EXtension Horses Offers Digital Classroom

The Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Kentucky is designed to educate Kentucky residents about topics in agriculture, economics, leadership, and youth development through seminars, hands-on learning, and questions fielded by experts. When Kentuckians cannot make it to a learning program or reach an extension agent, a digital classroom in the form of eXtension (pronounced e-extension) is available.

The eXtension website is a cooperative project by experts across the country. It contains informational mini-sites on 32 resource areas covering everything from child care to imported fire ants, each with 20-150 topic experts providing content. One of these resource areas is horses.

As highlighted in June's Spotlight Equine feature, eXtension Horses (formerly known as HorseQuest) disseminates information on equine topics that include breeds, facilities, ethics, nutrition, training, and more. The site provides general articles on various subjects, a glossary, instructional videos, and monthly webcasts. Content for eXtension Horses is provided by teaching and research faculty as well as veterinarians, extension agents, and other staff who work to address popular questions or topics they encounter in the field. The site also provides a calendar containing upcoming educational events, which are searchable by state.

Ashley Griffin, content design leader for the eXtension Initiative at UK, said the site seeks to differentiate itself from other Internet resources.

"Creators of content are part of the university system and are peer reviewing each other's content ... this is looked on as a trusted resource to the general public," she said.

According to Griffin, visitors seem to be responding. The majority (nearly 80%) of visitors access the site from search engines. Visitors finding horse content at www.extension.org via the eXHorses YouTube channel on average view as many as eight pages before logging off.

She said site feedback and viewership on the eXHorses YouTube channel is positive and encouraging.

Another advantage to eXtension, she said, is the vast amount of information available in one place because of a national cooperative extension system. Instead of being limited to the knowledge of one website builder or region-specific information that might not be applicable to all users, eXtension draws its articles and topics from an enormous number of experts nationwide.

Griffin said a unique feature on eXtension Horses is "ask-the-expert," where visitors can search postings for answers to a specific question. If they cannot find an answer addressed in the available articles, they can submit their question to the experts who contribute to the site. Visitors can also submit photos with their questions to help illustrate an issue or problem.

Griffin warned that while helpful, the ask-the-expert feature is not intended to replace the advice of a veterinarian or professional trainer.

She said one of the most popular features, the webcasts, are a relatively new part of the site. While often done by members of the eXtension Horses team, they are sometimes conducted by members of a partner site called My Horse University (provide link), which offers free webcasts and paid online courses through its own site but provides some free content through eXtension. Webcasts include chat sessions, which allow participants to ask questions during instruction. Additional partners for eXtension Horses include the American Youth Horse Council and the American Quarter Horse Association, which is sponsoring a program to digitize the content of its Junior Master Horseman educational program through eXtension.

The idea for the eXtension Horses site came from discussions between extension specialists in the Southern region who already worked together on horse-related events.

"They wanted to do something more that could be coined as adult education online, but have quickly provided youth and youth leader materials in their curriculum as well," Griffin said.

Through the use of social media sites Twitter and YouTube, that content is growing fast, she said.

EXtension Horses is sponsored by Purina Mills. For more information, visit www.extension.org/horses.

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

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK's Equine Initiative.

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