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UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program benefits students, farms

by Katie Pratt, University of Kentucky

An equestrian for the past 15 years, University of Kentucky junior Anna Intartaglio loves everything about horses. It’s no surprise she jumped at the chance to spend her summer conducting research that’s meaningful to the industry. As an intern in the UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program, she has gained a deeper understanding of the industry she loves so much.

“This summer internship has been really fascinating,” said Intartaglio, a native of Greentown, Pennsylvania. “I’ve been learning so much about pastures, horse nutrition, pasture management and farm management.”

She is just one of a few select students chosen for the competitive summer internship program in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. With guidance from Ray Smith, UK forage extension specialist, and Krista Lea, program coordinator, the interns work with farm owners and managers to provide in-depth pasture analysis with the ultimate goal of keeping horses safe and healthy and increasing the farms’ efficiency and productivity.

Interns can apply to the program from any U.S. college or university. In addition to conducting research for area farms, many students use it as an opportunity to do independent research projects. Kelly Hagan, a Nicholasville native and senior at Asbury University, is one of those students. A biology major, she is studying the growth of alfalfa for her senior research project.

“Being able to go out and do the work and then come back and put the data in and see the differences gets me really excited,” she said. “We’re doing work, and changes are happening. It’s fun to see the results.”

The program is an opportunity to educate not only the interns but members of the horse industry on the importance of pastures.Knowledge of pasture forages is important, as some species, like tall fescue, could negatively impact broodmares and foals.

 “A well-managed pasture provides a lot of the feed and nutrition for the horse,” Smith said. “Having the ground covered in grass rather than bare places and dirt allows for good footing and safety.”

Smith and Lea train the interns in forage and weed identification. The students spend the summer going to farms and analyzing the forage species and weeds within pastures. Once the analysis is complete, they and Lea present the results, along with short-term and long-term pasture management recommendations, to farm owners, managers and staff. Since the program began in 2005, more than 200 farms and more than 30 student interns have participated.

“Several of the interns have actually fallen in love with forage production and have gone on to do graduate school with us,” said Lea, who also started in the program as summer intern before advancing to her current position. “They have chosen to do forage research long term. We have several that have actually changed courses because of this program. The other ones that don’t, even if they continue on to whatever they want to do, they still have a much better appreciation for the ag community.”

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