The University of Minnesota is being groomed to better serve the state’s growing equine community
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After eight years of planning guided by Trevor Ames, chair of veterinary population medicine, the ground for the UMEC was broken last August by a team of Percherons pulling a plow. As the walls go up, Valberg is busy selecting new staff. One new hire is Travis Sevareid, a veterinary radiologist; another is Mary Durando, an ultrasound, cardiology, and internal-medicine specialist. “I just interviewed an orthopedic surgeon who does infrared spectroscopy, and we have the technology to do what he likes,” Valberg says.
Until the new facility opens, however, the team continues to do soundness checks by trotting horses around a tiny, sloping parking lot in a dead-end courtyard navigable only by experienced trailer drivers. One day, a friend of Robert Bruininks had to bring her horse onto that parking lot. Unimpressed, she got on the phone and insisted the U president come over. “It clarified things for him,” says Valberg.
THE RAFTERS OF Renier’s home stable are so thick with ribbons—red, blue, purple, yellow—that it’s like a cavern of colored stalactites. The horses that won them include her daughters’ performance horses living at a Minnesota training stable. But Renier says her support of the UMEC isn’t just about gratifying her family.
“Minnesota differs in fundamental ways compared to other horse communities,” says Renier, whose daughters have competed coast-to-coast. “We are straight-spoken, honest, high-integrity, with no hidden agendas. We horsey Minnesotans want to learn. We are very high-tech, but are also high-touch. I want to watch the surgeries and get resource information. It matters to the people at the U to get it right. They love what they do and they love my horses. They answer questions, they are compassionate, they can give me the data, and they educate me so what they do for my horses works.”
According to members of that community, the horses give back peace, power, adventure, love, and emotional healing, as well as something elemental and increasingly needed in an urbanizing world. “There is a disappearance of rural agriculture. Horses may be pets now, but unlike most other pets, horses give us a whole new dimension in relation to animals,” says Lisa Borgia, a graduate student who works with Valberg. “Riding gives us a unique perspective; it brings us back to nature.”
As a nexus of academic research, equine knowledge, and care, the UMEC will help keep more horses alive, happy, and able to perform—whether in the ring or on the trail or just getting cuddled. Renier is eager for others to experience this. “If I’d gone to an ordinary clinic, my mare would not have had her foal,” she says. “She was a high-risk foal. The special testing and examinations and injections—the surgeons came in and the repro[ductive] guys. And she turned out wonderful.”
Photo by Thomas Strand
Karin Winegar, a former Star Tribune reporter, is director of media for the Animal Humane Society.