"It’s an amazing feeling. Once you see the first glimpse of a little white foot and then see a little white nose, you realize how truly amazing the process is.” Christi Schweninger
Christi Schweninger graduated from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design in 2016. While getting her bachelor’s degree in animal and nutritional sciences, she took every class offered from the equine studies program.
Originally from New Jersey, Schweninger grew up riding with a family friend that went to West Virginia University, and she encouraged Schweninger to consider WVU.
“I struggled with homesickness, and I was afraid of going too far away,” Schweninger explained. “I toured WVU, and I loved the campus. During the tour, we visited the J.W. Ruby Research Farm--that’s what solidified it for me.”
Though she knew she wanted to pursue a career focused on horses, she didn’t actually know what she wanted to do.
"I started riding when I was four years old. Growing up, I always chose horses over everything else,” she said. “I was hoping WVU would allow me to discover what I wanted to do in the horse industry.”
She was five hours from home and having a hard time.
“I remember Crystal Smith knew I was having trouble being away from home. On one of my first exams, she wrote on the top, ‘Please stay here so we can get you a job,’ Schweninger recalled. “For a student that really wanted to be at home, that was a comforting thing to see. Having someone asking me to stay was a turning point for me.”
So, she did. Schweninger threw herself into the curriculum and finished all the equine studies courses in two years. When she was a sophomore, her mom bought her a horse of her own, an off-the-track thoroughbred named Sushi.
Time on the farm with the horses was crucial for her. During her last two years of school, she worked there at the J.W. Ruby Research, Education and Outreach Center and spent extra time with the horses, including her favorite, Lexi, who still lives on the farm.
This is around the time two foals were born at the farm, one of which was born during Schweninger’s senior year. Schweninger was the teaching assistant for the mare and foal class and got to be at the farm when it all happened. Because of this valuable experience, she learned early handling of newborns and how to make foal watch schedules – all skills she uses in her profession today.
“I came out to the farm when the mare went into labor and got to help foal her, which is what I do now from January to May,” she said. “That was when I realized my calling in equine reproduction and foaling,” Schweninger said. “It was an incredible experience.”
These experiences combined with her own horses’ previous births and history in racing, led Schweninger to the racing industry where she manages a reproductive herd.
After waiting 11 long months and a quick 30 minutes for birth and delivery, Schweninger is the first to touch the new foal. She helps with towel drying to kickstart circulation and clears out the nose of any fluid. She explained that the mother will usually stand back up within 10 to 15 minutes and begin licking and nuzzling the baby herself, which is when she leaves the stall and lets them bond.
“I think that’s a big thing that’s missing from a lot of equine programs. I wish all the universities that offer an equine curriculum would offer a foaling class or experience because it’s an important thing to know. I think it’s absolutely a great career for someone to have.”
Her first job out of college was at a 3,000-acre horse farm, Winstar Farm, in Versailles, Kentucky, outside of Lexington.
“Had I not had my time at WVU, it being the positive experience it was, I don’t think I would have ever been able to move farther away to Kentucky,” she said.
Schweninger’s job duties rotated seasonally throughout the year during her time at WinStar. When she first started just a week and a half after graduating, she cared for the yearlings until September when she transitioned to the breaking department where they would learn to be ridden. Then, in January, once breeding season began she worked with the pregnant mares and helped them birth their babies until May. She also prepared for the following year’s births at the same time. Then, she’d go back to the yearlings. This allowed Schweninger to learn a lot by seeing it all in the shortest amount of time.
“My heart was always with the reproductive side of it--the mares and foals. So, I asked to stay with them, and the farm allowed me to do that,” she said.
During her succeeding four years at Winstar, Schweninger worked her way up to being the barn foreman. However, in 2020, she was ready for a change. Schweninger was chosen to be the assistant broodmare manager at Stonestreet Farms.
“In my position now, I do a lot of work alongside veterinarians and podiatrists. There's so much science in the hoof and leg of a horse that play a huge role in overall heath and therefore, reproductive health,” Schweninger said.
Her experience at the Davis College and her success after it have made her want to give back. She has helped Smith by speaking to her students about reproduction and the thoroughbred industry. In April, she was a panelist for the American Collegiate Horsemen's Association National Convention in Morgantown.
“Growing up, I never knew what my options were. There was never an option that wasn’t presented to me by the Davis College,” Schweninger concluded. “There were a million other agriculture careers that we learned about that would set anybody up for success, especially if they don’t know what they want to do.”
The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design envisions a world sustainably fed, clothed and sheltered. To learn more about the Davis College, visit davis.wvu.edu. Keep up with the latest updates and news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by following @WVUDavis.
CONTACT: Leah Smith
Public Relations Specialist
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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