Our first blog in the equine industry career series is going to focus on being a farm manger. This week our spotlight professional is Paula Hitzler, Michigan State University Horse Teaching and Research Center (MSUHTRC) Farm Manager. Paula has been in charge of the day to day operations at the farm including breeding, training young horses, sale decisions and teaching students for 28 years at MSUHTRC. When April rolls around, Paula starts wearing the hat of sale manager, as MSUHTRC prepares for the Spartan Spectacular Arabian Horse Sale, which sells horses that are started, broke, and trained by Michigan State University (MSU) students taught by Paula. “The hardest part is the balancing act of all that happens at the MSUHTRC,” Paula said.
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The MSUHTRC is located on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, MI. MSUHTRC program started with mainly draft horses whom were some of the best when competing Regionally and Nationally at the time. The farm started using the Arabian horse for the main breed at the farm when a high-quality Arabian Stallion, Amidore, was donated to the farm by W.K. Kellogg in 1932. Ever since then, the Arabian horse has been the foundation of MSUHTRC. The first Purebred Arabian foals were born on the farm in 1944 making the farm the third oldest Arabian horse breeding program on the continent and the oldest program east of the Mississippi. The only two universities that breed Arabian horses are MSU and Cal Poly Pomona, both programs are historic breeding programs, and both have a similar start with W.K. Kellogg donating Arabian horses.
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Under the watchful eye of Paula Hitzler, MSUHTRC has continually been one of the top Arabian breeding farms in the nation. The farm was recently named the top breeder of Sport Horse National winners by the Arabian Horse World Magazine. The magazine also named MSUHTRC in the top ten for breeding National winning Purebred Arabians and Canadian National winning Purebred Arabians.
Not only has Paula been able to uphold the reputation of the MSUHTRC breeding program, but she has also been able to expand the farm into a teaching facility for students. Paula has evolved classes that give animal science and two year horse management program students, hands on skills that are invaluable when students graduate and are navigating the equine industry. Paula has been able to wear the instructor hat while at MSUHTRC and has had students go on to win Regional and National titles when showing for MSU.
Of course, Paula’s success didn’t grow overnight, but she knew when her dad bought her a pony at nine-years-old that she was hooked on horses. She caught the horse bug and there was no cure. Eventually, she grew and realized that a career in the horse industry was where she wanted to be. After graduating from MSU with a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, her first job was at Zodiac Farm outside of Dallas, Texas. At Zodiac Farm she learned all about breeding farm management. After eight months Paula moved to Sonoma, CA, to manage Saddle Rock Ranch. At Saddle Rock Ranch, Paula was the manager of the herd, foaled out mares, bred mares, started two-year-olds under saddle and was able to dabble in some showing. After her time at Saddle Rock Ranch, Paula was offered the MSUHTRC manager position and the rest is history. “I was lucky to have had a good work ethic instilled in me as a youth.” Paula said.
She believes that this is what has helped her have the success she has in the horse industry. Paula’s passion for horses and being the best she could be, has been the driving force behind her success as a manager. “Management just seemed to happen.” Paula said.
For Paula, management combined everything that she wanted to do. She wanted to be a trainer, but she also liked the breeding, foaling and herd management as well. Management gave Paula the opportunity to have a hand in all the areas she liked. To be successful in all these areas as a manager Paula says a good work ethic and self-motivation is a must. Having passion for what you are doing is going to make you want to be better and of course, continuing your education is important.
“Of course, I still want to learn more,” Paula said “Students today do not understand all the opportunities they have available to them. It is so much easier for young people now. I wish I was younger, so I could take advantage of all the opportunities. I still want to learn!”
Being a manager hasn’t always been like it is today. Changes are inevitable and being a manager is no exception. One of the biggest changes that Paula has noticed, especially with being a manager of a major university owned farm, is that people are expecting “more with less”. Budgets are becoming tighter and being creative is important, which means finding new ways to generate revenue. Paula has noticed that this is similar at private farms as well. Everyone has a budget.
One major difference between managing a private farm and a university farm, is the different regulations and protocols that universities require. Since university farms are much more visible to the public, making sure that things are running correctly is important.
“Managing the horses is similar, but we (university owned farms) are much more regulated as far as horse health care, record keeping, budgets, and student employees then a private farm is,” Paula said.
Using the Arabian horse as the main breed at MSUHTRC has been a valuable advertising tool for the Arabian horse. Most students that come to the farm have never worked with an Arabian and Paula is able to introduce how special the breed truly is, to a variety of students. Many students that Paula gets to teach, stay in the Arabian industry even after leaving Michigan State.
“MSU is a special place because we use this amazing breed to teach the next generation of industry leaders,” Paula said “MSU is the grassroots for introducing new people to the Arabian horse.”
MSU truly is a special place and it wouldn’t be what it is today without Paula at the helm. She gives students the opportunities that they need to be successful in the industry. Passing along her knowledge to the next generation has given people a liftoff into their career. Some of these people have went on to win National titles,
Scottsdale wins, ridden in New York at the Arabian US Open at Central Park, managers at a variety of farms throughout the country, successful breeding managers across the industry and so much more. Paula has touched many students with the Arabian horse throughout her time at MSUHTRC.
For people that are interested in becoming a farm manger Paula says, be a sponge! Learn and listen to the horsemen that are willing to help you. They have the experience that you will need to learn from. Paula has had many great horsemen help her along her path and share their knowledge with her. An education in Animal Science with a background in reproduction and nutrition is a great way to build your foundation.
“Have passion and work ethic. You can learn anything and be good at it if you work hard,” Paula said.
If you would like more information on the Michigan State University Horse Teaching and Research Center you can visit www.msuarabians.com or contact the farm at (517)355-7484. To keep up to date with activities happening at MSUHTRC like MSU Friends of HTRC on Facebook. Stay tuned for the next equine career spotlight to learn more about different ways you can have an interesting career surrounded by the creatures we love most, the horse.