By Debra Hasbrouck
Horses and people have shared a unique bond throughout much of human history. Once necessary for travel, hunting, farming and warfare – horses played a vital role in basic survival for many of our ancestors. Although still an essential working partner on many ranches and in some police work, most horses are currently kept for pleasure and sport. According to a 2005 study from the American Horse Council (AHC), there are approximately 9.2 million horses in the United States.
Not only do these wonderful animals offer joy and companionship to people, the equine industry contributes to local economies all across the country. According to the AHC website, “the horse industry has a direct economic effect on the U.S. of $39 billion annually.” The AHC study also found that the industry offers direct employment to 701,946 people, which equals about “460,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.”
Careers in the equine industry usually require someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about horses, with welfare of the animals a top priority. Feather River College (FRC) in Quincy is helping to meet that need with one of the most comprehensive “Equine Studies” programs in the country. According to Russell Reid, Agriculture Department Chair, they have had a good record of placing students in jobs all over the United States.
“We are so pleased to now have top trainers calling and looking for FRC students to start an internship with them,” he said.
Russell went on to say that the program has been able to evolve to its present level of success due to the combination of an excellent faculty, student-directed plans and phenomenal support from the community.
Currently the college is about to begin an exciting new chapter. Feather River College is one of fifteen community colleges in California that were accepted into a pilot program to develop a four-year Bachelor degree. The “Equine and Ranch Management” Bachelor of Science program will start at FRC in the fall of 2016.
“If you listen to the students, they will tell you where the program needs to go and where the future is going to be,” said Russell. “They were the ones who asked for a four-year degree. Graduating students kept telling us that they wished they could stay here at FRC, instead of going off to a four-year school somewhere else.”
Since Russell Reid started the “Pack Station and Stable Operations” course in 1981 with twenty participants, the school’s agriculture department has grown to its current enrollment of 150 students. Over the years, students began to show less interest in the recreation aspect and focused more on working with the horses. So the college decided to develop an equine studies program.
Due to increased popularity of the equine program, the department eventually outgrew its facility. With fundraisers and help from the community, the college purchased acreage adjacent to the FRC campus and built a state of the art facility. In addition to new classrooms, they have an 80’ x 100’ indoor arena, a tack room, an outdoor 150’ x 300’ arena, fifty-five stalls, feed storage, three round pens as well as various corrals and pasture areas.
Growth also gave the program an opporunity to add valuable staff members, such as Chuck Mills and Crystal Anderson. Chuck is an accomplished horseman who was teaching as a part-time associate, and was hired as a full time faculty member. Crystal is a very knowledgeable associate faculty member and an indispensible instructional assistant.
In 2005 Jesse Segura was hired as head coach for the rodeo team and the rodeo program moved into the old horse facility. In the current standings for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, the FRC men’s team is number one and the women are in third place. Many talented competitors from around the country choose the FRC agricultural program due to the great success of the rodeo team.
Russell remarked, “We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of skilled and dedicated people involved, like Chuck, Crystal and Jesse. So many good people have made it into a quality program.”
Students in the FRC Equine Studies program have the opportunity to learn through a knowledge based process that includes hands-on experience. The college offers classes in equine science, behavior, feeding, conformation, breeding and training. Students can receive practical experience by participating in equitation and training courses, working with breeding stock, handling foals and young horses, in addition to performing general horse care. The pack skills course is still available and includes a three-day pack trip as part of the curriculum.
Russell Reid believes that “to best work with horses you need to understand them, and to do that you need to know about them.” He explained that they use a guiding philosophy that appreciates what a horse is and doesn’t try to change it into something else.
He leaned back and smiled. “If you asked a horse they would probably tell you; ‘Could you just appreciate me for what I am…and if you do, then you are going to ask me before you tell me; make things clear, so I’m not confused and not scared. And you are going to do those kinds of things because you are considerate of me as a horse. Do that…and you can get a horse to do anything.”
These values are shared by many “true horsemen,” who bring their expertise to the program by presenting training clinics throughout the year. Nick Dowers, former FRC student and Snaffle Bit Futurity winner, does clinics and also helps with the horse sale.
In the spring FRC has an annual production sale, with approximately twenty horses available for purchase. Most of the horses are part of the breeding program and were born and raised on campus. Students are involved from the beginning – handling the foals, working with the young animals and training them as saddle horses. The entire process allows the students to be involved in a “real-life situation that’s part of the horse industry.” The sale is also a great opportunity for the public to purchase a high quality animal that has had a lot of time and training invested in it. Proceeds from the sale go back to the program and the students who trained the horses receive a commission.
Feather River College is very involved in the local community and sponsors a professional rodeo event at the Plumas County Fair. This year it will be “Extreme Bull Riding” on Saturday night, August 15th, at 7:00 p.m. There is also a “ranch rodeo” at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning (August 15th) followed by a cattlemen’s barbecue.
In the fall, FRC hosts an intercollegiate rodeo at the Plumas County Fairgrounds. The college website will post the date sometime before Fall.