UF Grad Prefers Business Aspect of Horse Industry
While many University of Findlay equestrian majors are working toward becoming professional riders and trainers, some plan to spend time sitting at a computer as well as sitting in the saddle.
“There are so many opportunities in the equine industry,” said Luke Oxender. “There are good jobs working for companies that sell supplements, feed, saddles and apparel among other things.”
Oxender, a 2015 UF graduate, returned to the James C. Child, Jr. Equestrian Complex as co-barn manager in January. He had been working as facilities manager for two large equestrian properties in Maryland when he received a call telling him of a job opening at the UF English farm. Originally from Bluffton, Ohio, he was happy to return to the area. He also plans to begin working on a master of business administration at UF in the fall.
Oxender’s mother didn’t know that when she offered riding lessons to her young son it would determine his choice of a university and a career. She found an English riding instructor and Luke discovered he enjoyed the sport. He continued through grade school and joined a 4-H Club with a “horse focus.”
“I went to riding camps at UF during the summers of my sophomore and junior years in high school,” Oxender recalled. “When I got my first horse, I trailered in to ride with one of the University instructors.”
He admitted that UF was the “only school I applied to,” and he chose to double-major in equestrian studies and equine business management. He received an internship, which meant working 20 hours a week at the barn while carrying a heavy course load.
“As if that wasn’t enough time at the barn, I was on the IHSA hunter/jumper team in my junior and senior years,” he laughed.
He’s All Business
Although he rode in shows as a student, today you’re more likely to find Oxender driving equipment or working with a lame horse than in the riding arena. His goal is to manage a large equestrian farm or facility and he’s chocking up experience on a daily basis. His job at UF revolves around the welfare of the English farm’s horses. Under the direction of the farm’s veterinarians, he dispenses medications and assesses horses for lameness or other conditions. He maintains equipment and supervises barn chores, grading the freshmen on their “care and feeding” skills.
“Even footing is becoming a science,” he added, referring to the mixture of sand, clay and other materials that cover the three indoor and (one) large outdoor arenas. Keeping this footing supportive to healthy equine feet and legs is another of Oxender’s shared responsibilities.
Other equestrian graduates have shared his interest in the business aspect of the equine industry. Fellow graduate Pam Pivaronas ’15 owns and operates Equinity Therapy Solutions, based in Findlay. Servicing local clients and traveling to horse shows throughout the Midwest, Pivaronas employs three other UF alums; Brittany Venninger ’15, Kat zu Hone ’14 and Hanah Arnold ’13.
Senior Shannon Roof, a marketing major and member of the IHSA hunter/jumper team, holds a real estate license and has put selling equestrian properties in the southeast U.S. on her list of potential careers.
According to the results of a 2015 survey by American Horse Publications, the horse industry seems to be recovering from the impact of the 2008 recession.
“It appears the industry is beginning to recover from the Great Recession of 2008, as indicated by the percentage of respondents participating in the industry, either through owning/managing horses or competing with them, at the same or greater levels than three years ago,” reported Jill Stowe, Ph.D., associate professor of agriculture economics at the University of Kentucky, who analyzed the data.
With approximately 9.2 million horses in the U.S., there are 4.6 million Americans involved in the industry as owners, service providers, employees and volunteers. Growing areas include green initiatives, specialty diet products, condition-specific feeds and supplements and non-traditional equine services such as equine massage and acupuncture.
All in a Day’s Work
Since horses don’t shut down on weekends, holidays and after-hours, Oxender is often on call to take care of “situations” that may require an immediate response. Having grown up with horses, nothing surprises him.
“Some horses seem to colic on demand,” he stated, referring to a common intestinal illness in horses that can be fatal if not caught in time. “We had one horse that attempted to jump out of his turnout area and didn’t quite make it. There’s always something going on with this many horses around.”
He recalled the day of the damaging windstorm (or derecho) that hit the Midwest in June 2012. Fences on the farm were down and a judge’s stand that stood next to the outdoor arena was destroyed. Although a student intern, Oxender remembers immediately driving his truck out into the pastures to assess damage and deter horses from escaping.
“Actually, the horses seemed to know something was wrong. They were all sort of huddled together in one area. Luckily, we didn’t lose any of them. “
Severe weather, equipment malfunctions, equine health, bedding and footing “analysis,” and supervising barn maintenance are all just part of the job for this UF alum.
“After all,” he laughed. “No matter what happens, it’s just another day at the farm!”