Do you love horses? Are you interested in nutrition and how different elements can help (or harm) horses? Do you want a job that is different every day, where you don’t have to spend all day in an office? If you’re a social person who enjoys helping people and problem solving, becoming an equine nutritionist might be an awesome way to combine your people skills with your equestrian passion!
Horse Illustrated: What is your title and who do you work for?
Amy Parker: I work for McCauley Bros., Inc., an equine-only feed mill in Versailles, KY. I am the Manager of Technical Services/Equine Nutritionist.
HI: Can you give a brief background on the history of McCauley’s?
AP: McCauley Bros., Inc. was founded in 1938 and was a typical farm store that sold feed, seed and fertilizer. When Graham McCauley took over the company from his father and uncle, he recognized a need that had yet to be filled: He realized the value of the equine industry to central Kentucky and that manufacturing feed in a multi-species feed mill was not in the best interest of the health and well-being of horses.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, McCauley Bros. made the transition to equine-only feed manufacturing. The mill underwent changes to convert the equipment to efficiently use ingredients that would be targeted for only horse feeds. This specialization is not something that could be (or can be) afforded by multi-species feed mills. With the conversion to equine-only manufacturing, medications and ionophores were eliminated from the property. Agreements were arranged with the ingredient suppliers that no medications or ionophores or animal by-products could be carried on the ingredient-supply vehicles for at least two loads prior to delivering to McCauley Bros. These practices, agreements and dedication to making the highest quality, safest equine feeds still continue today.
HI: How long have you been doing what you do?
AP: I have worked for McCauley Bros. for over 18 years.
HI: What different facets does your job entail?
AP: Obviously, providing nutritional guidance to horse owners, managers and caretakers (including veterinarians) is a big part of my job. This involves on-farm visits as well as telephone and email consultation. A consultation can be as simple as answering a question about a horse’s diet to developing an entire diet plan for a farm to problem-solving how to feed a horse with a nutritionally challenged condition. The advice I provide often goes beyond what to feed. It also goes into how to feed and can involve management suggestions that prove useful to the farm. One of my primary duties is to manage our weighing program, which involves monthly weighing at approximately 30 farms of about 1,300 horses. Other job duties include sales; developing marketing and advertising materials; developing and maintaining product literature; assisting with new product development, including label designs; and participating in trade shows across the United States.
HI: Can you briefly describe what you do on a day-to-day basis?
AP: There is no “typical day.” The routine is quite varied from one day to the next. While I may be doing farm visits and weighing horses every day, there is always something different. Different management styles, different personalities (both equine and human), new issues to deal with—they make the job exciting and intriguing. It is truly a daily education, which makes what I do enjoyable.
HI: What did you anticipate doing when you were younger? How did you decide on this field?
AP: My childhood dream was to be a veterinarian. As I got older, the goal became more specific to be an equine veterinarian. In college, I worked for one of the equine hospitals in Lexington for about 3 weeks. It quickly became obvious to me that I was not cut out to be a veterinarian. Two horses had to be euthanized while I was there and it broke my heart. I cried nearly all day both times. The realization that veterinary medicine was not for me was hard, since it was my life-long plan.
Luckily, I had also become quite interested in nutrition while in college. Everything the horse does involves or is affected by nutrition. I looked into educational paths and careers involving equine nutrition. It was at that point that I decided to attend graduate school and focus on equine nutrition.
HI: What is your educational background?
AP: I am a native of Lexington, Ky. I graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Sciences from the University of Kentucky. I continued at the University of Kentucky are received my Masters of Science in Equine Nutrition in 1997.
HI: What is your background with horses? Do you still own horse? If so, what do you do with them?
AP: I unfortunately did not grow up with horses, but did grow up a horse-crazy kid. I had friends who had horses. I would go to their houses as a child and “play” with them. I was finally able to get my own horse, a grade-stock Rocky Mountain gelding, between my freshmen and sophomore years of college.
Copper is a pleasure horse and I have had him 25 years. We still trail ride and have a lot of fun. He is my therapy! He makes great days better and brightens my not-so-great days.
HI: Did you have any experiences that really stuck with you earlier in life that made you want to do this job?
AP: Honestly, I cannot say that I had any specific experiences that pointed me toward the horse or toward equine nutrition. I always loved all animals. I was the kid who brought home the injured birds and bunnies. I was always enamored with horses though. I like to say I inherited my love of horses from my dad and my grandfather. They had pleasure horses before my brother, sister and I were born. My mom used to tell us how she and dad were paying more in board for the horses than on rent for their apartment when they were first married. By the time my siblings and I came along, my dad had to sell the horses. My grandfather passed away when I was three, so I never had his influence. So, while I did not grow up with horses, I cannot remember a time when I was not fascinated by horses and animals.
HI: Are there many other places other than the Bluegrass area where you could do this job or is it very region specific?
AP: Equine nutrition is not region specific. In fact, equine nutritionists can be found around the world. That said, I feel certain that the highest concentration of equine nutritionists can be found in central Kentucky.
HI: What do you think are key qualities for people who might want to go into your field?
AP: Obviously having a passion for horses and their health is key to being a good equine nutritionist. Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential to be successful. This profession takes a lot of compassion and patience. Being a good listener and observer are some of the most helpful qualities. You can learn a lot by watching and listening. The field of equine nutrition is constantly changing with new information and research. Being open to new ideas, being curious, and having a desire and willingness to constantly learn are also important. It boils down to wanting to help people to keep their horses sound and healthy.
HI: Did you do any internships or job shadowing that cemented your decision either NOT to pursue a different career OR to pursue this career?
AP: I interned with the Kentucky 4-H Horse Program, as I was interested in working in the Cooperative Extension Service. That experience taught me a lot about working with a wide range of people—varying ages, backgrounds, etc. I greatly enjoyed that working in extension and was applying to county extension positions when the position at McCauley’s came available. If I have one regret from my college years, it is that I did not pursue more internship or shadowing opportunities. I envy today’s students, as there are so many more hands-on, on-the-job opportunities.
HI: Do you travel for your job at all? If so, about what percentage of your job includes travel?
AP: I travel daily to local farms evaluating horses. This takes up about 50 percent of my time. On occasion, overnight travel is also necessary to attend dealer-support functions, symposiums and tradeshows.
HI: What is your favorite part of your job?
AP: Without a doubt, the best part of my job is helping and getting to know the people and their horses. There is no greater feeling than being able to help someone keep their horse healthy. This is particularly true when the horse is experiencing some sort of problem and my advice helps. The gratitude of the owners and caretakers is very humbling. I have made so many friends through this job and it is all centered around the horse.
HI: What is a difficult part of your job?
AP: The answer to this question goes back to why I was not suited to be a veterinarian. The most difficult part of my job is accepting that I cannot help everyone. As a horse owner, I can relate to owners who have a horse with a problem, and they are looking for a solution. Not everything can be solved with nutrition. From the standpoint of my job, I want to help everyone. I want to “fix” everything. Accepting that I cannot is hard. The good thing is that the people I work with know that I will always do my best for them and will leave no stone unturned in trying to help. I really appreciate the faith our customers have in me.
HI: What is one thing you learned or know now you never would have expected from this job?
AP: The most unexpected thing I have gained from this job are the friendships. I have developed such close relationships with so many of our customers. If this job ended today, I would stay in close contact with many of our customers. Their care and concern for me is not something I ever expected to gain from a job. For those customers in which horses are their profession (commercial farms, trainers, etc.), they have trusted me with their livelihoods. This is how they put food on the table for their families. For those with pleasure horses, they have trusted the care of a family member to me. Regardless of how the customer is involved with horses, the trust they have in me and the feeling I get from people having that much faith in me is not something I can describe.
HI: What advice would you give people who are interested in pursuing a degree in equine nutrition?
AP: Having a passion for the horse and having a passion for helping people are keys for being successful in equine nutrition. Understand that this job does require long hours and having excellent written and verbal communication skills are a must. You have to work with people as much or more than you will with horses.
Your education will not stop when you get a degree. The degree is just the beginning. Every day will be an education. Be willing to open yourself up to new ideas and opportunities.
HI: What do you think you would do if you didn’t have this job?
AP: My second career choice has always been to be a school teacher, either elementary or Biology.
Equine nutrition not for you? Maybe being a course builder, a saddle fitter, or something else will capture your interest. Find out! See more Careers in the Horse Industry interviews >>