Equine students among essential workers keeping campus going during COVID-19 pandemic

She’s generally a jovial horse, but Lola is happier than ever these days. Poking her nose through a stall at the SUNY Morrisville Western barn, she nickers at two students on whose care she has come to rely the past few months.

Equine students Kaitlin Renschen and Kendalle Booth are equally excited to see their four-legged friend, having a natural conversation with her as they lead her to the Western riding ring.

Lola’s care and that of dozens of other horses has been at the hands of equine summer interns Renschen and Booth, as well as faculty and staff who have kept the barns and horses going when COVID-19 forced the campus into a pause in March.

Their hands-on experience cut short in the middle of the semester, equine faculty and students quickly shifted to online teaching and learning. And when they did, essential workers – including those involved with meal planning, water treatment, grounds maintenance and the care of livestock, cows and other animals – continued to keep things going on a secluded campus once bustling with students and activity. 

Their work has played a vital role in readying the campus, which is set to reopen Aug. 24 after receiving approval from SUNY and meeting New York State Department of Health’s Reopening New York Higher Education Guidelines. Plans are subject to change due to new information, guidance and/or direction received from the State of New York and the Governor’s Office.

While the Morrisville and Norwich campuses may look a little different when classes begin, the college is taking all proper precautions and following health requirements to keep students, faculty, staff, visitors and the community safe, including lowering classroom density, wearing masks and physical distancing at least six feet apart.

Classes will be a hybrid of remote and face-to-face learning, a mix that varies based on the activities in the class and allows for physical distancing in classrooms and labs.

“It is a challenge,” said Julie Corey, an assistant professor in the Equine Department who is supervising Booth and Renschen. “You really can’t break a colt through watching a video. But I am a teacher and I love what I do. I will always figure out a way to make something work.”

She proved that in March, juggling remote teaching and helping to maintain the college’s horses and barns, while caring for three children under the age of six and helping with their schooling.

Now she’s working with other equine faculty and staff to ensure that the barns and horses are ready for the upcoming semester. And Booth and Renschen are dedicating their summer to make sure that happens, too.   

“Their work ethic is impeccable and I could not do all of this without them,” Corey said.

Renschen, of Macungie, Pennsylvania, was not able to make it home and quarantined in off-campus housing, taking online classes while helping Corey with horses in the college’s barns not far from the unoccupied campus. 

Booth, who lives in Randolph, returned in May to work with Renschen. Their plates are full on a daily basis with chores, including cleaning stalls and dragging the arena, as well as riding horses.

Both students already have equine science associate degrees under their belts and are enrolled in the college’s agricultural business development bachelor’s degree program, while still taking equine specialization classes. The mix allows them to expand their education and gain business skills, while following their passion and career plans with horses.

Booth’s sights are set on becoming an assistant trainer first, then landing a job in marketing and training horses on the side.

Renschen is considering owning an equine training facility or related business.

“Morrisville is helping to align me perfectly to meet my goals,” she said.

Professors, top-notch facilities and the diversity of the college’s equine programs top their list for choosing SUNY Morrisville. Their sentiment intensified when the campus switched to online teaching and learning.

“When I began online learning, I asked my mom, how am I supposed to train horses online?” Booth said.  Corey was ready with videos of clinics and came up with other ways to keep students engaged and learning.

“We would watch videos, then in a group chat, we would discuss them,” Booth said. “That is something that can really help you become a better rider.”

“Our professors provided us with a great learning experience and we were able to keep our grades up,” Renschen said.

As they face new challenges this semester – online learning in a hands-on intensive program and missing occasions to compete in horse shows or attend clinics, most which have been canceled – they do so with a positive outlook.

“Our professors have been there for us every step of the way, so we will not falter,” Booth said.

Professors also credit students with a smooth transition.

“We had an exceptional group of students who showed up for every online class and continued to work very hard through the COVID pandemic,” Corey said.

By martha

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