The Gift That Will Keep on Giving for Equine Medicine

These $75,000 veterinary scholarships will have a significant impact on the horse industry for years to come.

For the American Quarter Horse Foundation

On average, veterinary school students graduate with $135,283 in educational debt, the American Veterinary Medical Association found in a survey of 2014 graduates. And it goes up from there: If you look at students who have other debt in addition to educational debt, you’re looking at an average of $153,191. Nearly one-fifth reported being at least $200,000 in debt.         

That’s where the conversation landed at the 2014 AQHA World Championship Show.

Gathered in the Built Ford Tough Club overlooking the Jim Norick Arena, Penelope Knight and friends chatted about the equine industry, specifically equine veterinary medicine. They all had a vested interest in the topic: Sue Hagerty is the breeding and operations manager for Penelope’s Coyote Rock Ranch in Terrebonne, Oregon; Sue’s husband, Eric, is the property manager; Brooke Woodruff serves as the equine foreman; and Don Treadway Jr. was AQHA’s executive vice president, the position from which he retired in 2015.

An avid horsewoman, Penelope is a strong advocate for horse health. Just a few months before the World Show, in anticipation of AQHA’s 75th anniversary, Penelope made a $75,000 donation to the American Quarter Horse Foundation’s equine research fund.

But at the World Show, Sue recalls that the discussion turned to, “What more can we do?”

“Sure we can aid in research by donating to the Foundation, which does a great job filtering those dollars out for research projects. But how else can we make an impact?” Sue remembers the group asking. “That’s when Penelope said, ‘Education – let’s invest in these students who are the future of veterinary medicine.’ ”

The group was astounded by the amount of debt many vet school students graduate with. 

“That has a large impact on how they develop their practice: They may be less inclined to pursue lower-paying internships or apprenticing with really qualified vets because they have loans they need to pay,” Sue explains. “Small-animal practices can be much more lucrative than an equine practice. When many of these graduates start practicing – simply to pay their bills, support their family and repay their debt – they may be forced to make a decision to move their practice into small animal to pay the bills.”

What Penelope intended to do was make a significant impact on the lives of budding equine veterinarians and give them the opportunity to focus on building equine practices. Once again, in honor of the AQHA 75th anniversary, Penelope was adamant: Two $75,000 scholarships would do it.      

The Budding Equine Veterinarians

Jenni Wright

Long before the Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship came to fruition, Jenni Wright was 5 years old and infatuated with the idea of helping horses. While Dr. John McCarroll performed a lameness exam on one of her family’s horses, Jenni told him, “I want to be an equine vet when I grow up.” She and Dr. McCarroll made a pact: As soon as Jenni could drive, she could come work at his practice in Pilot Point, Texas.

“The day I turned 16, I drove to his clinic,” Jenni remembers. “Working there for the summer, I realized that was all I ever wanted to do.”

Between then and now, Jenni has ridden American Quarter Horses in the highest levels of AQHA over-fences hunter competition and was a member of the Kansas State University women’s equestrian team before starting at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Yes, she admits vet school coursework can be quite rigorous, but the biggest obstacle she – or any student, for that matter – will have to overcome is the staggering amount of debt that comes hand in hand with a veterinary degree.

“Our tuition has increased every year I’ve gone to school, and it’s not just where I go to school, it’s every veterinary school. When you come out, they think the average debt now is more than $200,000, and that’s just crippling from a financial standpoint, especially considering that the average salary when you come out of school, if you don’t do an internship, is roughly $60,000-70,000,” Jenni explains. “You really have to be passionate to take that on.”

To combat the debt, Jenni scanned the American Quarter Horse Foundation website and American Association of Equine Practitioners bulletins, keeping her eyes peeled for scholarships that could apply to her. When she ran across the Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship for fourth-year vet school students, she knew she had to apply.

By the time the 2016-17 scholarship winners were selected, Jenni had almost forgotten about the application; she had just wrapped up finals, was looking forward to the next day’s white-coat ceremony and was mentally preparing for clinics to start the following Monday. 

As she opened the envelope from the American Quarter Horse Foundation, confetti fell out. The letter started, “Congratulations! You have been selected for the $75,000 Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship …” but that’s as far as Jenni read right then. Overcome with emotion, she sat down by her mailbox, crying out of relief and gratitude.

Josh Singer’s path to veterinary school was quite a bit different from Jenni’s, but his reaction to winning the Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship strikes the same chord. 

“I was in Texas on an externship, and my wife went to the mailbox. She said she screamed when she read the letter,” Josh says with a laugh. “She called me later that day while I was in a lameness arena and asked, ‘You’re still Josh Singer, right?’ I said, ‘As far as I know, I am still Josh Singer.’ ”

Josh Singer

According to that letter, Josh Singer had been awarded one of the two $75,000 Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarships. 

“I had to excuse myself while I went and processed through it emotionally,” Josh recalls. “It was an unreal weight lifted off my shoulders, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude.”

After finishing his undergraduate degree at Auburn University, Josh committed to law school. But in the interim, Josh returned to a ranch in Colorado, a ranch he first visited as a high school senior. In the mountains, pushing cattle on the back of a Quarter Horse, Josh started to rethink life – perhaps law school wasn’t where he was supposed to be. After a year and a half on the ranch, Josh was certain that while he loved horses and ranching, he knew he needed an intellectual challenge. After finishing prerequisites for vet school at Colorado State University, Josh was accepted to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I grew up playing a lot of sports. I love the competitive side of things, and I’ve always loved being part of a team,” Josh says. “I want to become part of a team that allows a horse to compete to its highest potential, and I’m excited to work with people to ensure their horse has a great life and a long competitive career.”

And Then There Were Three

When the scholarship application was crafted, the American Quarter Horse Foundation partnered with the American Association of Equine Practitioners facilitates the application and review process. 

“The veterinarians on the committee represented many areas of equine medicine and surgery – from private practice to university, from reproduction to lameness, from the racetrack to the broodmare to the backyard horse,” says Dr. Lisa Metcalf, a member of the AAEP board of directors and CRR scholarship selection committee, as well as one of the veterinarians who handles Coyote Rock Ranch’s breeding operation.

“All of the applications underwent careful review, and the answers to the questions posed on the AQHA scholarship form received scores for certain areas such as leadership skills, GPA, contribution (past, present and future) to the equine industry, interest in equine practice, equine research experience, involvement in their community, as well as the candidate’s personal statement.”

At the end of the review process, it was evident that while the initial intention was to fund two $75,000 scholarships, there was actually a third candidate qualified to receive a Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship.

Lainie Kringen and Drag And Fly

Initially, Lainie Kringen received a letter informing her that she did not receive a scholarship. The fourth-year Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine student was certainly disappointed, but she told herself that life goes on. 

Lainie didn’t have to wait too much longer before AAEP’s director of industry relations, Keith Kleine, contacted her, asking Lainie to offer a student’s perspective on an AAEP conference call. It was actually a ruse to get Lainie on the phone with Sue Hagerty and a few other individuals influential in the scholarship selection process. 

“They said they’d played a trick on me and it was really a scholarship announcement,” Lainie recalls with a laugh, noting how grateful she is that Penelope and her husband, Phil, were more than willing to fund a third scholarship. “It was hard to keep it together while I was on the phone with them because you can’t fathom … $75,000 is more than one year’s worth of work for me.

“What that did is instead of paying my loans off in 30 years, it will maybe be 15 years. When you plan for 30 years and someone tells you in one minute it’s going to be half that, it’s life changing.”

The Most Memorable of Days

Sue says she has had a lot of incredible days at Coyote Rock Ranch, but September 17, 2016, will go down in history as one of her most memorable.

That weekend, the three scholarship recipients jet-set from their respective corners of the country – Jenni from Kansas, Josh from Georgia and Lainie from Iowa – to make their way to Terrebonne, Oregon. Along with AQHA Chief Foundation Officer Brent Davison, the group made their way out to Coyote Rock Ranch on Saturday. There they met the team behind the ranch, and although Phil and Penelope were not able to join them, their presence was definitely felt as the Coyote Rock Ranch story unfolded during the ranch tour. The students also met the ranch’s equine residents and Penelope’s sources of inspiration, including Drag And Fly, an AQHA senior tie-down roping world champion and the all-time leading open all-around title earner.

As they shared in their scholarship applications, each recipient has a goal to significantly impact equine medicine. There’s Jenni, who intends to practice as a board-certified equine surgeon and research exercise and muscle physiology in performance horses, then share her knowledge as an educator; Josh, who is determined to help equine athletes; and Lainie, who aims to return home to central South Dakota, an area short on equine-specialized veterinarians. 

That day at the ranch, Sue was struck by something Josh said to her: “You know that we will pay this forward, right?”

“I believe they will pay it forward,” Sue says. “They will continue to give not only to their practice and to the industry, but they will stay committed in that growth and development for future generations, whether that be through their university or through mentoring. Whatever that will be, I think Penelope’s vision in creating these scholarships combined with these three amazing recipients, together they have the potential to change the industry.”

The American Quarter Horse Foundation supports equine-related educational and charitable programs that create opportunities to enrich the lives of people and horses. To learn more about how you, too, can help people and horses, visit www.aqha.com/foundation.


Jenni, Josh, Sue Hagerty and Lainie discuss Coyote Rock Ranch's broodmare band.


Dr. Lisa Metcalf, Jenni, Josh, Lainie and Sue pose in front of Coyote Rock.


Lainie, Josh, Jenni and AQHA Chief Foundation Officer Brent Davison


Lainie, Brent, Jenni and Josh on a trail ride near Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon