Student - July 3, 2014

‘It was months before I got any feeling back in my toes’

Who? Sifra van der Vis, MSc Animal Sciences
What? Four months Master’s internship with AgResearch
Where? Palmerston North, Nieuw Zeeland

‘I always wanted to do something with horses, but my Master’s internship turned out differently. In the end, I studied how you can reduce the methane emission of dairy cattle by giving the calves special food. Not entirely my thing, but enjoyable. I fed them, mucked out cowsheds and took samples that I later analysed in the lab. I find the practical element of taking samples much more fun than office work or lab work. For example, I had to take samples from the rumen - one of the four stomachs -  which involved inserting a hose via the oesophagus. 

Alongside my internship, I went out and about every weekend, doing mostly outdoor things, such as hiking and climbing mountains. Under a full moon, I climbed Mount Ruapehu with a New Zealand army officer. As it was winter in New Zealand at the time, it was cold, especially on the mountain. From 10 degrees at sea level, we drove up the mountain and arrived at minus 20. That was a lovely contrast. Halfway up the mountain we slept in a bivouac sack in a hole in the ground. My toes froze during the night. It was months before I got any feeling back.  

The methane emission project was pretty enjoyable, but really I wanted to be doing something with horses. Through an acquaintance, I heard about the Australian equine behavioural scientist Andrew McLean. My internship in New Zealand had already been arranged, but I still got in touch with Andrew. He has developed an effective, ethical and scientific method of training horses. After my internship, I worked at his training centre as a glorified stablehand. It was 40°C and forest fires were a hazard. It was hard work, from seven a.m. until six p.m. Tough, but really fun. And I had lessons and was allowed to train horses myself, which enabled me to learn a great deal about the training system. I realized that I’d love to do a PhD in equine behaviour or training. Andrew can supervise me to some extent, so now I’m writing a PhD proposal.’