Animal sciences senior Helena Horne enters the barn at the UA Equine Center to a chorus of neighs and stomps.
She starts checking feeding sheets, scooping pellets into buckets and hosing down hay. With Horne’s 6 a.m. arrival, the horses know it’s time for breakfast.
The UA has about 40 to 50 stallions, mares and foals at its agricultural center north of campus on Campbell Avenue and Roger Road. The horses are used for research, as part of animal sciences classes and in riding classes.
And three mornings a week, it’s Horne’s job to feed all of them.
“We try to feed them as fast as we can so nobody stresses out,” Horne said. “They’re very cool animals but very high maintenance.”
The center has eight paid student employees and an additional three to four volunteers, according to Kacee Adams, who coordinates student workers at the center. Most of the students work cleaning the stalls or handle the twice-daily feedings.
Horne grew up with horses and knew she would miss them when she moved from her family’s five-acre Flagstaff property to an apartment in Tucson, she said. She began as a volunteer at the center more than two years ago and was offered the paid position this year when she picked up extra shifts over the summer.
“Managing horses is a full-time job,” Horne said. “And when I say full time, I mean all the time.”
The horses are spread out across the farm: The stallions stay in the barn while the foals and mares have their respective areas. Horne grabs a cart and loads it with buckets of Manna Pro and other horse feed.
Horses trot around as Horne approaches and parcels out food. She greets most by name and watches as they calm down to eat.
“They’re like people,” Horne said “They have their own personalities. Some things you can do with some horses and some things you definitely can’t do.”
Horses receive different amounts of food depending on their ages, circumstances and the weather. The feeding sheet is the key to keeping track of 50 different diets, Horne said.
“It all makes sense,” she said. “I just have to look at the sheet a lot of times.”
Horne also checks the horses’ wellbeing when she feeds them. Colic, swelling and bruises are common problems to see, she said.
It’s especially important to check the foals, which were born between January and April. Revenue from horse sales fund the center, so horses need to be kept in good condition without bruises and scars, Horne said.
“Horses are fragile animals when it comes to that,” she said.
Throughout her time at the equine center, Horne has also helped with an equine reproduction study and helps when horses are given shots. The experiences will help her with future plans to become a large animal veterinarian, Horne said.
The hardest part of the job is getting up at 5 a.m. — especially when it’s dark and cold outside, Horne said. But someone’s got to do it, she said.
“It’s important,” Horne said. “If we don’t come out, they don’t eat.”