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Talking Horse with Dr. Clay Cavinder

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 6:00am

Saddle up for a good time as Dr. Clay Cavinder rides into the studio this week to talk about the importance of horses!



Announcer: This is 4H4U2, a podcast from the Mississippi State University Extension Service, promoting 4-H programs and positive youth development. Here, now your host, Dr. John Long and Cobie Rutherford.

John Long: Welcome to 4H4U2, where we talk about all things 4-H, 4-H youth development, life skills, preparation for the future, and giving back to the community. I'm your host, John Long.

Cobie Rutherford: And good morning, I'm Cobie Rutherford.

John Long: Cobie, how are you doing today?

Cobie Rutherford: Doing well, it's Friday.

John Long: Awesome.

Cobie Rutherford: Football Friday.

John Long: Woo-hoo! We got our first home football game, and people are already putting their tents up. So, we're getting fired up, and you and I both have our maroon on, as well as our guest that we have today. Cobie, why don't you go ahead and introduce our guest?

Cobie Rutherford: Well, John, I'm happy to have our guest here today. Dr. Clay Cavinder, he's a professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences here at Mississippi State. I guess, Clay, you started here about three or four months before I did, back in 2015.

Clay Cavinder: That's right. January of 2015.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah, time's flying, isn't it?

John Long: I remember when you, I don't know what that meeting was that we were at, but that was the first time I'd seen you. I think it was in 409. But anyway, I remember meeting you that day and them telling me that you were new, so that's, ooh, four years?

Clay Cavinder: Four and a half, yeah. It'll be five, five this January.

John Long: So Clay, tell us a little bit... Oh, I'm sorry, Go ahead.

Cobie Rutherford: Oh, no. Go ahead. I was just going to say Clay is our equine specialist, for Extension.

John Long: Yes. Yes, that's good to know what he does.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah. I should have said that earlier.

John Long: You just wandered in here and says, "Can I be on a podcast?"

Cobie Rutherford: No, not really.

John Long: Even though he says he's a podcast junkie, so that that's good. He feels at home here, so that's just great.

Clay Cavinder: I do. It's strange to actually be a part of it.

John Long: Yeah, it's awesome. Look, Clay, tell us where you're from and just how you got to be where you're at today.

Clay Cavinder: Man, that's-

John Long: And spare no detail.

Clay Cavinder: That's a long story, but the shortened version. I grew up in a little town in Southeast Oklahoma. It's weird. Anybody ever asks me that question, and I tell them a little town, they say, "Which one?" I say, Idabel. Everybody knows where it's at. You don't go through Idabel, you go to Idabel.

Clay Cavinder: So, most people, for some reason, have been there, but I grew up there, finished school and undergrad there at Oklahoma State, and then, wound up in Texas.

John Long: How far is that? I'm sorry, I'm going to... How far is that from Stillwater?

Clay Cavinder: That's a good ways, four and a half, five hours.

John Long: Ooh, okay, great.

Clay Cavinder: As far as Southeast, you can get close to Texarkana, Texas.

John Long: Okay, go ahead. I'm sorry.

Clay Cavinder: So, I grew up close to the Red River, and then when I was finished up schooling at Oklahoma state, wound up through a series of events, but wound up in Texas doing a PhD. And then shortly after that, finishing up, they had a spot open there on faculty. And so I wound up staying on faculty at A&M for 11 and a half years.

John Long: That's awesome.

Clay Cavinder: And then, I don't know, it's just kind of a God thing, really. A position opened here, and through a weird series of events where my family moved here, and I've been blessed to be here for sure, since January '15.

Cobie Rutherford: Wow, that's awesome. That's good.

John Long: Now, the reason I asked how far it was from Stillwater, you ever met a guy named Kevin Allen? He is-

Clay Cavinder: I don't think so.

John Long: Well, he's the state program leader, state 4-H program leader over there. So he and I, he used to do shootings for it, so that's how I knew him. He was at the PLN that we were at.

Cobie Rutherford: And Clay, you've had some big life changing moments since you got here. I mean welcomed your daughter here in Mississippi.

Clay Cavinder: They all happened in the same month, it seemed like.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah.

Clay Cavinder: Yeah, within a six month period, we moved here in January and within four, five, six months we were, my wife was job hunting and I was starting a new career, really a new career because I hadn't ever had a formal Extension appointment, so it was a new animal for me. And in the midst of all that-

John Long: Pardon the pun.

Clay Cavinder: Yeah, right. In the midst of all that, our daughter was born and to make matters worse, it happened in the morning of the second day of the state horse show in Texarkana, Texas when I was in Jackson, Mississippi and she was premature. Everything's great now, but that was a scary time. I wound up being in the NICU for five weeks.

Clay Cavinder: So you know, within a six-month period, you know, parents understand people who are going to be parents will understand, but new parents, it's tough. The job was nothing.

Cobie Rutherford: The job is raising them.

Clay Cavinder: The career change was not that big a deal. It was the, juggling all that the same time. But it's been a tremendous blessing, for sure.

Cobie Rutherford: No doubt. The whole life changed just in one day almost, didn't it?

John Long: Oh, man. Nothing like them.

Clay Cavinder: Let me tell you a quick little story, just to tell you how great the people of Mississippi are. I was brand new, did not know hardly anybody, especially at the producers level. We were at the state horse show. Oddly enough, the second morning of the state horse show, I don't know, it just, I woke up out of sleep at the hotel about 1:00 AM and wide wake.

Clay Cavinder: And I picked up my phone, like most of us do to kill some time. I was just looking at it, just to hopefully go back to sleep, and it rang. It was my wife, and I knew immediately something was wrong. And you know, of course I'd put on my pants was off to Texarkana two, three o'clock in the morning, and wound up having to call John Blanton and Dean and them guys that were at the state horse show and saying, "I won't be there. I've got some things going on."

Clay Cavinder: But you know, that night I had people that I didn't even know texting me saying "We're praying for you." And the really cool thing was, people called me and told me, said, "Hey, that night at the opening ceremonies of the state 4-H horse show, they did an opening prayer and talked about your family." And I thought, "You know what, there's not many places that do that."

John Long: Right. That's awesome.

Cobie Rutherford: That's pretty cool.

John Long: That's awesome. And good to know, everything's okay now.

Cobie Rutherford: It's fine, that's great.

Clay Cavinder: She's great. She's a tough one.

John Long: That the only one you have?

Clay Cavinder: Only one.

Cobie Rutherford: Oh, okay.

John Long: May end up being the only one.

Clay Cavinder: Probably so. Yeah. Yeah, it took a while to get her.

John Long: You know, I'm talking about if they're tough.

Clay Cavinder: She is.

John Long: My son's tough, and I think we wouldn't have another one, if we hadn't had the girl first.

Clay Cavinder: Yeah, I love that though. It means when they get older they'll be able to take care of-

Cobie Rutherford: That's right. That's exactly right.

Clay Cavinder: I hope that's the theory.

Cobie Rutherford: And what's her name?

Clay Cavinder: Isabella.

Cobie Rutherford: Ooh, beautiful name.

John Long: Yeah. Beautiful name.

Cobie Rutherford: So, Clay, you mentioned that you work with a 4-H youth horse show. What other kind of responsibilities do you have as the Extension specialist?

Clay Cavinder: Pretty much anything that deals with equine programming in the state, whether it's at the youth or adult level, with agents, with their clientele, a number of things in that regard. And then even here on campus, a number of things that deal with the management of the horse unit here, and some... I've tried to take some student programming through the courses I teach here and kind of overlap that with Extension work in terms of getting students involved in being a part of that education process through the horses.

Cobie Rutherford: That's really neat. What surprised me, as I was part of an economic analysis a few years ago in Alabama, and I always think about Alabama and Mississippi being very similar in terms of agriculture industries, but how much of an economic impact the horse industry makes in the state. John, it's a... How many, it's multimillion, isn't it?

Clay Cavinder: Multimillion-dollar deal. And even beyond the state, people don't realize that, in terms of a national economy, horses bring in billions of dollars in terms of GDP.

John Long: No idea. I didn't know that. I did not know that.

Cobie Rutherford: It's really incredible how much, I mean just the horse people in general spend on their horses, just to maintain them and keep them.

Clay Cavinder: Yeah. If you think about it in terms of comparison to beef cattle and other food commodities, you know we have to eat and that kind of thing. And so, cattle are an important thing, poultry and swine, but horses, we don't obviously have to do that. It's just the sheer enjoyment of the species that drives it.

John Long: That's that almost [inaudible 00:07:55] equate it kind of the hunting. We don't have to hunt, but we do enjoy it. So it's a multimillion, multibillion or million, whatever, for our state as well.

Clay Cavinder: If you look at the GDP comparison of equine businesses, it's comparable to tobacco manufacturing, even apparel. That's what's crazy to me is, we all need to or have to wear clothes, but we don't all have to contribute to the horse industry.

John Long: Right. That's so cool. You know, the horses had been around for a long time and they have helped out a lot. Of course, mechanization changed a lot of that overnight, I guess, but we still enjoy our horses for sure. That's good. I'm not a horse person. I'm not saying I don't enjoy them, but I saw a picture of me on one 10 years ago, the other day. It popped up on my Facebook Memories. We were doing therapeutic riding and yeah, so that was cool.

Cobie Rutherford: You know, I'm not a horse person either. I mean, I like to look at them from a distance.

John Long: I've enjoyed riding them.

Cobie Rutherford: If one comes up to me, I'll probably pet it, but I think my son is going to be a horse enthusiast. He's all about them. We almost bought him one, but luckily the lady backed out on us and decided to keep it herself.

Clay Cavinder: You know? It's wild though. If it's in your blood, it's there.

John Long: Yeah, that's right.

Clay Cavinder: I tried it a few years ago, probably four or five years ago. I was kind of burned out with everything. I was dealing with my own business and my own horses. I thought, you know what, I'm done with it. Right. It's a lot of work. People don't get that part of it. They go to the horse show and think, "Wow, that's pretty, that's neat," but the work that goes into that, it's insane.

Clay Cavinder: I sold out, sold everything I had, and within three months I was buying new horses again.

Cobie Rutherford: It's funny how when-

John Long: My friend has one that'll... I don't know, he hasn't ridden it in years, but takes he takes very good care of it. I take my kids over there, and that joker is a biter. I say, "You watch him move, his ears go back, you better look out because he's coming for you.

Clay Cavinder: Well you talk about raising kids, working with horses ain't no different.

John Long: Right.

Clay Cavinder: I mean, it's the same training. I tell my students all the time that you can train anything, your boyfriend, your horse, whoever it may be, whatever it may be, a dog, with three simple things. That is, provide a cue, wait for a response, and then reinforce that response, and that's the truth. The other day my wife and I were sitting in the living room and she said, ""Man, it's cold in here. And before I knew it, I was turning the thermostat down.

Clay Cavinder: She never told me to get up and do it, but through providing a cue, telling me she was cold, I knew what my response needed to be, and I knew how she would positively or negatively reinforce that response or lack thereof.

John Long: That means get up off the couch, right?

Clay Cavinder: That's right. "Hey, go turn down the air."

John Long: That's right. I think you're a wise man.

Cobie Rutherford: Maybe we need to start incorporating those theories into our child development.

John Long: Maybe it's the same.

John Long: For sure.

John Long: Probably so.

Cobie Rutherford: Now a child, if you want to bite your teacher, this is how we're going to negatively reinforce it.

Clay Cavinder: Right. That's negative reinforcement. Yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: So, Clay, as far as this 4-H horse show, kind of getting back on track a little bit, are there activities that children can participate in if they don't own the horse, at the-

Clay Cavinder: Man, that's a great question. You know that's usually the stumbling block or hurdle people talk about is to expense the horses inquire, which is true, but there are so many opportunities for kids to get involved with through education, with horses, with not directly owning a horse.

Clay Cavinder: Horse judging obviously is something I've been big involved in through my lifetime, and that's a huge one for life skill development. You don't ever have to own a horse, but can still be around them and still be involved in that community. And there's other things too, like hippology which is a, it's a humongous contest. It's an educational contest.

Clay Cavinder: It involves some aspects of judging, education, as far as knowing different facts about horses, and then of course things like horse bowl. And yeah, there's plenty of opportunities for people to get involved, and I think it's a... even if you do own a horse, need to be involved in that. The understanding of what's going on physiologically with the horse or management-wise is definitely important.

John Long: You brought up a question I had in my mind. On average, what would you say that it would be for upkeep for a horse, on average for a year.

Clay Cavinder: Yeah. It's very dependable upon a lot of certain factors, but we think around $1,200, $1,500 for feed and costs, you know, maintenance. But when you start adding in other things, like boarding and you know. You've got to own a barn or board them or whatever it may be.

John Long: And heaven forbid something happened, which it will, because it's an animal, for sure.

Clay Cavinder: And it's a horse and it will happen.

John Long: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah. We've been talking about... Most folks listening to the podcast know that my wife and I are livestock people, but we've actually been talking about how expensive buying a show heifer or buying a show steer would be. And yeah, when you start putting the pencil to it and you get multiple years showing a horse, it may be less expensive to show a horse than a steer.

Clay Cavinder: Well, and I think that's a fine line too. You know, people try to, not that you were doing this, but a lot of people will exclude horses from livestock species. They are definitely a livestock species. It's not a pet, but the end product is a little bit different obviously, because of the meat animal versus athletic animal, performance-based animal.

Clay Cavinder: But I think what you're probably alluding to more is that, if you buy a show steer and take him to the end of his showing season, then he makes a sale, then you make money. Horses, you may keep them for 10, 12 years, because of the life expectancy in that kind of thing.

Cobie Rutherford: That's a good point. And I think a lot of people have started equating horses as companion animals, instead of livestock.

Clay Cavinder: They sure have.

John Long: Right.

Cobie Rutherford: And I think as an Extension specialist, that's probably something you battle pretty often.

Clay Cavinder: It is. And you know, people say all the time, they are a companion animal because I connect with them. Well, so is a guinea pig or a Potbelly pig. Pigs are not pets. I've seen it multiple times. A little girl has a show steer, she pets on that thing and puts bows in his hair. It does not make it a companion animal.

John Long: Right.

Cobie Rutherford: That's right.

Clay Cavinder: So to me, I'm defensive about that because I want to maintain the livestock production, agriculture and animal aspect of the horse business. I think that's important, or a valued thing for many of us. But I also get that people look at them as a, with a connection.

John Long: And I am sure it's real easy to do that, even then with the other animals, like you say, livestock and things like that, because of the fact that they raise it, they have such a hands on experience with it, but then of course, there comes that time where you realize that yeah, that's bacon too, or whatever, a burger or whatever you want to talk about.

Clay Cavinder: Well, the scarier part of it is too, for me, is that you can pet a dog and he doesn't step on your foot and break your toe. A horse is a different animal. And talking about that, that training aspect of it, every horse you meet, whether you know it or not, they ask you one simple question. That is, "Would you like me to be the boss, or would you want to be the boss?"

John Long: Right.

Clay Cavinder: And they're fine either way. Whichever one you choose, they're okay with it. And really, especially at the young student level, trying to get them to understand the capacity of this horse to learn something, but also to understand his train of thought. His mindset amongst his herd mates is, there is a definite hierarchy. And so we as horse owners, for safety more than anything, have to establish a clear, dominant-submissive relationship with them, that sometimes people who look at them as pets don't quite understand that aspect.

Cobie Rutherford: That's a good point.

Clay Cavinder: It is a good point.

Cobie Rutherford: This may be turning into a parenting type thing too-

Clay Cavinder: It all relates.

Cobie Rutherford: ... because I keep thinking back a lot. Maybe my child identifies as all horse. He bites and kicks.

John Long: The lights coming on now.

Cobie Rutherford: The light's coming on.

Clay Cavinder: Well, I think especially as young parents, we all, all of us, Cobie being a young parent too, is we all try to figure out, I think we're all constantly analyzing, "Well, I did this wrong here. I hope I don't scar my kid for the rest of his life," But, my wife and I were, yesterday, just talking about some parenting things we're going through and everything I do, it goes back to the horse. I'm just now after 20 years of marriage getting her not to condemn me for doing that.

Cobie Rutherford: That's pretty good.

John Long: Yeah. That's why I've used the analogy of training the kid's like training the lab, which we do. And it's like what you're saying, that reinforcement or the dominant-submissive. It's not to lessen the fact, how we teach, but it is a method to it. For sure.

Cobie Rutherford: That's funny. Clay mentioned the hierarchy. Reason's first day of daycare at the new location, he went in and got in a fight with every kid in the class. I tried to tell my wife, I'm like, "He was just establishing the pecking order."

John Long: That's right.

Cobie Rutherford: And that's something that all animals pretty much do.

John Long: Youth development.

Cobie Rutherford: Feral [inaudible 00:00:16:36].

John Long: That's right.

John Long: [crosstalk 00:16:40] animals do that.

Clay Cavinder: And there's always a bigger one out there.

Cobie Rutherford: That's right.

John Long: Oh yeah.

Clay Cavinder: They'll figure it out.

John Long: I guarantee you.

Cobie Rutherford: Maybe that's what we need to do, is ask them to move my child up to another class or two, see what happens there.

John Long: It's going to happen soon enough.

Cobie Rutherford: Soon enough. They say-

John Long: My daddy would say, there's always somebody bigger. Like you said, just gotten run across him yet.

Cobie Rutherford: So Clay, what's coming up in the horse world, though? Do you do anything with the state fair or have any activities there? What's going on this fall?

Clay Cavinder: No, we don't have anything going on at the state fair. A lot of the horse stuff evolves around the state 4-H stuff, and with the Winter Classic, stuff goes on with these especially.

John Long: When is that? When is that?

Clay Cavinder: I think it starts the end of, middle of January, end of January, down in that ballpark.

John Long: Oh, yeah. Yeah. We're going to have to turn the corner before we get to that.

Clay Cavinder: Yeah. Yeah. And then of course we'll head into the state show. But, we do so many little things too, but people don't get, and talking about that non horse owning group, we started a program two years ago called Horse tales, T-A-L-E-S, which I think is a really cool program in which we're using the horse to go into schools to educate kids.

Clay Cavinder: Actually, we're not really educating them. We're the horse as an entertainment tool. So we go into third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade level classrooms and engage the kids with horse facts, knowledge, and information. And then, it's a door of opportunity to open up to discuss all of what 4-H has to offer. So, there's kids in there. We always go, "Hey, how many of you are not interested in horses?"

Clay Cavinder: And there's always those kids that aren't. "Well, if you're not, we've got shooting sports, we've got ATV classes, we've got all kinds of different robotics.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah, that's a great point.

Clay Cavinder: Tons of things that you can get involved with. So, we're using Horse tales as a tool to increase or improve a 4-H enrollment in activity at the county level.

John Long: Now do you actually take a horse?

Clay Cavinder: You know, I did. The first one we did, I did. It's a program that's... I created all the tools for the agents to be able to do it. Whether they know anything about horses or not, that is irrelevant. The information's there and again, it's just a tool to engage the student. But the first one I did, and we did, it took maybe an hour. I took two horses with me, talked to the students in a classroom setting, but then took them outside and let those horses engage, or let those kids engage with horses, and we talked to around 600 kids that within about an hour and a half.

Cobie Rutherford: Oh, good gracious.

Clay Cavinder: You should've seen these kids. Just that, being able to pet them and be around them, it really lit them up.

John Long: Folks just don't understand the power of experiential learning, that hands on that we have in 4-H. I think it's just, more people can relate to that, is the fact that when you can put your hand on a horse or some... And I'll go back to Clay, who was saying that, just to get them hooked. That's what it is, really, is the horses a hook, a cow or whatever is the hook.

John Long: Then we get them in, to where we can teach them those life skills that they need.

Cobie Rutherford: That's right.

John Long: And it's that connection that...

Clay Cavinder: And if anybody's listening that is connected with a secondary school or high school or any, it doesn't matter the age group, wants us to come do something like that, I'd be happy to talk to them.

Cobie Rutherford: That's awesome.

John Long: Now, how can they get in touch with you?

Clay Cavinder: They can start through their county office. The agent in their county should know, be engaged with that program. And then, if the agent doesn't want to come do that or in terms of, just doesn't feel comfortable with it, I'd be more than happy to come help the agent do that and put that on at the county level, but that'd be the first place.

Clay Cavinder: And then maybe, maybe me secondly. But engaging their county office, that's where I would say to start.

John Long: That's awesome. That's awesome. And Cobie, where can our listeners go, just to find out more information about 4-H?

Cobie Rutherford: Our listeners can go to our Extension website, which is constantly changing with updates, at

John Long: And, if you're a podcast junkie like the rest of us in this room are, you would like to subscribe to this podcast, please do. We would love to hear back from you, and you can reach us at the state 4-H office via email or by phone at (662) 325-3350. And my email is

Cobie Rutherford: And mine is

John Long: We'd love to hear from you. So with that, we're going to call this the end of our podcast for this week, and we'll hope you join us next time on 4H4U2.

Announcer: Thanks for joining us for 4H4U2. For more information, please visit and be sure to subscribe to our podcast. 4H4U2 is produced by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Office of Agricultural Communications.

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