Story by: Dr. Jeffrey Wichtel
I have spent quite a bit of time this year getting to know the horse industry in Ontario. One thing I have noticed is the enduring passion of our horse people, including my veterinary colleagues, regardless of the ups and downs of the industry.
The equine industry in Ontario has encountered real challenges over the last few years, but it remains an important contributor to the culture and economy our province. The racing industry has been hit the hardest, but we are now seeing consultation and reorganization of racing, leading to an atmosphere of cautious optimism at tracks and training stables.
The University of Guelph has always played an important role in supporting the industry through education, research, and clinical care, primarily through the efforts of our talented people in the Ontario Veterinary College, Ontario Agricultural College and Equine Guelph. Changes are afoot in the industry, and the role of our university may be set to expand once again.
Equine Guelph has a special place in the horse industry. Its mission is to support the health and well-being of horses and the equine industry. Since its inception in 2003, Equine Guelph has kept an unwavering focus on this mandate with remarkable success.
This past week, I attended a meeting of the Equine Guelph Advisory Council and was once again impressed with the industry support around the table. The output of this centre is especially impressive given that it is almost entirely self-supporting.
Equine Guelph’s education programs are the most widely known examples of their success in connecting with the horse industry. The student numbers in these programs, such as the continuing education program in Equine Studies, and certificates in Equine Science, Business Management and Welfare, illustrate their success. Since the first diploma in Equine Studies was awarded in 2009, 170 diplomas have been awarded. To date, 365 Equine Science certificates have been awarded since this program began in 2002. The Equine Science certificate program is the first of its kind from an accredited university with evidence-based information and welfare of the animals as the underpinning of all its offerings.
Education offerings such as the Equine Welfare Certificate, a partnership between Equine Guelph, the Campbell Centre of the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW) and Open Learning and Educational Support (OpenEd), emphasize the co-operative partnerships Equine Guelph has developed.
The remarkable reach of Equine Guelph cannot be overstated. Horse people in the US and Britain often know about Equine Guelph. The award-winning EquiMania! Program for children, which just celebrated its 10th year at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, is a regular fixture at the Minnesota State Fair. Last year, as I was preparing to take my position here, my farm clients in PEI were envious that I was about to meet Gayle!
Equine Guelph also prides itself on developing educational programing that is relevant, practical and topical. In 2016, Equine Guelph responded quickly to the unfortunate rash of horse barn fires, launching a Fire Prevention program providing valuable information to prevent fires.
The innovative programs of Equine Guelph were recognized in 2015 when Gayle Ecker was awarded the Equine Industry Vision Award, sponsored by the American Horse Publications Group and Zoetis. This is the only time a Canadian has been so honoured, and recognizes Gayle’s leadership and the growing recognition of Equine Guelph’s high-quality programming.
Beyond its mandate for education, Equine Guelph has been a trusted steward of the industry’s research funding. In 2015-2016, more than $130,000 was directed towards research to support new and ongoing projects including research into new approaches to stem cell therapy, emerging disease concerns, failure of pregnancy, and new approaches to modeling and tracking biosecurity issues and risks.
Much of this research draws on the talents of researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College who bring expertise in infectious disease, biosecurity, reproductive technologies and therapies. Emeritus professors such as Dr. Laurent Viel and Peter Physick-Sheard are internationally known for their contributions to horse health. Not only do these projects focus on industry-identified priorities, they provide important training opportunities for student veterinarians and develop local expertise in these important areas.
Communication and promotion of University of Guelph research results occurs via print and social media. A new on-line portal is about to be launched which will provide a platform for connecting with the horse world at the owner and the advisor levels.
Aside from Equine Guelph, there is a lot going on at the UofG. The equine undergraduate program at OAC is expanding, with several new equine faculty now at the Guelph campus and enrolments increasing. Interest in equine careers remains strong in our DVM program, and there are outstanding practices looking to hire our graduates. On December 15th, equine faculty in the Health Sciences Centre are hosting a Research Update for practitioners, signaling a renewed commitment to building relationships through the equine veterinary community.
At the same time, in concert with OVC strategic planning, and the on-going racing industry renewal process, the members of OVC, OAC and Equine Guelph have convened a planning group to look at leveraging their success. Dr. Scott Weese is leading the group, and they are making plans to better position UofG within the industry, and further expand our role in research and education in support of a sustainable and innovative horse industry. Look for further announcements on new models for funding equine research and education in the New Year.
Equine Guelph is the horse owners' and care givers' Centre at the University of Guelph. It is a unique partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of horses, supported and overseen by equine industry groups. Equine Guelph is the epicentre for academia, industry and government - for the good of the equine industry as a whole.
For further information, visit EquineGuelph.ca.
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