The first class of veterinary medicine students is caring for horses from day one.
Jan. 1, 2020

Desert dust, the sound of horses nibbling on hay, and Santa Catalina mountain vistas are all part of the experience for the first class of veterinary medicine students at the University of Arizona. The students care for a herd of 20 teaching horses in hands-on, safe-handling learning experiences. They create a relationship with the horses from day one — and some might even find their calling. 

The students are experiencing a program unlike any other. Most veterinary students don’t work with horses until their third year.

“I’m excited to share what I’ve learned all these years and how I’ve worked around large animals safely for so long. I can pass that on, and they can skip over some of the lumps and bumps I encountered,” says Gail Leith, an associate professor specializing in equine medicine and a veterinarian with 32 years of experience.

The herd is housed in a newly renovated and expanded equine science facility at the Campus Agricultural Center, located on North Campbell Avenue, that includes stables, pastures, paddocks, show barns, and indoor and outdoor arenas. The improvements were made possible through a gift from Richard and Diana Nash to establish the Lucia Nash – Circle Z Ranch Equine Education Program.

The curriculum for students in the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program is completely interactive. “Nobody’s sitting and lecturing,” Leith says.

Students are presented with symptoms a sick animal would exhibit, and they work in groups to determine and recommend each stage of testing and treatment.

This type of experience helps cement learning, says Julie Funk, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Students spend their first two years in preclinical courses with this team-based learning format. In their third and final year, they’ll learn through work in veterinary practices.

“Having access to live animals at the Campus Agricultural Center with the equine education program is going to help our students be ready to learn at practice pace,” Funk says.

Funk also believes that providing early exposure to horses could help address a shortage in the field. While there is a deficit of veterinarians overall, there is a particular shortage of those who treat horses, she says. She hopes that students who haven’t had previous opportunities to work with horses may discover their calling in equine medicine.

Related story: Making Wellness a Priority in Veterinary Education

The Nash Family and Circle Z Ranch

The Nash family has owned Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona, since the 1970s. Developed in the 1920s, Circle Z is the oldest continuously operating dude ranch in Arizona, and it attracts guests from around the world.

"We made this gift to the College of Veterinary Medicine in honor of our mother, Lucia, who had a lifelong passion for horses and the people who care for them. Her legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of future veterinarians," says Richard Nash, who lives in Missoula, Montana, with his wife.

Veterinarian Simon Escalada has cared for the horses at Circle Z Ranch for more than 40 years. Lucia Nash was good to the ranch’s workers, Escalada says. And she always wanted the best for her horses.

“I really admired her. She was very gentle,” he says.

Escalada believes the gift is a fitting tribute to Nash.

“No question; she would have loved it.”


Gifts to the College of Veterinary Medicine help raise the standard for veterinary medicine across Arizona and make education more accessible to Arizona residents than ever before.


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