New Lexington Catholic High program shows students equine careers

December 3, 2012

Alex Cox holds a bag of steel wool on a string, which is drawn by the powerful magnetic force of an MRI machine used to diagnose horse injuries at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Cox is part of the school’s Equine Academy, which tries to prepare students interested in pursuing careers in the horse industry. Photo by Tom Eblen

Alex Cox has been riding horses since he was 11 and hopes to be a jockey in a few years. But he wants to know a lot more about horses than just how to ride them.

So Cox, 14, decided to become one of the first 17 students in Lexington Catholic High School’s Equine Academy, a new four-year program designed to introduce young people to career opportunities in all aspects of the horse industry.

“I want to learn all about horses, how to keep them healthy and how the business works,” the freshman said. “It’s my favorite class by far. It’s really fun. When I grow up, I want to do something fun for a living.”

The program seemed like a natural for Lexington Catholic, said Steve Angelucci, the school’s president. Many students already were interested, because they rode or were from horse-industry families. Plus, the Lexington area offered an unparalleled opportunity for exposure to and partnership with major industry players.

The school has formed academic partnerships with the equine programs at the University of Kentucky and Georgetown College, as well as relationships with more than 20 local farms, organizations and companies, including Keeneland, the Kentucky Horse Park, Alltech, and two of the nation’s largest equine medical practices, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

“We’re trying to create well-rounded professionals to be the next generation of leaders in the equine industry,” said Sarah Coleman, the academy’s director. The Ohio native previously was executive director of Georgetown College’s Equine Scholars Program.

“There are so many jobs out there involving horses,” Coleman said. “Being raised here, I think kids forget the novelty of this area. For a horse lover, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.”

Freshman Adriana DeCarlo, 14, doesn’t come from a horse industry family, but she has always loved them and has been riding since she was 4 years old. She thinks she wants a career involving horses, perhaps either in science or the Thoroughbred industry, but the academy has already been helpful.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “It has helped me take care of my own horse.”

The program calls for students to take eight equine courses over four years, including horse anatomy and physiology, health care, nutrition and management, reproduction and farm management, and equine business and marketing. Those classes are taught by Shannon White, general manager of Fares Farm and former hospital supervisor at Rood & Riddle.

The program includes many extracurricular lectures, field trips, speakers and shadowing, and mentoring opportunities. Students participate in service projects and must do a senior project.

On a recent field trip to Hagyard, the students got a tour of the horse hospital and spoke with several young veterinarians.

“Veterinary medicine is not a career,” Dr. Ashley Craig, a field care intern, told the students. “It’s a life choice.”

Dr. William Rainbow said he became a veterinarian after growing up in the industry and participating in Darley Flying Start, a two-year Thoroughbred leadership development program that allowed him to travel all over the world.

“I never thought mucking stalls would get me that far, but it did,” Rainbow said.

Perhaps the highlight of the tour for this group was Hagyard’s super-size, high-tech medical equipment — a walk-in hypobaric chamber for high-oxygen healing therapy and the huge MRI machine, with a magnet powerful enough to cause a bag of steel wool on a string to fly across the room.

Other extracurricular activities have included visits to Keeneland, Alltech and the Red Mile, as well as basic lessons in polo, vaulting and driving.

Coleman said horse industry people have been very welcoming to the students and supportive of the Equine Academy.

“Everybody I talk to says they wish they had had that when they were in school,” she said.


Online auction benefits program

Lexington Catholic’s new Equine Academy is having a fundraising “non-event” — an eBay auction — later this month.

Items for sale include an acoustic guitar signed by country music stars Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton; VIP events at Three Chimneys and Jonabell farms; a backstage pass to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; and a Storm Cat halter.

The auction site will go live at 8 p.m. on Dec. 9 at: Bidding ends at 8 p.m. Dec. 16.


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Quillin Leather & Tack has kept owner in harness for 30 years

August 12, 2012

Wayne Sterling sewed one of the 17,000 horse halters that Quillin Leather & Tack makes each year. Below, owner Ralph Quillin. Photos by Tom Eblen

PARIS — Ralph Quillin grew up in Lexington as the son of a doctor. While studying at Sayre School and Transylvania University, he thought he would become a doctor, too. Then, he said, “One thing led to another.”

He got married, had three children and became a paramedic with the Lexington fire department, where he worked for 23 years.

On his days off, Quillin taught himself leatherwork. Preppy leather-and- needlepoint belts were popular in the late 1970s, and Quillin and his wife, Sally, made and sold a lot of them.

Then, after he bought a farm in Bourbon County, Quillin figured he could teach himself to make horse halters. He was soon making and selling so many that his wife evicted his noisy sewing machine from the house.

Quillin rented a shop in Paris and outgrew it, then rented another and outgrew it.

Now, he says, Quillin Leather & Tack is the nation’s largest mom-and-pop harness shop, celebrating 30 years in business.

Since 1988, Quillin and his 10 employees have worked from an old house that has been enlarged every way it can be. The main floor is a sprawling showroom. In a cramped basement workshop and former upstairs bedrooms, workers hand-craft 17,000 halters a year, plus thousands of belts, key tags, dog collars, checkbook covers and other items. All come with custom-engraved brass plates.

After halters, the company’s most popular items are harness-leather belts with brass plates for the owner’s name. Every man in Central Kentucky seems to wear one, a handy precaution against bourbon-induced memory loss.

The company has outfitted such Thoroughbred greats as Secretariat and Storm Cat. Regular customers include Claiborne, Stone and Darley farms. But most sales now come from beyond Kentucky — half by mail and phone and a quarter online at

Quillin attributes his company’s success to high-quality products, reasonable prices and good customer service.

The shop goes through about 450 cowhides and 1,500 pounds of brass a year, Quillin estimates. Each piece of leather and brass plate is hand-cut and shaped. A computerized engraving machine personalizes each plate, which is then drilled, polished, inked and riveted in place by hand.

Harness leather comes from Thoroughbred Leather in Louisville. It is thicker than normal and tanned so it turns just the right color of brown when dipped in oil. Other leather and most solid-brass hardware comes from Weaver Leather in Ohio.

While there are about a dozen popular sizes and styles of halters priced from about $20 to $80, Quillin says the shop regularly makes about 200 variations. “We’re like short-order cooks,” he said.

Custom orders have included elaborate horse-rescue slings and halters for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ giant Clydesdales. “Damn, those were big halters,” Quillin said.

The three sewing machines that are used to make halters were patented in 1904, but business systems run on a network of Apple Macintosh computers. Employees, not machines, answer the telephone, and email and Facebook queries usually get a response within a couple of hours.

“People are dumbfounded,” said Quillin, who answers email some evenings. “What else am I going to do? There’s nothing on TV.”

Quillin said annual sales are now in the low seven figures after a rough few years. The 2008 economic crisis led to a dramatic decrease in Thoroughbred foal crops. Then, Sally Quillin died of breast cancer in May 2010.

There is now a breast cancer awareness sign on the company’s front lawn. For the past two years, Ralph Quillin has made pink halters for the fillies running in the Kentucky Oaks.

Sally Quillin was always “the face of the company,” he said. “You just don’t realize how much your wife does until she’s not there.”

At age 61, Quillin figures he has a few more years of harness-making in him. One of these days, he might take on a partner to run the business. Then he can spend more time raising prize Angus cattle on his Bourbon and Nicholas county farms.

Quillin’s two daughters and his son have successful careers, and he knows none of them wants to come home to run a leather shop. Hillary is a meteorologist in Texas. Katherine is senior field engineer on California’s Oakland Bay Bridge. Ralph Cutler Quillin Jr. is a surgeon in Cincinnati.

“My dad’s a doctor and my son’s a doctor,” Quillin said. “I’m either the dumb one in the family or the smart one.”


Sixteen things to do during the 16 days of WEG

September 22, 2010

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games promise to be much more than the Olympics on horseback. Get ready for an international festival and non-stop party in our backyard.

So, here are 16 things you should do during the 16 days of the Games:

1. Watch the opening ceremonies

The Games officially begin Saturday evening in the main stadium with a 2 ½ -hour show that has 40 acts and a cast of 1,500 people and 200 horses. If you don’t have tickets, WLEX-TV will have live coverage at 7 p.m. Headliners include Muhammad Ali and Wynonna Judd; opera stars Denyce Graves, Cynthia Lawrence and Ronan Tynan and an ensemble from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Plus a 100-piece orchestra debuting British composer Jamie Burton’s “World Equestrian Games Fanfare.”

2. See the best of something familiar

The reliable crowd-pleasers of equestrian sports are jumping and cross-country riding, as Kentuckians who attend the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event already know. Those events and the 100-mile endurance race should draw big attendance to the Games on the first two weekends.

3. Try something new

Want to see horses and humans do things they don’t even dream about at Keeneland? Buy tickets to vaulting, which is human gymnastics and dance on the back of a moving horse. Or reining, where riders in Western gear guide horses through spins, circles and sliding stops.

4. See para-dressage

This is the first time human athletes with physical disabilities have competed in a World Games. Cheer them on; you may be amazed by what they and their horses can do.

5. Learn more about horses

The Equine Village showcases the variety and complexity of American horse culture. There will be exhibits, performances and demonstrations involving every kind of horse you can imagine, and many you can’t. This is likely to be one of the Games’ most popular venues.

6. Have the Kentucky Experience

Much of the Kentucky Horse Park’s grounds has been turned into an international festival, and the Kentucky Experience pavilion gives visitors a glimpse of the state’s highlights. You can dip a Maker’s Mark bottle in red wax, sit behind the wheel of a Corvette, listen to all kinds of local music and learn things about this state you probably didn’t know.

7. Have the Alltech Experience

The Games’ title sponsor, which does nothing in a small way, has a four-acre pavilion showcasing its products and global initiatives, which include trying to solve hunger, climate change and disease. After seeing the science exhibits, enjoy Alltech’s Bourbon Barrel Ale or Dippin’ Dots ice cream. There is a special kids’ area that includes penguins and petting sharks from the Newport Aquarium.

8. Eat, but not like a horse

There will be much good eating at the Games, from gourmet dinners cooked by celebrity chefs to special concession-stand fare. The Games are being catered by Patina Restaurant Group, which operates many high-profile venues around the country. “We’ve been sampling some of the concession food and it’s off-the-charts,” Games CEO Jamie Link said this week.

9. Shop non-stop

The Games’ trade show will have more than 300 merchants, selling everything from sportswear, jewelry and art to that custom-made saddle you have always wanted.

10. See the unexpected

Many sponsors and vendors have set up cool exhibits to showcase what they do. Among them: the UK solar house, which was displayed on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Rood & Riddle pavilion, which showcases the high-tech Lexington horse hospital and will have speakers including Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Chris McCarron.

11. Enjoy the Alltech Fortnight Festival

This statewide concert series during the Games is jam-packed with talent: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Tony Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and many more. The Chieftains will perform a benefit concert with a Haitian children’s choir.

12. Take in the Spotlight Festival

Downtown Lexington will be rocking from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day during the Games with food, arts and crafts vendors and concerts at Cheapside and Courthouse Plaza. Entertainers include bluegrass legends J.D. Crowe and Sam Bush.

13. See horse art

Horse Mania was just the beginning. Equine art of every variety is on display around town, most notably at the horse park’s International Museum of the Horse, the UK Art Museum and the Headley-Whitney Museum.

14. Check out alternatives

HRTV is presenting its own International Equestrian Festival, with exhibits, vendors and speakers at Lexington Center. And a few miles up I-75 from the horse park is the Georgetown Equine Expo.

15. Soak up color

Spend some time just walking around the horse park or downtown and taking in the scene. Introduce yourself to visitors and ask them what they think of Kentucky.

16. Say farewell

Singer Lyle Lovett will headline the Games’ closing ceremonies on Oct. 10. Although less elaborate than opening ceremonies, it should be another good show. By then, we’ll all be exhausted — but at least a little sorry to see the non-stop party end.

Hats Off Day highlights Kentucky horse industry

July 27, 2010

Drive past the suburbs and you quickly see that horses are a big industry in Central Kentucky. But a lot goes on beyond the plank fences that you might not realize.

In addition to farms, there are feed companies, tack and equipment suppliers, van fleets, sales and insurance agencies, fence-builders, farriers and some of the world’s most advanced animal research labs and clinics.

Hardly a week goes by that people don’t come to Lexington from all over the world for some kind of horse event. This week, for example, the Kentucky Horse Park is playing host to North American Young Riders, as well as large reining and hunter jumper competitions. And the International Symposium on Equine Reproduction, held every four years, is meeting in Lexington for the first time.

Dr. Tom Riddle, co-founder of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital on Georgetown Road, was thinking several years ago about the equine industry’s size, diversity and challenges, and he decided an annual event was needed to raise public awareness.

“When people think about Kentucky, they think about horses,” Riddle said. “But they don’t know just how much it involves.”

Riddle’s idea evolved into Hats Off Day. The sixth such annual day will be Aug. 7 at the Kentucky Horse Park. In addition to Rood & Riddle, the main sponsors are Alltech and Hallway Feeds.

This is the only time each year when the public gets all-day free admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, which can save a big family big bucks. Last year, more than 12,000 people attended Hats Off Day.

This year’s event could be especially popular, because in two months, the park will host the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. In addition to seeing new and improved facilities, people will get free admission to the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddlebred Museum and A Gift from the Desert, a special exhibit of 350 artifacts and paintings about horses in Arab history and culture.

Hats Off Day festivities begin at 4 p.m., when horse farms and other equine businesses give away logo hats while supplies last. (Last year, about 1,500 hats were given away.) There also will be exhibits, a silent auction and free pony rides for kids, plus a chance to ride an Equicizer — the mechanical horse simulators that Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron uses at his jockey-training school.

The highlight of the evening will be the Rood & Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix, a $50,000 international show-jumping competition. Since 2003, the event has raised more than $275,000 for charity. This year, proceeds will benefit the Kentucky Equine Humane Center and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.

Kentucky’s equine industry claims to provide more than 80,000 direct and indirect jobs and an annual economic impact of $4 billion, plus a good share of the state’s $8.8 billion tourism industry. But the industry’s fortunes have suffered with a decline in thoroughbred racing’s popularity and efforts by other states to attract breeding stock.

The horse industry’s health is obviously vital to Riddle’s business and many others, but he and partner William Rood usually deal with equine health on a more micro level. Rood & Riddle employs more than 220 people, including 57 veterinarians, who care for horses at a 24-acre complex with high-tech equipment that would rival that of most human hospitals. Rood & Riddle treats more than 10,000 horses a year from all over the world.

Riddle said Kentucky’s horse industry needs more public support.

“The average person in Kentucky thinks of the average horse farm owner as an extremely wealthy person who may or may not live here and does this as a hobby,” he said. “That’s just not the case. By far, the majority of farms are business operations with mortgage payments, and they must work seven days a week to keep their business going.

“The majority of the people in this industry are hard-working folks just trying to earn a living,” Riddle said. “I hope people will come out, have a good time and leave the horse park knowing a little more about our industry, and how it’s good for the entire state.”

If you go

Hats Off Day
Where: Kentucky Horse Park
When: Aug. 7. Gates open 9 a.m. Events begin at 4 p.m. in the indoor arena
More info:

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