Equine center holds grand opening

Alex Robinson

The days of horse owners having to deal with outdated equine facilities at the University are like Seabiscuit’s opponents: left in the dust.

The Leatherdale Equine Center had its grand opening Monday at the St. Paul campus.

The new facility houses a sport horse clinic and has an indoor arena and a conference hall.

The facility is also home to the We Can Ride Program – a therapeutic riding program for children – and the University Mounted Patrol horses.

In the facility there is a high-speed horse treadmill that helps diagnose breathing problems and an aqua treadmill that assists in rehabilitation.

The University will split the cost of the $14 million facility with private donors. The center still has to raise about $1.5 million.

Stephanie Valberg, director of the Equine Center, said it’s rare for private donors to spend so much on a University facility.

“It was driven very much by horse owners and their strong desire to have an excellent hospital where their horses can be treated,” Valberg said.

The new state-of-the-art facilities will be a carrot to dangle in front of the noses of high-profile faculty, Valberg said.

“Good researchers want to have good housing for their horses and they want to have state-of-the-art equipment,” she said.

Large-animal surgeon Erin Malone has been at the center since 1992 and said she’s not going to be missing the old digs.

Veterinarians had to perform lameness exams – a preliminary visual test for injuries – for horses in the parking lot at the old facilities, Malone said.

“The old place was designed around cattle,” Malone said. “This facility is just based around the horse.”

The equine center treated 3,000 horses last year.

Avid horseman President Bob Bruininks said in order to assist with the nationwide need for large-animal veterinarians, it was crucial for the University to have state-of-the-art facilities.

“You cannot continue as a strong college without resources in large-animal health,” Bruininks said.

Bruininks said his passion for horses wasn’t the driving force behind his support for the center, but the project was of special interest to him.

“I think it will be one of the best equine treatment and research facilities in the U.S.,” he said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended the opening and said that since horses are such a large industry in Minnesota, the facility will benefit not only the University, but also the state.

“It fits nicely into a strength the University already has,” Pawlenty said.

Minnesota has the ninth-highest population of horses in the U.S., with 14,000 horse and pony farms. Currently, 75 percent of all veterinarians in the state went to school at the University.

Mallory Peterson, an animal science and equine production junior who works at the center, said the facilities could attract even more graduate students from all over the country.

“The vets here really know what they’re doing, and it’s nice to work in that kind of environment,” Peterson said.