“The pinnacle of my Virginia Tech experience so far,” is how Amanda Atkins, Animal and Poultry Sciences senior, described the German study abroad program she undertook earlier this summer. Atkins was one of 14 Virginia Tech undergraduate students who participated in a two-week program that showcased some of the finest horses, stud farms, and equestrian events Germany has to offer. Led by faculty from the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension (MARE) Center, the trip was facilitated through Virginia Tech’s long-lasting partnership with the International Sporthorse Registry and Oldenburg Registry of North America. German-based, it is the largest warmblood registry in North America.
"The registry's director, Dr. Christian Schacht, has been a great supporter of our program at Virginia Tech and works tirelessly to put together this program for our students," said Rebecca Splan, Associate Professor, Equine Science "This is the third time we've offered the trip which is planned every other year."
The study abroad course is designed to familiarize students with the German sporthorse industry, arguably the best in the world at producing horses for the Olympic sports, and introduce students to equine science from a different perspective. Students are given guided tours of some of the most important breeding, training, and sales centers in the world, including Lewitz Stud; the Hanoverian State Stud at Celle; the Holsteiner Verband at Elmshorn; the Hof Kasselmann; and the Brandenburg State Stud at Neustadt-Dosse. They are afforded an opportunity to network with the world's best owners, breeders, and trainers and meet with and interview a select group of the world's most successful professionals. On this year's trip, this group included Olympic gold medalist Heike Kemmer; top young horse trainer Ulf Moeller; former Hanoverian auction manager Rainer Kiel; and Ludwig Christmann and Katrin Burger, breeding directors for the Hanoverian and Oldenburg registries, respectively.
In addition, the 14 students prepared for and competed in the German Reitabzeichen, (see Germany, pg 4)a test of riding skill and knowledge about equine science, all passing with good marks, according to Splan. "Successful completion of this test is quite prestigious, and a strong resume-booster for any American equestrian," she said. Splan also noted that to date, nearly 50 Virginia Tech students have earned this certification, a 100 percent success rate.
Although the trip is centered on the German horse industry, the students also learned European and German history as they visited many historic sites around northern Germany, including the capital city of Berlin.
"Similar to the university's other study abroad programs, we are largely focused in the personal and professional development of the students," said Splan. "This course is truly a transformational experience for our students. Through their experiences they learn more about themselves and how they can take advantage of a new and different environment. Our goal is to encourage them to try new things and stretch themselves out of their comfort zone so that they can begin to direct their own learning."
The Equine Studies Program at the MARE Center allows students to actively participate in all aspects of a large-scale breeding, show, sales and research facility while simultaneously engaging in a full semester of coursework. This immersive learning environment, designed for students who desire upper-level employment in the horse industry, academia, or the veterinary or biological sciences, provides substantive and authentic experiences integrated fully with traditional classroom instruction.