On Derby Day, Visiting A College Where You Can Major In Horses

May 5, 2018
Originally published on May 5, 2018 8:45 am

Today brings the familiar excitement of the Kentucky Derby. Television-ready, mint juleps and perhaps one of the few horse races many of us will watch all year.

But an hour's drive from Churchill Downs, students and staff at Midway University may not find time to watch, because they're taking care of their own horses.

Midway is an old town right in the center of the Bluegrass, and just on the edge you'll find an old college. It started as the Kentucky Female Orphan School, which came along in 1849, and later became Midway College, for women. Now it's coed and has grown into a university with 1,200 students.

And the school's specialty? Horses plus Equine Management.

Midway's a regular red-brick school that's almost surrounded by barns and paddocks.

The school's 35 horses spend most of their nights outside, even in wind and spring rains. Early morning brings a day's dark rest in their stalls. They'll be properly fed and cleaned and brushed by some of the 75 students in the equine program. Freshmen develop skills from the ground up, learning to appreciate sweeping hay twice a day in the barns.

Ease open a classroom door and hear two senior women talk about a presentation for a symposium. Today's subject? A Comparison of "PEMF Devices: A Breakfown of Cytowave and Biopulse."

Visit a 7 a.m. hands-on clinic on how to give vaccines and de-wormers, and hear this advice from one teacher: "When you are giving the de-wormer, make sure not to squirt it out before it's in the horse's mouth."

Koy Lindsay is the first male equine-management student. He wants to own his own rodeo in Kentucky. The school, he says, has "really helped me a lot in my managing techniques and becoming a better leader."

And Allie Johnson, also in western Kentucky, who hopes one day to run a horse farm offering programs for kids with special learning needs.

She loves to ride in the indoor arena, and says horses have long been a big part of her life:

"Whenever I had a lot going on at home, my horse helped me through a lot of it. I was supposed to be in the house after 10 at night and I'd go out there and hang out with my horse until midnight."

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Kentucky Derby day - sorry if we didn't mention that in sports - post time this afternoon, 6:46 Eastern. Midway University - an hour's drive away from Churchill Downs to the east in the Kentucky bluegrass - it's a small school with intense focus on horses. Many of the well-known thoroughbred farms have Midway graduates on staff. NPR's Noah Adams visited.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: Midways started back in 1849. It was called the Kentucky Female Orphan School. Now it's a coed university. And 35 horses are in the fields and barns on campus because 75 students are going after equine management degrees.


ALLIE JOHNSON: Horses can just really teach you a lot.

ADAMS: Allie Johnson is ending her sophomore year. She loves to ride Sophie in the indoor arena. Johnson plans to open her own farm to be able to teach kids about horses - certainly those with special needs like autism.

JOHNSON: I love horses. I just get emotional about them because whenever I had a lot going on at home, my horse helped me through a lot of it because I would just always sit in the barn. I was supposed to be in the house after 10 at night. And I would sneak out there and hang out with my horse until like midnight.


ADAMS: Over in a busy barn, somebody says here's the first brave guy to sign up for the horse program. His name is Koy Lindsay. He is a rodeo fan and would like to start his own rodeo in Kentucky. Midway makes him think he can do it.

KOY LINDSAY: I did a year - a full year of doing work in the barns, and then now I'm a manager. It's really helped me a lot in my managing techniques and in becoming a better reader.

JANICE HOLLAND: You have to at least be in khakis or dress pants. You do not have to be in a suit.

ADAMS: In a classroom, the professor Janice Holland is helping set up a student presentation. What should they wear? Holland advises barn professional. The students have been making posters for a symposium. Sara Gatchell shows her idea to Beverly Garland.

SARA GATCHELL: It is a comparison of PEMF devices - a breakdown of Cytowave and BioPulse.


GATCHELL: So it's long.

ADAMS: At a quieter place - one of Midway's barns in the rain - Hannah Waraway does some careful sweeping as an assigned chore. She is a freshman from up near Ann Arbor, Mich.

HANNAH WARAWAY: There's no equine anything in Michigan. I mean, we have Michigan State, but that's really an animal science rather than equine. So down here, I found that they had a very hands-on program. And I'm a very hands-on, kinesthetic learner.

ADAMS: Lately Midway's had equine students from 15 states and South Africa and Zambia. And the school estimates that 80 percent of the current equine students have off-campus jobs. Rene Fossett works 32 hours a week at a thoroughbred farm - sometimes helping with a birth.

RENE FOSSETT: I did get to witness one and help out with cleaning the foul off and everything like that - and tying up the uterus so that it pulls out correctly.

STEPHANIE KEELEY: All right, so we are doing two vaccines and dewormer per horse.

ADAMS: Seven o'clock in the morning, students meet with Stephanie Keeley. She loves planning these classes - real freshman stuff, early in the day. And the idea is hands on the horse.

KEELEY: Remember. When we are giving our injection - kind of fast like you're ripping off a Band-Aid, just - right? Just stick it in. Don't sit there, and - just stick it in, OK. Excellent.

ADAMS: Around this campus, with the barns and the fine spring grass, there's maybe some talk about the Kentucky Derby coming up today. But the true excitement - that's the graduation next Saturday on this campus in Midway, Ky. Noah Adams, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUNKAN'S "EUROPE (ORIGINAL MIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.