December 16, 2020

SIU hosts national FFA horse judging event

by Jason Franchuk

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Nearly 300 FFA students throughout the country virtually gathered at Southern Illinois University Carbondale for its first-ever national horse judging event on Dec. 11. It was a perfect fit for SIU, which offers the only bachelor’s degree in equine science in Illinois, said Erin Perry, associate professor of animal science and food nutrition.

The FFA students hailed from 60 schools and 22 states from coast to coast and as far away as Alaska. Before the pandemic, they would have come to the Equine Center, part of 2,000 acres of hands-on learning. Of course, these are different days everywhere when it comes to learning. But SIU faculty and staff believe their ability to think outside the classroom sets the university apart.

“The one thing that SIU has, which I think is very different, is the experience,” Perry said. “Students come to SIU get to learn in a student-centered environment. What we teach in the classroom, they get to practice on the farm.”

The daylong national contest was held via Zoom — two months after the College of Agricultural, Life and Physical Sciences put together an in-state competition and career-development event through the online video medium.

“COVID-19 has made us think of new ways to engage with FFA students and connect them to each other and to SIU,” said Susan Graham, assistant to the dean. “It’s made us rethink the way we do things — and how we could convert FFA events that normally bring so many people together into a virtual world. It was a very eye-opening experience but also very rewarding. The feedback has been terrific.”

At the event, students evaluated and ranked horses, based on breed characteristics, conformation and performance. They then defended their decisions to a panel of judges. The top-scoring students were from Indiana, Texas and California. The multi-faceted event also included several training sessions available online, thanks to SIU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

The college has big plans for the spring semester as staff expect to hold several virtual events to support and connect Illinois FFA students. Two more national events are on the docket, as well.