Professor Clay Cavinder reflects on MSU's equine program

MSU professor and horse specialist Clay Cavinder poses with a horse at the Equine Unit.

Clay Cavinder sees potential and promise through his role as an equine professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences and an extension horse specialist at Mississippi State University.

During his time at MSU, Cavinder has drastically improved the horse unit and wants to continue building the program. He reflected on how the program has grown, especially from its early days, and shared his motivation for future growth.

"I think about those bottom guys like us — we didn't have anything here. Very little here in terms of the equine science program. Having those hungry universities that are looking at ways to expand, looking at ways to grow, chasing you," Cavinder said.

When Cavinder first came to MSU, there was not even a horse arena. He pushed for the 150-feet-by-175 feet arena with lights and room to expand. He has also developed the horse unit into a cleaner and more organized facility for the horses.

"The evolution that we've seen in the past six years is pretty substantial," Cavinder said. 

Cavinder is also responsible for revamping MSU's breeding program.  

"We have some of the best brood mare and stallion offerings of any university and most breeders right here at Mississippi State," Cavinder said. 

Along with the breeding program, he now teaches lab-based classes to focus on students and experience with horses. Each year about 10 foals, or baby horses, are born at the horse unit. These 10 horses are used in the two lab-based classes that Cavinder teaches — one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester.

Logan McDonald is a senior animal and dairy science major and a student in Cavinder's class this fall.

"Back then he was very intimidating, and I was like, 'He does not like jokes— he's very serious.' But now he is like my favorite teacher. [I] love him because I can definitely joke around with him. He is very personable at the same time. He's just an all-around good teacher," McDonald said. 

Sophomore animal and dairy science major Camryn Pike first met Cavinder at the horse unit. Cavinder caught her off guard by asking her questions and eventually telling her to join the horse judging team. 

"That is how I met Dr. Cavinder, and ever since then, it has been a very interesting ride," Pike said. 

Cavinder grew up in a horse family, with his dad judging horse shows all over the U.S. and Canada. At the time, he did not realize how unique his experience growing up around these complex animals was. He just thought everyone owned a horse show barn near their house. It was his early experiences growing up around horses which led him to work with horses in college.

He attended a junior college in his home state of Oklahoma and would end up attending Oklahoma State University, where he was on the judging team at both schools. He even got his professional cards in judging. 

Cavinder's own professor in college inspired him to work in education. The professor, Kevin, taught all of the horse classes and coached the judging team at one of the colleges he attended.  

"I idolized Kevin. And I thought that Kevin was a cool dude. He was just down to earth; he was younger. He was just a real guy and real open about who he was. I remember being 19 and calling home and telling my parents I want to do what Kevin is doing. I want to be an educator," Cavinder said. 

After receiving his master's degree, Cavinder taught at Texas A&M before coming to MSU. His passion during his time here has been to further develop the horse unit, the stock of horses and the educational classes offered to MSU students about the equine industry. Much of the work he has put into MSU's horse unit and animal and dairy science classes has been inspired by Texas A&M's program.

Cavinder affectionately recalls the way his journey with horses has led him from Oklahoma, to Texas A&M to Starkville, Mississippi.

"The good Lord kind of just kept opening doors for me to go to the right places and do the right things to be able to build a career in that path— and here I am," Cavinder said.

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