Karen Waite: Teaching and Advising All Things Equine

Author: In the Field

What peaked your interest in all things equine? “It was probably the public library. I grew up in the city and was not around any horses, but I found some books about horses, and it just never stopped," said Waite.

June 7, 2018

Karen Waite and Kraig Ehm stand in a pasture

What peaked your interest in all things equine? “It was probably the public library. I grew up in the city and was not around any horses, but I found some books about horses, and it just never stopped," said Waite.

karen waite_in the field2

In the Field: Teaching and Advising All Things Equine with Karen Waite - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In the Field. A podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and natural resources at Michigan State University I'm Kraig Ehm. In this episode of In the Field, I am at the Horse teaching and research center at Michigan State University talking with Karen Waite, equine extension specialist at MSU. Karen, thanks for joining me.

Karen Waite: I'm happy to be here Kraig.

Ehm: Okay, Karen. What peaked your interest in all things equine?

Waite: To be honest, it started when I was really, really young, and it was probably the public library believe it or not. I grew up in the city and was not really around any horses, but I found some books about horses, and it just never stopped. Fortunately, my parents played along and, like most kids, I went for a pony ride at a fair or Potter Park or somewhere, actually. Before long, I had my own pony, and it's just continued to grow.

Ehm: Did you have any memorable mishaps with horses while growing up?

Waite: I definitely did. Actually, when we were shopping for that first pony, we stopped at a place up north somewhere, because we also had a cabin up north. They had ponies for sale. I rode one pony and I went to get off the other one, and I turned around and the two ponies were too close together. I managed to get kicked kind of in the abdomen, lets say. My parents, of course, were worried about that. I think I was about five at the time. But, I thought it was the best thing ever, because I had a hoof print shaped bruise. For the rest of our vacation, I ran up and down the beach showing everyone my hoof print shaped bruise. That's pretty memorable for me.

Ehm: I actually have one as well. My brother and I were visiting our cousins and aunt and uncles in Kansas, so he and I went for a ride. It was a dusty day. It was a chalk road, Kansas, really hot. We were riding along, and I must've done something wrong to the horse, because it reared up and ejected me off the back end. I landed on my back, knocked the wind out of me. My brother had to go retrieve the horse, and it was pretty awful. I was in the second grade, and I was riding a Shetland Pony.

Waite: Oh!

Ehm: So, the fall wasn't too far.

Waite: There you go.

Ehm: But, it was far enough. Yep. Let's talk a little bit about your social media skills. It's legendary. Specifically your blog. What is it called and what is it about?

Waite: I manage several different social media sites as both part of my work and personally. Michigan Equine News would be the site both Facebook and Twitter that I manage for work, but I also have a blog called Out of the Box Stall, that is more related to general activity in the horse industry. Some of it connects to my research interests in sport psychology. I guess I blog like other people knit. Social media is definitely something that has changed the way, I think, we work in extension, and obviously the way that people interact on a personal level. It's been really, really interesting, and I do enjoy. Most of the time ... Every once in a while, it gets a little more dramatic than anybody needs, but I do enjoy most of the social media channels and communicating with people through those. It gives you a two-way interaction that you wouldn't get with other tools.

Ehm: With the college students that you work with, and also the younger kids, you're able to reach them at their level, is that correct?

Waite: To some extent. What I find really interesting is that college students, especially, are a lot more visually oriented. People in our age range are on Facebook, where they're on Instagram and some of the more visual sites or services. I try to be and I have found that using pictures, even through Facebook helps a ton. I would say I am able to interact with quite a few students through Facebook as well.

Ehm: Rapid fire questions. Here they are. I'm going to ask you a question, and I would appreciate an answer and a reason why. Okay?

Waite: Okay.

Ehm: Question number one: Favorite horse book, and why.

Waite: Probably Black Beauty, which seems kind of lame, but lame is also a horse term. I think Black Beauty for a couple of different reasons. I liked it when I was young for the same reasons that most people like it when they're young. The idea of a horse sharing its thoughts and feelings about life was fascinating to me. I like it now because now that I have degrees in animal science and can look at the book in a little different way, it's a great tool for going back through and figuring out, okay how much of this would be legitimate, looking at animal welfare issues, how we feed horses, how we care for horses, there's a lot of things mentioned in Black Beauty that can also be analyzed and assessed. I guess, I'm a horse nerd, but Black Beauty.

Ehm: Excellent. Favorite race horse and why?

Waite: I have to pick one? I can't have two? Obviously, I'm a big American Pharaoh fan. He's probably the one horse I can think of who just looks absolutely ecstatic to be running. He always seems happy to do what he does, and he is one horse that I think is phenomenal. I'm also a big Man O War fan, and of course, Secretariat. I can't really pick one.

Ehm: How to set us straight, but that's okay. Three is good. Three is good. Okay. Last rapid fire question: Favorite television horse?

Waite: Favorite television horse would be Mr. Ed or Trigger. Both are Palominos, and I am a big fan of Palominos. Those two.

Ehm: You were a Spartan. Graduated with multiple degrees from Michigan State University. How did your experience while growing up influence your choice of majors and now your career?

Waite: Well, I would say I grew up about ten minutes from this particular horse farm, and when I was in elementary school, we came on a field trip to this farm. Not unlike the field trip that's here today. That was my first exposure to this farm. I can't say that I really understood what it was or how it was connected to a career path or degree or school at all. But, I do remember going home and making a cigar box and writing that I was going to save my money so that I could study animal husbandry at Michigan State in that cigar box. I actually found that cigar box not that long ago. It only had like 75 cents in it. Anyway. That was my first exposure to Michigan State. I was extremely active in 4H growing up, so that allowed me to have even more exposure to MSU Extension and its programs. Like most kids that grow up with horses or with animals, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, only because I didn't know what other options were out there. That brought me to MSU, then just exposure to the amazing facilities and everything that MSU has to offer allowed me to stay.

Ehm: What would you tell someone who has a young person who might be interested in horses, working with horses, what would you tell them to either spur them to get an education here or learn more about equines?

Waite: I think what I would say is first and foremost, there is a whole lot more to working with horses than being a veterinarian. I mean the world needs a lot of veterinarians, so that's great too, but to not limit yourself to the career options or the possibilities. I would also encourage them to explore not just horses but other animals too. Michigan State has amazing facilities that you really won't find anywhere else in the country in a lot of respects as far as animal science goes. I would say, take every opportunity that comes your way. If there are programs in your area that can expose young people to horses or other animals, encourage them and help them participate in those. That's what my parents did. Reading. If you don't have programs close by, you can learn a lot about things that maybe you don't have the opportunity to actually experience, through reading. I would encourage that as well. Mostly, just take every opportunity you can.

Ehm: Speaking of reading, talk a little bit about the Horse Tails Literacy Project.

Waite: The Horse Tails Literacy Project is a program we do here every May. It exposes first graders to horses. It's a national program. First they meet a horse at their school. Then they read a book about horses. Then, they're given a second book and they practice reading that book. Then, they come to the farm here, and have an on-farm experience. Learn about horses, and then have the opportunity to read to horses. Fortunately for us, we have some horses who are more than willing to be very, very interested in whatever these young people have to say. It turns out to be a great experience. The kids get really motivated to read. We all enjoy having them here and listening to them read as well. It's a great program. At this point, we do work primarily with Discovery Elementary School in Williamston, but again, it's a national program called again, Horse Tails Literacy Project. People can look that up online if they want to get involved in their community.

Ehm: What are you currently working on?

Waite: Currently, a variety of different things, because the semester is in full swing. I am teaching quite a bit. This week, I was involved in a training program for animal control officers state wide where we helped them learn more about horses and how to handle horses and other livestock. That's one of several programs of that kind that I've been involved in. Then, from a research perspective, I'm still very interested ... I finished my dissertation a few years ago, a couple years ago now, and that work looked both at animal behavior, horse behavior, and rider behavior and the relationship between those two things. Then also, sportsmanship. I'm very interested in sportsmanship in animal welfare, so I'm hoping to get back to some of that work in the near future.

Ehm: Karen, what puts a smile on your giddy up when you're working with horses and teaching students?

Waite: What puts a smile in my giddy up when working with horses and teaching students is just having the opportunity to help students understand that they can make their passion their profession just like I did. Exposing them to career opportunities in the horse industry and watching them develop their skills. All of those things, and knowing that they can have a very bright future doing something that they love to do definitely puts a smile in my giddy up.

Ehm: I would like to thank Karen Waite, equine extension specialist at Michigan State University for joining me today. Be sure and listen next time for another episode of In the Field.