Photos courtesy of Rebecca Graves September 08, 2023
Animal science major Rebecca Graves earns equine internship in Purina Animal Nutrition Center’s competitive program
University of Delaware junior Rebecca Graves exponentially increased the size of her workspace this summer as she packed her bags and headed to Missouri. After her selection to a competitive internship program with Purina Mills, the animal science major transitioned from UD’s on-campus 350-acre farm to the Equine Unit of the Purina Animal Nutrition Center, located on a 1,200-acre farm in Gray Summit, Missouri.
Before this internship, the Massachusetts native had never left the Northeast. Graves took a leap of faith when Amy Biddle, associate professor of animal science, alerted Graves and her College of Agriculture and Natural Resources classmates about the program.
“I almost didn’t apply for this because I didn’t think I’d get it,” Graves said. “It's been one of the best things I could have done.”
Despite her doubts, Graves was the sole individual from a pool of applicants ultimately awarded this coveted position.
Purina’s Animal Nutrition Center, owned by Land O Lakes, primarily develops animal feed. This feed nourishes the livestock responsible for the Land O Lakes products, like butter and cheese, sold in stores.
“They really go from crop to the end product, which is pretty cool,” Graves said.
Aside from her morning chores, Graves’ responsibilities included training one-year-old horses. She worked with these yearlings, including horses with behavioral issues, to improve basic skills.
“One-year-old horses kind of know how to do the basics, like get haltered and get led around, so I’m teaching them how to stand tied, be respectful and how to do all the different things they’re going to have to do,” Graves said.
Most often, Graves and her horses navigated the learning curve of exercise. As a part of a research project, she evaluated the capabilities of each horse before and after training and tracked their exercise data. They learned to use horse treadmills, round pens and utilize the equicizer — an exercise tool made to hold six horses so they can practice their walk, trot and canter without needing to ride or lunge.
“I was really debating if I wanted to go into training if I wanted to go into animal nutrition or equine reproduction, so I kind of found something that incorporates both of these areas,” Graves said.
Back on campus, Graves already had exposure to these subjects. With eight years of prior experience training horses and a double minor in equine science and animal nutrition, UD had her well-prepared for the Equine Unit.
“Being an animal nutrition minor, I’ve learned a lot that'll make it easier in my future classes,” Graves said. “I’m taking equine nutrition next semester. Throughout this summer, I kind of already got an equine nutrition course.”
UD faculty member Tara Gaab, an assistant professor of animal science, worked closely with Graves in her Equine Diseases and Lameness (ANFS 324) course, praising Graves’ dedication to the field of equine science.
“Rebecca is an excellent and motivated student,” Gaab said. “Her comprehension and passion for equine science are always evident in her assignments. As her instructor, I appreciate her desire to always better understand the material that is covered in class.”
Graves is also a member of UD Club Equestrian and Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority. As a veteran of Purina’s summer internship program, she offered advice to those who dream big but are hesitant to take the same leap of faith that she did.
“Apply,” Graves said. “Just go for it!"