From Cali to Aussie, Sierra Jenkins '17 embarks on a thoroughbred career

Alumni,

In Arcadia, Calif., Lake Erie College alumna Sierra Jenkins grew up watching horse races at prominent thoroughbred racing complex Santa Anita Park. She thought becoming a racehorse veterinarian would be her only break into the industry. After dropping out of a pre-vet program in her very first college semester at a large university, she had to rethink her dreams.

Fast forward to now, Jenkins is a member of the College’s Class of 2017, having recently graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in equine facility management. She received the Academic Excellence Award for the School of Equine Studies.

Lake Erie’s outstanding equine program initially drew Jenkins to the College. When she transferred here in the spring of 2015, small class sizes enabled her to pursue her passion without feeling lost in the crowd. After two years of college with non-equine majors and a year off, Jenkins expected a transition. Close relationships with LEC faculty and classmates made it a breeze.

“Having such a friendly, nurturing environment really allowed me to blossom as a student and gave me the confidence to pursue things I hadn’t even considered,” she said. “It was at Lake Erie that I really allowed myself to think big.”

Friendships with faculty, staff and peers dampened her fear of making mistakes and asking questions. Dr. Pamela Hess, dean of the School of Equine Studies, called Jenkins an “absolutely charming and an excellent student.”

Several components of the equine program set her up for success. Hands-on work with horses at the George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center, supportive mentorship, and internships won through connections at the College took her education to the next level.

“Sure, you can learn things from a book, but having your hands on the animals when they’re sick or learning how to give vaccinations are things that you can’t absorb from a lecture,” Jenkins said.

One particular experience opened her eyes to real possibilities in the horse racing industry. Lake Erie Riding Instructor Mary Pardee took her Intro to Equine class on an annual field trip to Lexington, Ky.—the “horse capital of the world,” according to Jenkins. Still adjusting to the equine field, Jenkins hadn’t yet set any definite goals for herself. The culture of horse breeding, training and racing amazed her. She described the trip as a “complete game changer.” It included touring farms and equine businesses, attending races, and visiting the Kentucky Horse Park, a popular equine theme park.

“That trip allowed me to realize dreams I didn’t know I had. It was then when I set my sights on becoming successful in the horse racing industry,” Jenkins said.

Instructors in the School of Equine Studies guided Jenkins along her journey, and she counts them as both phenomenal mentors and friends. “They listened to my woes, stuck through my occasional indecisiveness, and celebrated with me when I achieved a goal. They’ve all supported me in their own ways, and for that, I am extremely grateful,” she said.

Lake Erie’s equine program ensures that students are fully equipped for a professional career by connecting them to valuable internships. In Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Jenkins completed an internship at Fair Winds Racing and worked at Chagrin Saddlery, a major supporter of LEC’s equestrian program. This encouraged her to reach out for her dreams. Jenkins pounced on an internship at WinStar Farm in Lexington, Ky. when Mary Pardee helped make that connection for her.

“By clinching an internship at one of the most prestigious farms in the United States, I was able to learn how things are done—and I was doing them with some of the most obnoxious horses you could deal with… year-old male horses going through their version of puberty,” Jenkins said.

Lake Erie’s equine program focuses on good horsemanship, a cornerstone of professional work in the industry. Internships allow students to learn how to handle the intricate, day-to-day workings of a professional equine facility. As someone with relatively less experience than her peers, Jenkins counted on those internships for exposure and training.

Lake Erie empowered her to take on serious challenges. Prepping yearlings for airplane travel at 3 am and staying in control when a panicked horse suffers a severe allergic reaction are a few examples. Most of all, Jenkins understood that coursework “doesn’t prepare you for dealing with multi-million dollar animals whose owners are expecting you to exercise, groom, and monitor every aspect of their lives.”

With good credentials, Jenkins had confidence in her ability to get a position at a farm in Australia. Coolmore Australia saw her passion, hard work and potential. As a stud hand at their farm in Plains, NSW Au., she will work with mares and foals while learning more about bloodstock and marketing of thoroughbreds. Her willingness to move across the world probably compensated for any gaps in her knowledge about horses, Jenkins said. Taking such risks shows massive dedication.

She has set her sharp sights on the Godolphin Flying Start program, a highly internationally competitive management and leadership training program for the thoroughbred industry. For two years, full-time trainees develop their skills to become global industry leaders in the racing and breeding of thoroughbred horses. Dr. Hess called Flying Start "the most highly regarded training program in the thoroughbred world.” Admission into the program would be a tremendous opportunity.

Jenkins proves that there is more than one way to succeed in this notoriously exclusive industry. She competed on the College’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association riding teams, but she would like to be a farm manager for a large thoroughbred operation in the future.

In her brief two years at Lake Erie College, she explored many paths. She advises incoming students to “leave no stone unturned.” Earning a degree helps students find success, but making connections and being exposed to new ideas and experiences is important too.

Jenkins echoes Lake Erie College’s challenge to students: “Do all the things, ask all the questions, make the mistakes, and have fun, too.”

From past disappointments and uncertainty, she has emerged with grit and ambition.

Our Lake Erie College community looks forward to celebrating Sierra Jenkins’ future breakthroughs.

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