French Students Get a Taste of the Bluegrass

The University of Kentucky hosted seven international travelers in May. Students from the Master of Equine Science and Business Program, a partnership between UK and the University of Caen Lower Normandy, France, spent several weeks learning about the American horse industry in the horse capital of the world.

The program, now in its second year, is designed for individuals with a master's degree in a related field or established professionals seeking to expand their skills. This year's students, Marie deBeauchesne, Sophie Engerran, Delphine Herbeau, Raja Mahjoob, Emmanuelle Morvillers, Estelle Rewega, and Camille Valette, came from a variety of horse-related backgrounds and career interests, ranging from Arabians to Standardbreds to race and show horses. The group had a diverse educational background with degrees in language, sports management, and an array of agricultural focuses.

During the 15-month program, students attend lectures and seminars in addition to two hands-on internship periods, which culminate in a final thesis project related to equine business, management, or science. Learning sessions take place at AgroSup, Bourgogne, l'Université de Caen, Haras du Pin, and UK, while students can complete internships anywhere in the world.

So far this year's students have attended the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, the Kentucky International Equine Summit, and horse races at Churchill Downs. Their learning segment in Normandy included lectures by Mary Rossano, assistant professor in animal and food sciences in the UK College of Agriculture.

All students agreed their experience in Lexington gave them perspective on a new type of horse industry. For many years, the French government regulated and funded equestrian sports in France but recently decided to remove its support. As a result, public stud farms will shut down unless the farms can raise enough money to cover their own operating expenses. Since the American horse industry is completely privatized, the group was interested to learn how it functioned. Mahjoob observed that the government regulation affected each discipline differently.

Mahjoob said it seemed American horse racing faces more issues stemming from a lack of regulation than French racing, while the sporthorse industry in the United States thrives without government support, unlike the French sporthorse industry.

Program participants were also fascinated with the diversity of the U.S. horse industry. Fewer breed organizations exist in France, which translates to fewer opportunities for involvement and employment in the industry.

"(It's easier for) people to succeed here because there are lots of disciplines," Herbeau said. "If we had more disciplines (in France), maybe more people would be attracted to horses."

While racing and the English disciplines have been popular in France for centuries, Western horse sports are just beginning to catch on. The students believe this is partially due to the influx of natural horsemanship training methods into Europe in the past 15 years, and they admit that while the general knowledge of Western disciplines is limited, the interest in them stems partly from the costume and culture associated with Western riding.

"People are looking for something to have fun [with]," Rewega said.

Many in the group had visited the United States before entering the program and have enjoyed the opportunity to learn about American culture, although some things in America--such as the cars and food--are very different from home.

Laurie Lawrence, a professor in the UK Department of Animal and Food Sciences, coordinated the Kentucky learning section of the program. She said she is excited to see the university partnership enter its second year.

"When the Dean created the Equine Initiative, one of his goals was to make our program at UK the leading program in the world and commensurate with the status of the horse industry, so I see that this type of exchange where students come here from other places is just a part of that," Lawrence said.

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and recent graduate in equine science and management.

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