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Students Network, Learn from Professionals at Horse Fair
Indiana Ag Connection - 06/13/2018

Hundreds of people may have convened at the Indiana State Fairgrounds earlier this season for the recent Hoosier Horse Fair and Expo but you can always pick out a member of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College family from the crowd of horse enthusiasts. Whether faculty, student, staff or alum, their Pomeroy colors, leadership and confidence stand out.

One of them, alumna Ashley Koomler, was even crowned Indiana Horse Council queen as the festivities kicked-off. As queen, Koomler -- a 2016 graduate in equine business management with minors in equine science and equine-assisted therapy -- is the face of the Indiana Horse Council and will represent the organization in equine-related events this year. According to the Indiana Horse Council, the program intends to "build, inspire, encourage and help young women succeed in the equine industry."

Other representatives from SMWC -- most of them from Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies -- tightened their bootstraps and actively participated at the weekend event. Two faculty members facilitated sessions while more than a dozen students volunteered as clinicians' hosts, parade assistants and booth workers. Some of them worked in the fair's education wing, which is sponsored by SMWC.

Senior Kendall Dudenfoeffer of Velpen, who has been attending the expo since her freshman year, was happy to work as a clinician co-host to a big name in the horse industry, Chris Cox. She said she has learned equine basics from Cox. "Getting to watch him work with these horses and be here is super awesome," she said.

Hands-on learning is an important part of equine students' ride to success at SMWC. Being a part of this event -- the only statewide horse expo in Indiana -- offers many benefits: students expand their network, improve their communication skills and show horse professionals what they have learned from SMWC, said Debra Powell, Ph.D., assistant professor of equine studies who helped organize the education wing. Powell also gave several presentations about equine massage and acupressure the entire weekend.

Like Dudenfoeffer, other students who have previously attended the event find themselves returning annually. McKayla Tichenor of Pimento, also a senior, has been volunteering at Hoosier Horse Fair since freshman year. A first-year encounter with horse trainer clinician specialist Michael Gascon led to an internship; now, she is growing an equine photography business with Gascon as a major client.

McKayla Tichenor and Jesse R. Peters standing with a horse in a staff Expanding network: McKayla Tichenor was host to clinician Jesse R. Peters, a four-star senior licensed Parelli instructor and horse development specialist, during the Hoosier Horse Fair and Expo in Indianapolis this month. This year, Tichenor was host to clinician Jesse R. Peters, a four-star senior licensed Parelli instructor and horse development specialist. Tichenor said the equine program at SMWC not only provided her with quality education but also opportunities for her to practice her social skills outside the college setting. "Honestly, this has helped me grow tremendously," Tichenor, owner of MRT Equine Photography, said

Younger students like Krystan Gilmore of Shoals volunteered at the event in the hopes of absorbing as much knowledge as they can. Gilmore's task was to ensure the smooth transition in the education lecture hall from one speaker to the next. "I like learning. ... I like the idea of people coming here to learn specific things to ... improve their own horse lives," the freshman said.

As one of nearly two dozen equestrian colleges in the U.S. to offer a bachelor of science degree in equine studies -- the only one in Indiana -- SMWC has long been an important part of the equine industry. Through hands-on learning experiences and evidence-based approach, the program aims to develop graduates who are equipped to better transition to an equine career, Powell said.

While students did the leg work for this professional public meeting of horse professionals, faculty were at the forefront of sharing their expertise. Christine Wilkey, associate professor of human services and adviser for the equine-assisted therapy minor, delivered several presentations on equine-assisted activities and therapy, including equine-assisted learning and mental health. She introduced attendees to the emerging field of working with horses to promote human growth, healing and development.

"Every year that I'm here and I see our students, I'm just filled with pride because they are doing such a fabulous job," she said.

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