The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology
Campus Farm Staff Spotlight: Sara Larson
Fresno State animal science graduate Sara Larson may not have ridden a horse before she arrived on campus in 2018, but in the span of two years she completed her equine science degree this past spring.
The additional hands-on experience & responsibility as a campus quarter horse unit student assistant has reinforced that passion & also given her a new career path.
Over the summer, she began to oversee the campus farm's 30 quarter horses & student assistants full-time - another step towards her career goal of becoming a horse ranch broodmare & yearling manager.
Learn more about her impressive background in this recent interview.
Q: Why did you choose to attend Fresno State, and how your roles evolved working at the campus equine unit?
Larson: "I chose Fresno State to get a degree in animal science because of its hands-on the program and how affordable the school."
Larson: "I started volunteering at the horse unit the summer I transferred to Fresno State. After one semester I was hired on as a feeder and worked my way up to herd health manager. Besides the general tasks in that position, it also included foaling out the broodmares and taking care of their health and training their foals. I also oversaw all the unit’s volunteers, making their schedules and getting them trained to help at the unit. Working at the unit allowed me to have inside knowledge of how the unit functioned and gave me great connections with everyone involved."
Q: What was your family's background in agriculture before you started at Fresno State?
Larson: "One of my grandfathers grew up on a farm, but he did not choose to stay in AG. I will be the first person in my family who works in AG, so I would like to thank my parents who were always there to support me with my studies and my passion."
Q: When did you start actually riding horses?
Larson: "I started riding horses in the colt training class on campus. Growing up in the L.A. area for much of my childhood I unfortunately didn’t have many opportunities to work hands-on with horses. While I learned what I could from books, my knowledge really took off when I started working at the unit and volunteering for everything I could. There are a lot of opportunities at the Fresno State equine unit to work in all areas, from training to breeding to managing to general care."
Q: Why are you drawn to working with, training, and caring for horses?
Larson: "I have always had a passion for horses since I was young. There is something about the power of a horse, how amazing they are, and the connections you make with them. I love seeing each horse’s personality shine when you work with them, and I love watching our foals grow up and become curious about the world. There is something freeing about riding a horse, you can go to a place where nothing else exists but you and your horse."
Q: What is your favorite horse from our unit, and why?
Larson: "I bought my favorite foal from the unit early this year as a personal project. My favorite mare that the unit owns is Lena. She is a finished cow horse mare, and she’s a lot of fun to ride. Currently she has a foal on her side and is pregnant for the 2021 season."
Q: What were some of your favorite Fresno State classes and why?
Larson: "One of my favorite classes was the colt training class. It was my first chance to really work one on one with some of the unit horses, and I had some great lessons. Another one of my favorite classes was the animal reproduction class. I enjoyed the lab portion and gained a lot of hands on skills learning all the factors in breeding a horse."
Q: Which faculty members had the biggest influence on you while at Fresno State?
Larson: "Ariel Diggan and Dr. Fabio Iared had the biggest influence on me while I was at Fresno State. Ariel was my boss and my predecessor. She hired me my second semester at Fresno State and taught me a lot about the unit and the horse world. I was also able to assist her in some of her poultry research related to her master's degree. I also worked closely with Dr. Iared during my time as an employee at the unit and took a few of his classes. He taught me everything I know about animal reproduction and has always been a huge source of support."
Larson: "They were also a part of my two main internships while at Fresno State to substitute for unavailable classes. For a management internship with Ariel, I learned a lot about the paperwork side of running the unit, and how to work with the community. With Dr. Iared, I helped with the breeding’s for the 2021 season and handled a lot of the interactions with the stud farms."
Q: Were you a part of any clubs and outreach events at Fresno State?
Larson: "My last year I became involved with the Block and Bridle Club and served as the secretary for the club. I was also able to help with a lot of community-related events hosted by the quarter horse unit. Probably my favorite event was the FFA Field Day. I organized all the show horses and handlers for the judging classes for the high school participants, and it was a fun event to participate in."
Q: What was your most memorable experience at Fresno State?
Larson: "My most rewarding experience was being herd health manager at the unit during foaling season. Since I lived so close, I got to pull almost half the foals this year and was there for all the births. Its something that never fails to amaze and excite me."
Q: Can you describe what your days, nights and weeks are like during foaling season?
Larson: "As a mare approaches her foaling date, we start checking her with a test kit to see how close she is to foaling. The kit checks the amount of colostrum in the mare’s milk on a 1 to 5 scale, and 5 being the highest. If the mare tests anywhere above a 3 she will be taken from the pasture and moved with a friend into the foaling barn. From there the employees and I make a foal watch schedule."
"Mares typically like to foal when it's quiet in the middle of the night. We set up 3 shifts a night so there is always someone watching the mare from dusk to dawn. If the mare does not foal, we place her in pasture during the day, but check throughout to make sure they don’t look restless. If a mare does start foaling, all the employees are called to come help no matter what time it is. The entire foaling process and aftercare process often takes anywhere from 3-5 hours. With foal watch shifts, and how many pregnant mares we have, we lose a lot of sleep during foaling season. It's all worth it though, to see our pastures full of cute babies."