Spotlighting Kentucky's Cooperative Extension Service

In the early days of education, when a college degree was a privilege and not the social norm, universities seemed unapproachable to most. With the advent of state universities came a new philosophy that knowledge should be accessible not only to students, but to all citizens. Hence, the land grant university was born.

UK was founded in 1865 as one of the nation's first land grant universities. Land grant institutions were established by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which allowed the federal government to appoint a parcel of land to states for sale or development to create state universities. All 50 states in the U.S. have at least one land grant university. The mission of all land grant institutions is a threefold focus on research, education, and service. In keeping with this mission, Cooperative Extension was established to serve the community and bring knowledge from the lab to the field.

Kentucky's Cooperative Extension Service is funded at the local, state, and federal levels and places representatives in each of Kentucky's 120 counties to teach residents about the latest research from UK and Kentucky State University, Kentucky's other land grant institution. Areas of information and education in each county include agriculture, home and family, youth, environment, and economic development. While there is some variation in the county and state programs, horses are a large part of the life and infrastructure in Kentucky and, therefore, a large part of extension.

Cooperative Extension provides information and programs online and in person to both adults and youth.

An online component of UK's College of ¬Agriculture Extension Service--eXtension--provides information on a variety of topics to a nationwide audience. UK is also the national host of HorseQuest, the equine corner of eXtension, and provides the latest research and tips to horse owners through articles, webinars, ask-the-expert sections, and a calendar of upcoming educational events related to horse ownership.

In addition to online resources, extension provides hands-on educational activities to adults and youth. The adult education program includes Horse College, a multicounty program that runs from four to five evenings and covers topics such as nutrition, health, basic reproduction, facilities, and behavior. Talks are given in one county and residents of surrounding counties can participate. The program is now using video presentation software to project the classes to extension offices several counties away.

Robert Coleman, PhD, associate director for undergraduate education in equine science and management and extension horse specialist, heads the adult equine extension education.

Coleman was one of the early innovators of the Horse College program. He said Horse College has now traveled to 97 of Kentucky's 120 counties, educating more than 1,500 adults. Horse Colleges are organized largely by each county's extension agent and taught by university faculty and field experts such as veterinarians and ¬farriers.

"The concept came out of a discussion I had with several agents," Coleman said. "We realized that if you do this for multiple nights, you'll develop a relationship with your clientele ... it has facilitated not only networking between the agents and the horse owners but between horse owners in a community."

Coleman said backyard horse owners can also participate in Pastures Please, a grazing school that discusses topics related to local ¬pasture ¬establishment, weed control, and species ¬selection.

Youth participation in extension has always been linked to horses through the 4-H program. The four H's, which stand for head, hands, heart, and health, reflect the program's mission to teach and develop well-rounded youth ages 9 to 19. In addition to other agricultural interests, the Kentucky 4-H Youth Program has an equine component that has approximately 6,000 participants each year. The 4-H program teaches the basics of being a horse owner and encourages participants to expand their horsemanship and leadership skills. Participants can partake in educational activities and competitions and might also ride in various disciplines at 4-H horse shows.

Summer is a busy time for the 4-H Horse Program because children are out of school. ¬Upcoming events include the State 4-H Horse Judging Contest, State Horse Show, and "Horse Contest," which showcases photography, crafts, and communications that all revolve around the horse. Another popular event is the horse bowl, a quiz-style competition that tests participants' knowledge of horse science.

Fernanda Camargo, DVM, PhD, assistant professor in the department of animal and food sciences and equine extension specialist, said boosting public awareness of equine research at UK can help participating youth become better horse owners.

"Research is generally published in scientific journals, which are not available to the general public. It is my role to learn what has been discovered by researchers and pass this knowledge along to horse owners and enthusiasts," ¬Camargo said.

Kristen Harvey, MS, extension associate, believes the 4-H program in particular has another positive attribute.

"The most valuable element of equine ¬extension in terms of 4-H is providing the leaders with valuable educational resources to help our youth grow and learn," Harvey said.

Jimmy Henning, PhD, associate dean for Extension and Cooperative Extension Service associate director, believes Cooperative Extension provides guidance to the university, in addition to its benefits to the public.

"The value or importance lies in the nature of Cooperative Extension, to provide a conduit for information and educational programming to move from campus to the communities, and for feedback regarding the needs of all horse clientele to come from the end user back to the land grant research university," Henning said. "This feedback allows for more focused and responsive research and for a better-served industry."

Looking ahead, he believes the program has a bright future.

"Extension will continue to be a connection between the grassroots of the local farms, families, youth and communities, and the universities," Henning said. "We will still be conducting educational programs to improve the quality of life for the people of Kentucky. I see a greater use of technology, including social media, to stay in touch with a wide variety of clientele who want to get their information 24/7."

For more information about equine programs available through Cooperative Extension, visit


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


Want more articles like this? Sign up for the Bluegrass Equine Digest e-Newsletter. More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK's Equine Initiative.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More