A workhorse of a resource

Instructor Leanna Grenwich demonstrates how easy it is to understand how far back a horse's teeth sit when she can hold a horse skull against Barney, her life-sized model.
Horses are BIG, and Barney, the horse that lived in Leanna Grenwich’s university office for about six months this academic year, proves it.

Barney is a full-sized, anatomically correct, fibreglass model of a black Arabian stallion, and when he wasn’t taking up all the room between her door and her desk, he was the new star of Grenwich’s Introduction to Equine Science course.

For learning about the anatomy and physiology of a horse, Barney is better than the real thing, said Grenwich, director of animal care for the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences—especially for urban students who’ve had little to no contact with horses.

“They are able to study its anatomy without the emotional distraction of an actual animal,” she said.

Weighing about 22.5 kilograms—compared with a live horse’s 450 kg—the arresting model is the most practical, cost-efficient and humane way for students to understand how a horse is put together.

Barney is so realistically cast that students can see and feel the position of his tendons and ligaments, and compare his head to a real horse skull to understand how far back its teeth extend. By ducking under and observing the girth of his abdomen, they instantly understand why X-rays aren’t possible for diagnosing problems in that region without specialized equipment. With a couple of props, Grenwich can also show them exactly where a horse’s uterus and ovaries would be, and how a horse delivers a foal.

In addition to training students in where to check for a pulse, how to examine a horse for diseases and how to bandage its limbs, Grenwich also runs them through vaccination simulations—a skill that most horse owners must apply themselves.

For students who intend to study other agricultural animals, such as cattle or swine, horse anatomy is a fine foundation, said Grenwich.

Pointing to a skeletal specimen of an equine forelimb, Grenwich noted that the scapula (shoulder blade), the humerus (forelimb) and the radius/ulna (forearm) are all comparative anatomically.

In addition to students enrolled in animal science or pre-veterinary studies, the course attracts others from campus who simply want more knowledge of horses. For acquiring basic practical skills, such as how to halter a horse or safely tie it to a fencepost, Barney is perfect.

Such a useful teaching tool is ordinarily quite expensive, with low- to medium-fidelity models costing about $3,000 and more sophisticated ones (with removable sides allowing access to internal organs) running to more than $35,000.

So Grenwich, who began teaching the one-semester course last September, cajoled the loan of Barney from Delaney Veterinary Services just outside Sherwood Park, which uses it as an outdoor advertising feature during the spring and summer. With a new coat of paint and skateboard-like wheeled platforms, Barney moved from her office into elevators and classrooms with ease.

Barney (named in homage to the faculty’s beloved Bar None fundraising dance) never failed to elicit smiles on those travels, especially after startling more than one person into thinking he’s real. That blend of simulation and real life is why he’s such a valuable addition to the faculty.

“He balances the need of horses for peace and quiet, without too much poking and prodding, and the needs of our students,” said Grenwich.