Isothermal Supports Local Equine Industry

Published 3:17 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

Written and photographs by Judy Heinrich

Degrees, scholarships and research offer area students pathways to equine careers

It’s an exciting time to be part of the equine world in the Carolina Foothills, with new levels of competition to watch at Tryon International Equestrian Center and positive economic impacts in the form of new jobs and increased tourism.

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To support the equine industry’s growth in the area, Isothermal Community College (Isothermal) has been developing educational programs designed for those who want to explore or pursue equine-related careers.

“Isothermal has always been committed to economic development within the community,” says Thad Harrill, Isothermal’s vice president of Community and Workforce Development. “We pay attention to what’s going on in our communities, whether in manufacturing, hospitality, agriculture or equine. We want to be part of the solution and work with industry people to prepare a workforce with skills that are needed and marketable.”

Isothermal now offers equine courses through Continuing Education, some of which lead to recognized industry certifications and some that transfer to academic programs such as Isothermal’s two-year associate of applied sciences degree (AAS) in agribusiness technology, which has a subject track in equine business. Upon completion of the AAS in agribusiness technology, students can transfer to a four-year state university and complete a four-year degree within two years.

Read on for details about current Isothermal equine-related programs, something in the works for the near term, and another exciting initiative for the future that is now being explored.

For additional information on any of Isothermal’s programs, visit and use Search to find your area of interest.

Continuing Education Programs

Isothermal Polk offers three courses intended to develop various levels of skills for people who will be working with and around horses, including courses that offer industry-recognized certification. Courses combine classroom instruction and hands-on learning at area barns, and are offered in English and Spanish.

Instructors include well-known equine experts from our area, Dr. Thann Boyum, Erin Gambrell, Lilia White, and Anita Williamson, as well as visiting subject matter experts from our area and beyond. Check with Isothermal Polk for class schedules, fees and how to enroll. Enrollment is limited and financial assistance may be available. 

“Introduction to Horse Care & Handling” (aka “Groom 99”) is a 12-hour class that provides an overview of the basic information a new worker or horse owner needs to safely work around horses. The class covers the basics of equine behavior, terminology, major equine anatomy, safe horse handling, introduction to equipment, bathing, observing horses for signs of injury and illness, and more.

Groom Elite is a two-part career education program that was originally developed for the horseracing industry but has been modified for Isothermal to focus on the needs of the show horse industry. The full program offers two 40-hour courses, Groom Elite 101 and 201. The courses consist of 50 percent lecture and 50 percent hands-on learning in area barns. Upon completing each course, students can be tested for competency and knowledge to receive nationally recognized “Certified Groom Elite” certification.

Groom Elite 101 (40 hours) focuses on important horse care skills including equine behavior, grooming basics, basic equine anatomy, digestion and feeding guidelines, horse health evaluation, applying bandages, safety, barn management, and more. 

Groom Elite 201 is an advanced certification course open to Groom Elite 101 graduates. This 40-hour course focuses on anatomy, injuries including identifying acute and chronic injuries, understanding the cause and methods of controlling inflammation and common injuries, types of therapy and when each should be used, basic techniques of touch therapy for relaxation and general well-being, handling weather stress and more.

Academic Programs

While continuing education programs enable students to earn various industry certifications, academic programs allow students to earn a degree. “Because Isothermal is an accredited college, students can take the credits they earn here and transfer them to another college or university to continue earning higher educational degrees,” explains Kim Alexander, dean of Business Sciences And Agribusiness Technology at Isothermal.

Isothermal has developed an Equine Business Technology program that is a “subject track” within its two-year associate of applied sciences degree in agribusiness technology (with other subject tracks focusing on cattle or horticulture, for example). Students interested in equine education will have two choices: they can take just the equine business technology track to earn a certificate of 12 transferable credit hours in equine business, or they can choose to pursue the full two-year applied sciences degree, which will also give them agribusiness courses like agriculture marketing, agriculture accounting, and farm business management, for example.

One of the advantages of Isothermal’s equine track is that it is a hybrid program – part on-site and part online learning. The on-site sessions include some classroom and some in the field, such as visiting a feed manufacturer, watching teeth being floated, or seeing embryo transfers.

Isothermal now has a two-year bilateral agreement with North Carolina Agriculture & Technology State University, under which students can complete the two-year AAS in agribusiness technology at Isothermal and transfer to NC A&T as a junior to earn a bachelor’s degree. Isothermal plans to explore similar arrangements with other four-year institutions.

Open Door & Scholarships

Dean Alexander wants to be sure potential students know that Isothermal has an ‘open door’ policy where no one will be turned down for an education, and Isothermal offers more scholarships than any other community college system in North Carolina (of which there are 58 total).

“We are able to do that because we have people in our community who believe in education and have generously invested in Isothermal through donations or bequests to provide scholarships for students from Polk and Rutherford counties,” Alexander says.

Looking Ahead: Spindale Campus Barn

An exciting initiative that’s now underway is the construction of a working barn at Isothermal’s main campus in Spindale. “Starting in September we will have a barn with stalls, tack room, and stocks so that we can have horses brought in for classes and demonstrations right on campus,” Alexander says. “There will be an air-conditioned classroom attached to the barn so we can have classroom sessions and hands-on work in one place.”

Alexander says the college is grateful for the grant provided for the project from the Appalachian Regional Commission and Golden Leaf Foundation, which are both helping with ICC’s initiatives in agriculture and equine. The project will also include fencing and a greenhouse.

Exploration: Equine Research Center

In another exciting development, the Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded Isothermal, in collaboration with North Carolina State University (NCSU), a $100,000 grant to explore the feasibility of locating an international equine research center in our area. NCSU endorsed the joint project as part of its land grant mission of serving the state through innovation, research and extension, particularly for rural communities. NCSU further expressed that one of the major goals of this research center partnership would be to explore opportunities in the equine and veterinary fields.

The $100,000 grant will fund a comprehensive report covering feasibility and planning stages for the project, including what the center’s research would entail and what physical structures might look like over time.

Although this project is now in its earliest stages, it represents another great opportunity for growing our area’s horse economy and reinforcing one of Tryon Horse Country’s longtime slogans, “Our Horses Mean Business.” •

Groom Elite in the Barn

I recently had the opportunity to join Groom Elite 101 students for a classroom session conducted by renowned equine veterinarian Dr. Helmuth Von Bluecher, who has spent much of his career working with Thoroughbred racetracks in Southern California. Following in-class work, the Groom Elite students made a short drive to one of two area barns for hands-on practice tacking up and applying leg wraps. I joined the group at Jim and Ann Troppman’s barn to watch them tack up a horse from scratch and practice polo wraps with the help of two very cooperative horses belonging to Ann.

The students included some experienced horse owners – although not all familiar with English tack – and others for whom the Groom Elite program was their first hands-on horse experience. Helping Dr. Von Bluecher with demonstration and review was area trainer and barn manager Nikki Guerrazzi.