses worldwide, becoming the first and only University to be ranked as a leading breeder.

Students benefited from the quality horses produced. In 1981 the Horse Judging Team won the Judging Contest at the World Quarter Horse Show in Oklahoma City and became a World Champion Quarter Horse Judging Team. In 1982 a Penn State student was named World Champion Performance Horse Judge. The top quality horses being produced were used extensively in management and production classes and were sought by purebred breeders and professional horsemen throughout the eastern half of the country.

From 1965 until 1982, a two-week Horseshoeing Short Course was offered each summer. Ward Studebaker was the principle instructor for the course. The course was so popular that two sessions were required to meet the demand; at one time 300 students were on the waiting list. Students from all walks of life, from coast to coast and from several foreign countries, enrolled and completed the course.

Short courses in nutrition, reproductive physiology, breeding and management, plus specialized courses for Standardbred breeders and for draft horse enthusiasts became part of the educational opportunities available. A one-year Horse Farm Managers program was developed, utilizing expertise from several departments. In addition a ten-week Standardbred Caretakers School was taught to prepare young people to become grooms and caretakers of Standardbred racehorses. Correspondence Course #138, Light Horse Management, is one of the most frequently requested courses offered by the College of Agriculture.

Although the major focus of the horse program has been directed toward undergraduate education, seventeen students received advanced degrees: M.Agr., M.Sc. or Ph.D., from 1966-87. Work has included a wide range of studies in reproductive physiology, nutrition (one of the early studies of digestion in the cecum by means of a fistula), pastures for horses, internal parasite control, early weaning, and therapeutic hoof repair. A few students have taken advantage of an arrangement with the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center that permits a student to obtain a Penn State degree by completing course work at University Park and research at New Bolton Center.

Extension programs to serve the various facets of the industry in the state have been successful. Horse clubs for youth have flourished along with related shows and projects. Over the years both resident faculty and extension personnel have provided leadership for the Pennsylvania Equine Council, The Pennsylvania Quarter Horse Association, and many other horse-oriented groups.

Author: Tom Merritt, Professor of Animal Science