By Maria Flores and Minuet Bando, Sept. 28, 2021
While Cal Poly Pomona’s W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center remains closed to the public, the center’s staff have continued to take care of the center’s horses throughout the pandemic, spurring challenges for student assistants.
While caring for 70 Arabian horses, the 15 student assistants and three staff members have also contended with strict COVID-19 protocols. The student assistant positions include groomers, weekend feed crew, and live-in positions. The three staff positions are a budget analyst, horse trainer and executive director.
John Lambert, executive director of the center, explained that unlike sporting teams or many campus facilities, the Kellogg Arabian Horse Center’s staff could not shut down their operations and pick up where they left off.
“We have 70 horses whose livelihood is at stake, and we have to meet their needs,” said Lambert. “So that is why the horse center is still closed.”
Ashley Mobley, a weekend groomer for the center and an agriculture business and food industry management student, recalled how she and her associates had to accommodate various COVID-19 regulations such as wearing masks and face shields and social distancing. This was on top of everyday responsibilities like feeding the horses three times a day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., cleaning their stalls and providing medication for specific horses.
Along with their many responsibilities, the horse center’s staff took extra precautions when it came to COVID-19-related exposures. During her time as a live-in assistant, Mobley experienced two virus exposures and one non-related COVID-19 case.
“The first time, I had no exposure to COVID-19 whatsoever. I just had a 24-hour cold kind of thing, but because of everything that was happening, I got put on 10 days of quarantine,” said Mobley.
Avalon Anderson, an animal science student and live-in assistant at the horse center, has enjoyed the assistant position for nearly a year but recalled a tough situation that led to a single student assistant nurturing 70 horses and 8 newborn foals.
“There was this one time we kind of all got quarantined except one of our co-workers because she was actually on vacation,” said Anderson. “So, when she came back, it was kind of just her. But I know Maddie, John, Kelly and Cindy — the upper staff — came in the mornings and tried to help out as much as they could. A lot of the responsibilities were pushed on to us while we were down-staffed.”
Kassandra Munoz, agricultural science graduate and live-in assistant, reflected on needing to adapt to changing COVID-19 protocols on multiple occasions.
“The whole mask thing was from the very start when I began working here; it was something that was new, but school policy changed and we had to quickly get accustomed to it,” said Munoz. “At one point they asked us to wear face shields, and you can’t really do that working with the horses because it was a potential danger since the face shields cover our entire face, and the horses don’t know what it is.”
Munoz explained the face shields are no longer required, to ensure safety of the student assistants and to avoid alarming the horses.
In November 2020, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, donated $75,000 funding to the Kellogg Arabian Horse Center. A large portion of which went to aiding the 15 student assistants and purchasing additional horse equipment.
“So that money was to be utilized for COVID-related expenses that the horse center was incurring,” said Lambert. “And also, a large part of it went to the students and went toward their parking. The remainder went toward buying three semi-automatic waterers that you see watering the pastures here at the horse center.”
Despite the challenges, for Munoz, the experience of working at the center is still one that exemplifies the learn by doing motto.
“It’s a great experience if you’ve never worked with horses because you really get that hands-on personal one-on-one with the horses,” said Munoz.