Fifteen-year-old Dawn Jarvie and 65-year-old Pat Broderick are classmates in Bonsall, where they hope to pick up some horse sense.
They are among 26 students who are learning everything they can about horses--from how to best muck out a stall to how to manage a thoroughbred breeding farm.
The class is so unusual and provides such insight into the pitfalls and rewards of horse ownership that some students drive up to two hours to attend the sessions, which are held three times a week in the thick of Bonsall's horse estates.
Offered Through County
The class is offered free through the county Department of Education's occupational training program. The program contracted with the Vista Unified School District to provide the actual instruction, and the school district in turn hired as the teacher 30-year-old Chris Phillips, herself a trainer of thoroughbred race horses who has picked up some knowledge worth passing along.
Phillips graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in animal science, and says her students will actually get more hands-on experience with horses during the semester course than she was able to acquire during four years of college work.
The class meets twice at night during the week in an office at the San Luis Rey Downs Country Club, and spends another five hours every Saturday at a nearby horse ranch, where Phillips uses her own horses as aids in further instruction.
Her class touches on such wide-ranging subjects as horse physiology, animal diseases, handling and equipment procedures, history of horse racing and proper stable procedures--including how to clean a stall. Much of the class focus is on how to properly groom a horse and care for its legs.
Phillips' students are equally diverse.
Jarvie, for instance, hopes someday to become a veterinarian and enjoys spending time with her grandmother's quarter horse. Broderick, on the other hand, has been breeding horses for eight years, but explained, "You can always learn something new."
Randy Smith drives two hours to class, from his home in the Harbison Canyon east of El Cajon. "I'm thinking about acquiring and managing a horse farm," he said, "and I want to know what all the jobs are that will need to be done on the farm."
Alex Johnson, who drives 45 minutes to the class from Hillcrest, has a different motive. "I play the horses," he said, "but I don't know that much about them. I want to know all I can about the creatures I'm betting on."
Donna Wallace drives from National City, at the other end of the county, because she has a degree in wildlife conservation and hopes someday to operate a wild horse ranch. This class, she says, is where she'll learn some of the ropes.
Others are hunting for jobs in the region's horse industry, including Heather Finnerty of Vista. "I owned a horse, and I know the basics, but this class will tell me more about how a horse works from the inside," she said.
Other students say they are enrolled because they own a back-yard horse or are thinking about buying one and want to better learn what lies ahead.
Nancy Allen of Fallbrook, for instance, bought a thoroughbred that refused to race. "It's been my dream," she said, "but I have so much to learn--and what they tell you is that you never stop learning."
Stable of 50
Phillips began working with horses on ranches in the Los Angeles area when she was in college and became a horse trainer after moving with her husband to Bonsall. Eventually, they leased their own 90-acre ranch, where they trained horses and offered care and boarding of others, at one time managing a stable of 50.
The couple sold their business to a neighboring horse trainer; her husband now operates a horse transportation business and Phillips leases a barn at San Luis Rey Downs, where she continues to train race horses.
Phillips says horse owners would profit by taking classes like hers--financially, if not in reduced anxiety.
"About half the calls veterinarians get from horse owners are for reasons the owner could handle himself if he had the knowledge," she said. "People call their vets for little teeny scratches that don't require a stitch and just need to be properly cleaned and dressed."
One of Phillips' classes is in nutrition and the need for a balanced feed program. Too many horse owners "feed their horses the same kind of feed all their lives and don't realize they're not giving their horse enough protein," she said.
During one recent class, Phillips led the students through a typical day of a groom: checking the horse's legs, taking its temperature, removing overnight bandages, checking for swelling, cleaning the stall, saddling the horse, bathing the animal after its workout, walking it, brushing it down, putting ice on its legs, applying new bandages and feeding it--a tiring process that might in part be repeated in the afternoon if the horse gets twice-daily workouts.
Makes for Good Workers
Professional trainers say it's that kind of advice, learned by a groom before he is hired by a horse farm, that makes for a valuable employee.
"A lot of people come here with stars in their eyes, looking for a job," said Randy Bradshaw, farm manager at the Wayne Lucas Training Center in Rancho Santa Fe.
"But, unless they know what kind of hard work to expect, those stars don't last very long," he said. "There's a huge turnover of people who last in these kinds of jobs less than a week."
But Bradshaw hired a Chris Phillips graduate, Linda Murphy, and says the lessons she learned from Phillips' class have proven invaluable, not only to her but to him as the employer.
"When people like Linda have had the proper teaching, it saves us a lot of time. We don't have to sit down and teach them everything. They've already got the basic knowledge they need for the job, and we just help them a little on the fine tuning if they need it."
Murphy, who is 19, took Phillips' class last year and hired on at Lucas' stables as a hot-walker. She has graduated to a groom and aspires one day to be an exercise rider--the closest she'll come, she says, to being a thoroughbred race-horse jockey.
"Without that class, I don't know if I could have even gotten this job," said Murphy, who lives in Oceanside. "Chris put a lot of confidence in me that I never had in myself. She gave me knowledge and encouragement, and told me I could do the job if I tried."