Most little girls go through a horse phase growing up. Julieanna Dunbar just never grew out of hers.
Living in Edmonton, Dunbar didn’t grow up in a farming family but she didn’t let that stop her from finding an unconventional route to working with horses. She volunteered at a camp with a horse program and that solidified her passion for the industry.
“Working with horses is just what I really wanted to do for a career,” Dunbar explains.
Dunbar knew that in order to make those dreams come true, she would need a base of foundational knowledge, so she enrolled in Lakeland’s former western ranch and cow horse program. As she prepared to graduate from the program in 2019, Lakeland launched its new animal science technology diploma equine major
and Dunbar decided to take that as well. She is about to become one of the first to graduate from the new program.
“If I hadn’t done this second program, I probably wouldn’t be able to get a start in the industry. Like many ag industries, so many people are brought up into it and it’s already an established part of their life so it can be hard for people like me to get into it. This program 100 per cent gave me the confidence to do this. I was able to learn from people who are so knowledgeable.”
Dunbar found the new program expanded on what she had already learned, adding important elements that helped give her a broader understanding of the business side of equine operations.
“It’s important to go into the industry because you love horses, but you also need to know how to make money. We learn how much it costs to actually run courses and training programs as well as other financial aspects like expenses and what needs to happen to break even.”
The equine unit is one of the six Student-Managed Farm – Powered by New Holland
(SMF) units, which also includes commercial beef cattle, dairy cattle, purebred beef cattle, livestock research and crop technology. With the SMF units, students gain hands-on experience running a commercial agriculture operation that includes 3,000-plus acres, four cattle herds, horses and bison.
For Dunbar, that immersive experience was critical to her success in the program.
“I absolutely love the SMF format,” she says. “In this program, you learn the theory and then you get to use it in practice. You actually learn how to execute the concepts you’re learning in the classroom, follow through with them and apply the knowledge in a real-world setting.”
As part of her SMF experience, Dunbar helped establish Lakeland’s gelding and broodmare programs, as well as working with her SMF team to train and prepare five geldings for the annual Round-Up sale. In past years, the sale has been known as Beef Day and has been an opportunity for beef units to sell their livestock, and this was the first year horses were included in the process.
“It was an interesting experience and no one really knew how it was going to play out,” Dunbar says. “I think it went really well though. Our team had amazing work ethic. There were only seven of us so we all filled multiple roles in the unit and helped each other with other roles as well. We just kept our heads down and kept working and never quit, troubleshooting on the way.”
Heading to the back country
Now that her studies are finished, Dunbar is heading off to a new job at a guide and outfitting organization that does pack trips and trail rides in the back country.
“It’s a really good next step for me,” she says. “I’ll get to ride all sorts of different horses and train some of them too, which is a very marketable skill. Employers will be confident having me around because they’ll know that I can make their trained horses better and start their young horses as well.”
Dunbar’s dream is to make a career at the camp she first volunteered at, some day helping expand the organization.
For now, though, she has gone from a city girl opening her Lakeland College acceptance letter and proclaiming, “I get to buy a horse! Finally!” to riding off into the sunset to lead others on their own journey to discover a love of horsemanship.
“I’m glad I didn’t grow out of my horse phase,” she says. “There’s always something to learn from horses. The learning curve never stops.”