The horse has been fundamental to the identity and universal renown of Michigan State University since its inception in 1855 as the very first Land Grant College in the United States. Then known as Michigan Agricultural College, the management and breeding of horses was an essential component of the Animal Husbandry department, the core curriculum of which included lectures on equine health, nutrition, ranch management and farriery. The equine herd in residence and proudly reared by one of the most skilled and qualified group of horsemen on the continent was comprised of primarily draft horses, both first-rate Belgians and world-class quality Percherons. Teams of both breeds competed both regionally and nationally, winning top honours for several decades in succession while bringing great acclaim to the college and establishing Michigan State as a leader in providing the highest level of equine training and education, as well as affirming the breeding program as a source of superior equine bloodstock.
The relationship of MSU with the light horse began in 1932 with the donation of the purebred Arabian stallion AMIDORE. The donor was none other than cereal magnate W.K.Kellogg, a Michigan native who had been supporting research and education at Michigan State for several years. His prized herd of Arabian horses was amongst the best in the world in the early 20th century, comprised primarily of foundation stock from the world-renowned Crabbet Park of Lady Wentworth in England. At his Kellogg Ranch in Pomona, California, W. K. Kellogg became the first mainstream promoter of the Arabian horse to the masses through his weekly Sunday Shows, all-day family events in which the Arabian horse was featured as the equine breed of choice. It was at the Kellogg Ranch that middle-America mixed with many of the most influential people in the country, from business magnates to Hollywood stars, all in the context of enjoying and appreciating the world’s oldest and most celebrated equine breed: the Arabian horse. AMIDORE was joined by two purebred Arabian mares in 1942, creating the core of the Arabian breeding program at the university, with the first foals born in 1944. MSU can boast over 80 years of Arabian ownership, while the proud and noble tradition of breeding Arabian horses has endured for seven decades in central Michigan under university supervision. Both facts impressively establish Michigan State as the oldest Arabian breeding program in the country east of the Mississippi, and the third oldest on the continent behind Al-Marah Arabians and Kellogg Arabians/Cal Poly.
Today, the Arabian herd at the Michigan State Horse Teaching and Research Center is comprised of over 85 top quality horses from a broad genetic base, which includes many of the top bloodlines available in North America over the last half century. The original Kellogg base of mares was expanded to include the Crabbet import SILFRETTA in 1957, an Aristocrat dam of multiple-champions who has since established the most important dam family within the program. Top sires, such as BASK, SHAIKH AL BADI, ALADDINN, COGNAC, EL PASO, MONOGRAMM, AFIRE BEY V and EL NABILA B, have been introduced through the decades to strengthen and expand the genetic base of the breeding herd. Other important sires, like the NAZEER son GHALII imported from Egypt and US National Champion EMANOR imported from Poland, have also stood at university directly, contributing their genetic worth to the long-term value of the breeding program.
Most recently, Michigan State has forged an essential relationship with Bazy Tankersley of Al Marah Arabians, bringing together two of the oldest Arabian breeding programs in North America. Committed to sustaining the vision and contribution of this iconic program, Michigan State is now proud to maintain a nucleus of Al-Marah Arabian horses on the university farm. As a result, the University has dedicated itself to maintaining and expanding two very distinct breeding herds of Arabian horses in residence. This unique composition of the breeding herd allows students with an interest in equine genetics to gain intimate experience with the concepts of linebreeding and outcrosses, foundational principles of animal breeding that can be authentically realized within the Arabian breed.
The Arabian herd is maintained for instructional purposes for aspiring equine professionals enrolled in collegiate educational programs, making Michigan State the only university in the world committed to using the Arabian horse as the primary teaching tool for hands-on practical horse management and equine science. The Arabian horse is used to teach the basic horse and farm management, reproductive management, equine nutrition, Arabian horse breeding, equine judging, horsemanship, handling and training, and competitive showing. All handling, training and exhibition of horses at MSU is conducted exclusively by students. Michigan State is proud to support a show team of horses and students annually, competing both regionally and nationally with great success, exposing aspiring young equine professionals to the highest level of equine competition within the context of the Arabian horse world, and most importantly, with the Arabian horse as the primary tool for success. It is always an incredibly proud moment for the program to witness students who began with limited equine background and most often no exposure to the Arabian horse, standing in the winner’s circle while receiving Top Ten, Reserve National Champion, and National Champion recognition with an Arabian horse that was trained and prepared by the students themselves under the guidance of university personnel.
Each spring, the equine program conducts an auction of Arabian horses called the MSU Spartan Spectacular. Over the course of four months, sale horses are prepared, conditioned, trained and body clipped exclusively by students, all of whom are assigned individual project horses. During sale previews and on auction day, students also act as the first point of contact from potential buyers interested in purchasing sale prospects. Many students, having fallen in love with the Arabian horse through this experience, have ended up purchasing their project horses on auction day. Servicing primarily the youth an amateur market in Michigan, the Spartan Spectacular also serves as a principal exposure point for equine enthusiasts from all breeds and backgrounds to the consummate versatility, trainability and intelligence of the Arabian horse. As a result, literally dozens, if not hundreds, of first-time Arabian owners have been introduced to the breed through the annual MSU auction over the last quarter century.
Michigan State University is a Land Grant/AAU university with over 48,000 students in residence. As the original Land Grant institution in the world committed to teaching practical agriculture and science, Michigan State continues to be leader in both, as well as in agricultural research. The Arabian herd is an integral part of both teaching and research, with non-invasive research studies regularly conducted in nutrition, exercise physiology, and breeding and genetics. Outreach programs managed onsite educate the citizens of Michigan on practical horse management as well as equine evaluation and judging. At the very heart of this world-class institution leading the world in equine education and research is the Arabian horse, an essential partner with whom Michigan State University has prospered for over three-quarters of a century. As the leading educational ambassador for the Arabian horse worldwide, Michigan State University continues to ensure the legacy of the noble breed not only survives but thrives for generations to come, by exposing the broadest spectrum as well as the ambitious future of the equine industry to the rich history, inherent wonder and incomparable value of the Arabian horse.