Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More than just an opportunity: Inspiring better horsemanship through equine studies DVDs

Sometimes good things happen when you least expect them . . . and if you aren’t open to the possibilities for change, they often pass you by.

Two years ago I got an email from a Connecticut woman asking if I’d be interested in participating in an educational DVD that would study the horse’s respiratory system. While I was intrigued, the invitation came at an inopportune time. I was juggling family and job responsibilities with the added stress of completing a Master’s Degree in Education. It would have been easy to say no to a stranger. After all, this was a start-up company with no track record or guarantee for success.  But knowing how scarce good educational programming is for the equestrian market, I agreed to meet with her to learn more.

Andrea Steele told me that she formed Mouse Hole Farm Productions with a mission to create artful and in-depth DVD learning experiences for the equestrian market worldwide. Her goal was to produce horse-related subject matter that would watch like something seen on The Discovery Channel. The programming would delve deeply into each subject by utilizing top industry professionals from all walks of the equine industry. The fact that Andrea was committed to conveying proven, factual information and dispelling myths and misconceptions made it impossible for me to say no, despite my busy schedule.

As we worked through the various phases of production, we were constantly on the lookout for better ways to describe, explain, demonstrate, or model the topics. In fact, it was the desire to get an “inside look” at the structures of the respiratory tract that led us to Tufts University and ultimately to the involvement of Dr. Melissa Mazan, DVM, which became a central part of this project.

Nemec speaking inside a horse barn.
Abby Nemec provided information in the
"Horse Chat" section of the film. 
Programming for what is now called Advanced Equine Studies will include all the horse’s bodily systems as well as other topics of interest. The first DVD in the series is a study called The Horse’s Respiratory System, which hit the market to raves reviews at the end of December, 2013. Two more DVD programs are currently in production: Saddle Fit for Horse and Rider and Pre-Purchase Exams.

The Horse’s Respiratory System brings viewers to the Cummings Schoolof Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University to follow a horse through their lung function laboratory for testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Tufts’ Dr. Mazan also goes into the classroom for discussions on respiratory anatomy, lung function, infectious and non-infectious respiratory disease, and much more.

My role with Advanced Equine Studies is to host “Horse Chat” discussions and demonstrations featured in each program. We purposefully planned each topic to connect the information presented within the DVD to how you ride and care for your horse on a daily basis.

In the respiratory program I teach how to take the horse’s respiration rate, describe how the horse scents, and discuss breath-holding in both horses and riders, to name a few pieces that we felt needed to be included to fill the gaps in the content. For example, at one point I was feeling like the project was missing an explanation of exactly how air is drawn into the lungs by the diaphragm. After a trip to the local hardware store, a couple of hours, and a few failed attempts, we had assembled a usable Plexiglas model of the ribcage using a plastic grocery bag for the lungs – and it breathed!

Being a part of this prestigious team of presenters was a great opportunity that will of course benefit me professionally. What surprised me though is how much I learned during the production process! Watching the footage over and over, and working with Andrea to be sure we were covering all of the necessary details really strengthened my understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system. Even more, as we worked through the healthy environment discussions with John Blackburn and Karen Briggs we had much to think about and decide related to what is important to include, and what aspects needed clarification. This has really solidified my understanding of the topics. The program has been a great learning tool for me, but is simple and clear enough that it also makes a solid teaching tool for our Equine Studies courses as well.

Being able to bring live video of the standing endoscopy into the classroom is invaluable. In the past, I might have used clips of a basic endoscopy that I found online, but Dr. Mazan’s presentation goes much further by including access into the guttural pouch and ethmoid labyrinth. By combining this with an instructor’s analysis and classroom discussion, my students can receive a complete learning experience that supports a variety of learning styles.

The Horse’s Respiratory System is 5½ hours in length, divided into 6 chapters, each with a runtime of about 45 minutes. Each of the chapters can be viewed in full or in part as a classroom session or watched as homework by students. But that’s just the beginning. Imagine the fun of equestrian centers or veterinary clinics offering an “education night” for their clients. In fact, every horse owner can add the Advanced Equine Studies DVDs to their own library as a trusted source of information they can watch over and over. As an educator and horse lover, that excites me.

I joined the Advanced Equine Studies team to reach more horse people and inspire better horsemanship. This project has been both educational and great fun, and I look forward to the next round of projects and all the topics that we will dig into in the future.

You can check out the available programs at the AES website www.AdancedEquineStudies.com. “Like” them on Facebook to keep abreast of our programming. While these programs are designed for riders, trainers, barn managers, veterinary technicians, and equine academic programs, the DVDs are priced specifically for the individual rider market. If you would like to purchase your own copy of the DVD in the website store you can use coupon code ‘Abby’ at checkout for a 10% discount!

 Abigail Nemec is the director of the equine program at Post University, where she oversees a major in equine studies. In addition to holding a Master of Education degree, Abby is a farrier and a certified Level III Instructor, by the American Riding Instructor’s Association. She teaches courses in hoof trimming, horse industry orientation, and equine medical management.