Otterbein Equine Students Benefit from In-Person Experience During Pandemic

Posted Nov 23, 2020

Pre-veterinary students rely on hands-on learning to immediately apply what they learn in the classroom to qualify for competitive veterinary programs. Receiving complex and crucial equine knowledge from a computer screen would not fully train vet students for the rigors ahead in their careers. Despite the pandemic, Otterbein University’s pre-veterinary students were able to spend the fall semester getting that valuable in-person experience. 

Otterbein’s phased approach to starting the semester, which prioritized courses with experiential components while implementing strict health and safety protocols, meant that students didn’t have to take a semester off from educational experiences that cannot easily be replicated online.  

“We are lucky when working with horses,” said Bruce Mandeville, associate professor of equine science. “Riding or leading requires social distancing. You never want to have horses too close to each other for safety, thus naturally providing a safe working environment for people and animals alike. And of course, we all wear masks during demonstrations.” 

As with any profession, there are just some things that must be taught by doing. A lot of working with horses involves observation and feeling, rather than facts and figures. Department of Equine Science Chair Sheri Birmingham teaches courses that have necessary in-person components to assess the health of the animals. 

“A large portion of equine courses are focused on performing bodily and neurological examinations. It is a cause-and-effect type of situation where the student needs to perform the diagnostic flexions, manipulations and techniques, then watch the horse to determine the effect it has on them,” Birmingham said. “This is something that cannot be accomplished without putting one’s hands on the horse to develop those skills.” 

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Equine Pre-Veterinary double major Jenna McPeek ’22 was excited and grateful that her coursework would still include hands-on training. She appreciates the dedication Otterbein has shown to making decisions that keep the community safe and healthy, but she realizes her graduate school and career aspirations rest heavily on the ability to work alongside faculty for first-hand skills development. 

“I want to be confident in what I do so that when a veterinary school asks me if I know how to do a specific diagnostic or procedure, I can confidently say ‘yes!’ With in-person classes, we’re having invaluable moments to learn the nuances of the profession and not just the basics from our amazing professors,” McPeek said. 

Otterbein understood the needs of students like McPeek and made sure they could still practice and learn these skills in a safe environment. 

“The human-equine interaction that our department so highly values will always be foremost at Otterbein. No matter how we have to accomplish it, we will,” said Mandeville.