By Donna M. McDonald
Middleburg, Va., January 22, 2009 – Despite the cold, windy, day about 100 people turned out for Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s holiday card recognition and educational event on Saturday, January 17, 2009. Sara L. Withrow, 17, of Spotsylvania County’s Stars ‘n’ Blazes 4-H horse and pony club, was recognized for her award winning artwork. Displayed above, the design appeared on the center’s 2008 holiday card. Following the award presentation, Virginia Tech alumni and faculty shared their educational and career journeys with the audience.

Sara Withrow lives with her parents, Jennifer and Scott, and her 14-year-old brother, Kenny, in Spotsylvania County. Withrow began riding horses when she was nine years old and learned to ride on her now retired mare, a 28-year-old Hungarian Warmblood named Maggie.

Currently, Withrow rides her seven year old Morgan Thoroughbred cross, Lady. She enjoys participating in Gymkhana classes, which are “games on horseback”. An active member of the Spotsylvania County 4-H horse and pony club, Stars ‘n’ Blazes, Withrow was accepted to be a 4-H All Star this year. The Stars ‘n’ Blazes 4-H horse and pony club is part of the comprehensive youth development program of Virginia Cooperative Extension. The club’s website is

Everyone enjoyed the educational journeys of Becky Carter, postdoctoral researcher at New Bolton Center, Shea Porr,superintendent at the MARE Center and Crystal Smith, animal science agent for Warren County, Va., and how each of these inspiring women became associated with Virginia Tech, the college and the MARE Center.

The audience, comprised mostly of 4-H horse and pony club members from throughout the State of Virginia, listened with eagerness and enthusiasm as these women shared their experiences. Becky Carter, a past graduate of the MARE Center, studied the effects of equine obesity and its relation to laminitis. Carter grew up in the suburbs of Reading, Pa., and began riding lessons at the age of eight. Always a horse fan, she became involved in endurance riding and in 2001 competed in the Pan American Games where she rode a 100-mile endurance race.

Carter, who was always interested in science during her early school years, decided to pursue her educational degree at the University of Delaware where she studied biochemistry and was a member of the equestrian team. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she became a graduate student studying equine nutrition through Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Soon after Carter enrolled in the college, she came to the MARE Center to live and conduct research on the horses that live at the center. In the summer of 2008, she applied to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center as a post-doctoral researcher where she is continuing her devoted study of the horse.

Crystal Smith was born and raised on a horse farm in central Pennsylvania and she was active in 4-H and in her local horse and pony club. She showed her horses at the national level and this, combined with her 4-H experience, led her to pursue a B.S. in animal science at Penn State.

During college she was a member of Block & Bridle and Ag Advocates eventually pursuing her master’s degree. Smith often gives presentations at equine seminars and events across the state. Her on-going excitement for all that she does made Smith’s presentation exceptionally enjoyable, as was evident by the many comments from the audience. Smith is currently working as the animal science Extension agent in Northwest Virginia.

The MARE Center’s superintendent, Shea Porr, bought her first horse only after much lobbying of her parents. Her first horse was a Morgan/Thoroughbred Hunter that she rode and showed throughout high school. During college, Porr bought an Appendix Quarter Horse that she trained and showed.

She considered becoming a vet but decided against a career where she would deal constantly with sick and injured horses. Porr graduated from Texas A&M University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Then in 1993, she graduated from the University of Florida with a master’s degree in equine nutrition and physiology, and in 1996 she received her doctorate degree in equine nutrition and exercise physiology from Virginia Tech.

She began her career as a teacher, researcher, and Extension agent at Ohio State University, then spent some time as a nutritional and sales consultant for Buckeye Nutrition before accepting employment with Virginia Tech. Porr is a board member of the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, and an active member of the Equine Science Society, the Virginia Horse Council, and the Virginia State Animal Response Team.

The event ended with a wonderful catered lunch by Mill Valley, Inc. ( and with tours of the MARE Center and Lazy Lane Farm in Upperville, Va.

Virginia Tech’s Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s mission is to advance the health and well-being of the horse through graduate education for equine professionals, nutritional and pasture management research, and community educational programs. Located in Middleburg, Va., the center is one of 13 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers located across the state that serves the commonwealth’s agricultural needs.

Contact Donna McDonald at or (540) 687-3521 ext.22