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SPARR − A newly approved four-year equine studies program at North Marion High School is meant to be a fast track for students toward college and an estimated 244,200 jobs in Florida’s $11.7 billion horse industry
Equine Science 2, 3 and 4, courses with “student performance standards” written by NMHS instructor Lori (Albritton) Jones, were approved as curriculum by the Florida Department of Education in April.
The three Equine Science courses, along with the already in place Agriscience Foundation in freshman year, make up a four-year program at NMHS.
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Equine 2 aims to develop competency in the areas of horse safety, behavior, breeds and classification, grooming, health, digestion and nutritional requirements, anatomy and body systems, global impact, governing agencies and equine industry careers.
Equine 3 and 4 build upon the foundation course and include areas like breeding readiness, reproduction leadership, analyzing records and the environment, according to Jones.
The four-year Equine Science program is unique in Florida and is currently offered only at NMHS.
Equine Science is an outcropping of an extracurricular horse program, North Marion FFA Equine, which was started by Jones and Animal Science students in 2016 with a $5,000 grant obtained by Jones and her students.
“This program has opened doors not only for students to take an Equine Science class, but they are getting real world experiences by working with industry leaders. This program would not have been possible without the help of our equine sponsors in our community,” Jones wrote in an email.
Sponsors of North Marion Equine include Buckeye Feeds, Pleasant Acres Farm, Ocala Stud, Sparr Building & Farm Supply, Hugh and Valerie Dailey, Dr. Corey Miller-Equine Medical Center of Ocala, Dr. John Peloso, Florida Thoroughbred Farm Managers, TizWhiz Hay and farriers Tanner Smith and Brian Gleason.
A rich tradition
Jones, a teacher for 28 years and at NMHS since 2015, is a lifelong horsewoman. She is the wife of Bobby Jones of Bobby Jones Equine, a major supporter of the program.
The North Marion Equine program kicked off with the donation of two bred mares by Bobby Jones Equine: Clueless Brook in 2017 and Perfect Biscuit in 2018."I am very impressed by the students that are interested in this equine program. I feel this program fuels the fire, for young people that possibly could have a future or career in the equine industry. It has been a pleasure working with these young people over the past six years,” Bobby Jones wrote in an email.
Bobby Jones said working with the students has been “amazing.”
Since 2017, students participating in the North Marion Equine program raised and cared for two colts and a filly from the mares and a yearling donated by Valerie Dailey. The two colts, filly and yearling were sold at Ocala Breeders Sales for a total of $44,000.
The funds have been put back into the NMHS agricultural program for feed, supplies, veterinarian care, facilities need, field trips and more, according to program literature.According to program literature provided by Lori Jones, students in the North Marion Equine program spend time at the Bobby Jones Equine Farm and “volunteer and help groom, learn about sales prepping, reproductive work (and surgical procedures) with the vet, and (Bobby) Jones” and some have been “present when foaling mares.”
The mares in the program now are Perfect Biscuit, Country Song and Ahaya, a 12-year-old mare, purchased by North Marion Equine. All the mares are in foal.
Plans include selling Perfect Biscuit’s filly in October. Country Song’s yearling is set to be sold in 2024.
Pleasant Acres and Charlotte Weber of Ocala Stud have also contributed horses to the North Marion Equine program.
All about the students
The North Marion Equine program now has 11 students, and most participants remain in the program through their time at NMHS. There are currently 22 students in the Equine Science 2 class.
Students in the Equine Science 2 class at NMHS, Madison Bias, 18, Cooper Espinoza, 16, Ava Densmore, 16, and Camille Ashbaugh, 17, all worked with the mares during a recent session. Their career interests range from veterinarian to turf management.
Fianna Roberts-Squier came to the right place to follow her career goal as a horse behaviorist. Fianna, 17, moved with her family to Ocala from Volusia County last year and now, as a senior, she’s enrolled in the Equine Academy at North Marion High School, is taking the new Equine 2 class, and is participating in the extracurricular equine program.
Although she joined the NMHS program as a senior, Fianna is taking Equine 2. She has already taken the Agriscience course and Animal Science 3 courses at NMHS.
Lori Jones said Fianna will have a “great educational background” for all aspects of livestock. “(Fianna) has been an asset to our program this year,” Jones said.
Fianna has said she plans to attend a four-year college and major in equine psychology so she can better understand horse behavior.
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/Department of Animal Science Department offers Horse Psychology and Training and Intermediate Horse Psychology and Training, according to animal.ifas.ufl.edu
An important field
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website (fdacs.gov) “(the) Florida horse industry, including industry suppliers, generates an annual $6.8 billion economic impact on the gross domestic product of Florida.”
“Total employment figures add up to 244,200 jobs. With a population of over 385,000 horses, Florida ranks as the third largest equine state in the United States.”
“Horse ownership, equine associations and profit-making organizations, plus tourism spending by riders and spectators, combine for a $11.7 billion annual economic impact.”
The Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership has partnered with MCPS for equine programs.
“Our ultimate goal is to expose students to the many employment opportunities available in the equine industry from media to exercise riders and farm managers to veterinarians,” stated CEP Chief eXperience Officer Tamara Fleischhaker.
Fleischhaker explained that Pyranha Animal Health products is the sponsor of the CEP’s equine initiative.
Fleischhaker indicated two years of meetings between Marion County Public Schools officials, equine industry representatives and CEP staff “led to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Foundation for Chamber & Economic Partnership and MCPS.”“The CEP’s equine initiative will continue to provide guidance and connections to the equine industry, particularly with the local farms, to coordinate field trips, learning experiences and horse visits to schools,” she wrote, in part.
Kevin Christian, director of public relations for MCPS, stated in an email that the NMHS Equine Studies program was off and running even before the current CEP backing.
“The financial backing for NMHS was already in place prior to the MOU thanks to the hard work of the teacher, Mrs. Jones. The CEP is working with us to connect with businesses that provide support in the future to other high schools that want to offer Equine Science or to add a horse for Animal Science experience,” he wrote, in part.