No Horsin' Around
April 5th, 2016 | SMWC
By: Katie Shane
Hoosier Horse Fair provides great experience for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students
McKayla Tichenor describes herself as the human equivalent of a pinball machine.
As a volunteer at the 38th annual Hoosier Horse Fair & Expo (HHF) at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, Tichenor juggled multiple responsibilities and didn’t stay in one place for long.
“I was working Stallion Row,” she says with excitement in her voice. “I was back and forth and back and forth making sure everyone was there and ready to go.”
The Pimento, Ind., native and sophomore at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) is one of 16 students from The Woods who worked, volunteered and participated in the 3-day fair and expo, which celebrates and promotes the equine industry. Each year the event is composed of demonstrations, live entertainment, educational presentations, 4-H competition, a rodeo and a large trade show. SMWC students worked side-by-side with equine industry leaders, as well as nationally renowned clinicians in the industry such as Elizabeth Graves, Sharon Camarillo, John and Josh Lyons, Craig Cameron, Lynn Palm and others during the event.
Described as the largest gathering in Indiana focused on the horse enthusiast, the HHF is the major fundraising event for the Indiana Horse Council (IHC) to support IHC equine programs. According to a survey commissioned by the IHC, current statistics show that equines are a $2.6 billion industry in Indiana. Approximately 40,000 people attend the HHF over the three days. Attendees come from across the state of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Canada.
Tichenor, the human pinball machine, just finished her second stint at the fair. While the second time around was a great experience, Tichenor says it was 2015, as a college freshman that really made an impact on her future. While working on Stallion Row, one of the venues at the fair, Tichenor networked with numerous breeders and trainers, forging a relationship with a family from Poplarville, Mississippi. Before leaving the fair, the family, who own and operate Horse Haven Paso Finos, offered her an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I ended up interviewing them for a paper I had to write and in the process I mentioned I needed an internship for the summer for the equine program at The Woods, I said, ‘Keep me in mind.’ I thought they have a really unique breed of horse and I would get to learn and experience new things. So, then they said, ‘You're accepted!’ I was shocked.”
After the initial shock wore off, Tichenor spent the summer at Horse Haven Paso Finos and made such an impression she was offered a full-time position at the end of the summer.
“They did not want me to leave, and I did not want to leave,” she explains. “I have never felt like I have blossomed somewhere like that. In the past I have struggled with self-confidence, but they taught me that as a person and horseman you can do anything in the world. I have grown so much as a person and horseman.”
Tichenor says despite the tempting offer, she decided to return to her studies at The Woods to continue in the program that has already given her amazing connections and knowledge in her future career path. She also happily returned for a second year as a volunteer at the HHF. She calls the entire process a “blessed experience.”
“It is a wonderful networking opportunity, especially for us students,” she explains. “It is just a big melting pot, there are so many ways to put yourself out there … you never know how they are going to benefit you in the future.”
While Tichenor worked in Stallion Row, one of her classmates from SMWC, Jacqui Peterschmidt, not only volunteered, but hosted her own workshop titled, "Selling horses, tack and services."
Peterschmidt, a junior originally from Valparaiso, Ind., gained experience in horse marketing while assisting at the barn where her family horse was boarded. At the urging of Tara Lane, employer relations coordinator in the Career Development Center at SMWC and other faculty members, Peterschmidt put together ideas for HHF, submitted a proposal and was accepted as a clinician.
“It's really a huge honor to be clinician when I haven't even graduated yet,” she says with a modest smile. “Having this opportunity opens a lot of doors for me.”
Lane explains that she strategically places students in positions that will give them the chance to thrive. Many of the students also work in areas they haven’t already been exposed to, giving them a broader look at the entire industry. For Peterschmidt, the experience was one she wouldn’t have participated in on her own but is grateful to have been given the chance.
“I would never had considered this opportunity if they wouldn’t have offered it; I had never been to the horse fair until last year,” she explains. “This obviously has opened my eyes to a lot of the different opportunities of the horse fair and the industry in general.”
SMWC students logged hours working in the resource office, admission booth, as horse handlers, assisting clinicians and making educational presentations.
One presentation, led by Debra Powell, Ph.D., assistant professor of equine studies at SMWC, combined both science and art; highlighting the student’s passions and the many different learning tracks of the SMWC equine studies department. Four students worked together to create a presentation on therapeutic massage for lesson horses. To illustrate the technique, the students featured drawings and paintings of horses and muscle groups.
Powell, who offered the chance to collaborate to any of the equine studies students, says she served as the group’s moderator, but left the content and creation up to the students. The success of the presentation, much like the numerous opportunities at the HHF, is up to the SMWC students themselves.
“It’s their thing,” Powell explains. “It’s good for it to be the students’ presentation. This shows the public what we are doing in the equine program and that it’s a strong program for the students. The Hoosier Horse Fair is a big thing for The Woods students.”
“There are only about half a dozen colleges in the country that offer equine based studies; some offer riding, some science and health,” explains Lane. “What’s unique about the program at The Woods is it is a well-rounded program. We offer science and nutrition, riding disciplines, care and treatment and in addition our students get very practical skills.”