03/08/2012 3:00PM

Lexington high school begins equine program

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LEXINGTON, Ky. − Starting this fall, Lexington Catholic High School will open a door into the horse industry for some of its students, thanks to a new program that Thoroughbred interests hope might attract a new generation of leaders to one of Kentucky’s largest agribusinesses.

Lexington Catholic’s Equine Academy has already generated interest from students in the Bluegrass and even other states, says the school’s president, Dr. Steve Angelucci. It’s also generated optimism among local Thoroughbred interests, who see a need for the industry to start recruiting an educated and passionate force of participants − whether workers or investors − in their youth.

The four-year program will begin with the incoming freshman class of 2012, and it will be selective, limited to 24 students initially − although given the initial enthusiasm he’s seeing for the program, Angelucci said, that could expand to a second group of 24 students. The Equine Academy will cost $1,000 per student in addition to Lexington Catholic’s regular tuition.

“Each semester there will be an equine-related course that will be sequenced through a four-year series to take them from the fundamentals of the horse to a senior year that will be more business- and economic-based, learning the elements of the equine business world,” Angelucci said. “The purpose is to give kids exposure and access to the equine industry that they wouldn’t get without this and to hopefully have a few of our graduates leave here and decide one day they want to stay in central Kentucky and be part of this economic engine that’s been such a big part of central Kentucky.”

The program’s classroom components will range from science, such as equine anatomy, to such business topics as marketing, Angelucci said. The program will offer college-level courses, mentorships, and research opportunities off the Lexington Catholic campus, in partnership with equine programs at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture in Lexington and Midway College in nearby Woodford County. And Lexington Catholic has teamed up with Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky., and National Horse Show sponsor Alltech for a broad range of extracurricular programs, including internships, service projects, field trips, and job shadowing.

“As a private school, we’re looking for new audiences to grow to with relevant programming to increase our enrollment,” Angelucci said. “I’ve spent the last couple of years looking at what’s a real, meaningful program in Lexington, Kentucky. It didn’t take too much convincing from some friends in the equine world that there really is a place for an academic and a practicum and experiential program in the equine world for students.”

Lexington Catholic’s goal, Angelucci emphasizes, is to develop well-rounded future leaders who have an interest in the horse business. For Lexington’s Thoroughbred businesses, the program offers a chance to showcase the racing and breeding business to its future employees, investors, leaders, or political allies.

“It’s an opportunity to get talented young people to gain an understanding and knowledge of the industry,” said Fasig-Tipton’s chief executive, Boyd Browning, a Lexington Catholic board member and parent of a current student there. “I think sometimes we forget how intimidating or sometime unapproachable the industry might seem. By introducing more young people to it, I think we might see future industry participants, whether in the form of veterinarians, lawyers, accountants, or trainers and hands-on horse people. And hopefully they’ll also be racing fans as well. Hopefully, this will broaden the perspective and reach of the Thoroughbred industry in central Kentucky.”

The Equine Academy will not be limited to the Thoroughbred business, and Angelucci indicated that the program’s supporters and likely partners come from all corners of the state’s equine industry, including major veterinary hospitals, farms, equine law practices, auction houses, and horse shows.

“Alltech, for example, is going to basically wrap their arms around us for their National Horse Show, and let that be a comprehensive laboratory for our students to learn marketing, ticket sales, event management, anything that’s behind the scenes in putting on a national event,” Angelucci said. “There are so many spokes to the equine wheel, it’s almost unlimited, the number of opportunities that are out there.”

Kentucky’s dominant Thoroughbred community, including Keeneland’s chief executive, Nick Nicholson and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, publicly applauded the Equine Academy launch this month.

Browning said Fasig-Tipton hasn’t formally created its role in the program yet, but he can imagine a number of scenarios that could allow Equine Academy students to learn about the Thoroughbred auction business behind the scenes.

“It’s at the infancy stage,” Browning said. “But I think it’s a unique opportunity.”