‘Pomona A to Z’: E is for Equine Education

[Back to "Pomona A to Z." Coming up with a good "E" column wasn't, you know, easy. Not much is known about the Edison historical district, my first choice. I can't remember why I didn't write about the Ebell Club.

Anyway, I went with a left-field choice, a Cal Poly horse program. It was one of the lesser entries in the series, at least to me, but I tried to make "E" an entertaining read.

This column originally appeared Aug. 15, 2004.]

A little horse sense offered in ‘Pomona A to Z’

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Letter E featured in “Pomona A to Z”!

If you came in late, each week we’re examining another essential element of that endearing, eclectic entity known as Pomona, and doing so in alphabetical order.

As we eagerly embark on E, what are the possible entries?

* The Ebell Club, whose stately headquarters has been a visual tonic for passersby since 1922.

* Eldridge Cleaver, the former Black Panther who spent his final years in Pomona.

* Edison Historic District, comprising 637, 611 and the 500 block of West Second Street, all on the National Register of Historic Places.

* Espiau’s, a fruit stand on Holt in the 1930s that sold “all the orange juice you can drink for a dime,” and later became a popular coffee shop, now located in Claremont.

* Emerger, a gallery in the Arts Colony that, because people can’t pronounce its name (e-mur-zhay), is familiarly known as the e gallery.

Exemplary examples, all. But our E is entirely different.

E is for Equine Education!

It’s not that horses are getting degrees, like a bachelor of oats. But at Cal Poly Pomona, students are learning about horses at the university’s Equine Research Center, and so is the faculty.

In fact, Pomona and UC Davis have the only facilities in California devoted to the study of horses. Well, aside from the grandstand at Santa Anita.

Pomona’s Equine Research Center plays with ponies more scientifically: They’re put on treadmills.

“For us it provides a platform for very controlled studies,” said Steve Wickler, the center’s director and an animal sciences professor. “They take amazingly well to it.”

To prove it, he and his assistant, Holly Greene, put a thoroughbred on the treadmill for me.

Horses, incidentally, are responsible for Cal Poly Pomona’s existence.

Cornflake magnate W.K. Kellogg established a ranch for his beloved Arabian horses on what is now the Cal Poly campus. He deeded the property to the state in 1932 with the stipulation that Arabian breeding and horse shows continue — and to ensure Cal Poly’s continued life, they do. Call (909) 869-2224 for details.

But back to the barn.

This day’s test subject was Anakin, a 7-year-old named after the “Star Wars” character. He was a washout as a racehorse, but his gentle nature makes him a winner at Cal Poly.

Like any gym rat, Anakin was decked out in sporty fashion, colorful wraps wound around his two front legs. At least he wasn’t in culottes.

A student started the treadmill and Anakin walked, transitioning into a trot as the speed increased.

“If you listen you hear two sounds,” Wickler explained. Two limbs, right front and left rear, hit the treadmill diagonally, then the other two. It’s an efficient gait, but not comfortable for a rider, as the horse’s back rises and falls.

When the speed increased, Anakin broke into a canter, which is more of a rocking motion. Two feet were on the mat at any time. The other two touched the mat at different moments.

Then the incline feature was activated, so that Anakin was cantering at a 10 percent grade, as if running uphill.

“It increases the intensity two and a half times,” Wickler said.

Feel that burn!

Exercise over, Anakin ate from a bucket of horse feed — the power bar of the equine world — and was led off to cool down. He didn’t act winded, but Wickler pointed to Anakin’s right rear leg. The horse’s blood vessels stood out from exertion.

At the research center, veterinary and animal sciences students learn horse handling — many have never been around horses — and about horse anatomy and treatment.

Meanwhile, Wickler and Greene study how horses move and how they function at high altitude. Sometimes white markers are placed on the horse, similar to a human stress test, to calculate the amount of force on each limb.

It’s a little trickier than working with people.

“With humans, you can say, ‘Is this comfortable? Is this too much?’ With horses, it’s tough to ask them that,” Wickler joked. “So we measure their metabolism.”

Anakin was taking my own measure, sniffing my elbow as I took notes. It was a shame I couldn’t interview him.

That way I could have learned about equine education straight from the horse’s mouth.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, feeling his oats.)

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  • jerry lerma

    Sadly, Steve Wickler passed away from a brain tumor in May 2007. He was highly regarded and loved by many at Cal Poly Pomona and the in broader community and is greatly missed. Holly Greene and others continue his good work at the Equine Research Center.

    [Sorry to hear that, Jerry. Thanks for the update. -- DA]