On one of the most beautiful farm holdings in Fermanagh, students work out with horses and develop their skills which will equip them in their future careers at home and abroad.

Enniskillen Campus of CAFRE which provides equine education provision to among the widest and highest level found anywhere in Ireland, is constantly developing courses to prepare students for jobs in the industry.

One person who has been at the forefront of this exciting development is Seamus McAlinney, Head of Campus, who has officially retired from the post he has held since August 2001.

Seamus, who grew up on a mixed farm in West Tyrone where he still lives, has led responsibility for the delivery of CAFRE’s equine education, knowledge transfer and innovation programmes in Northern Ireland over that time.

With equine education provision already established, Seamus ensured it quickly developed to provide a range of courses attracting students from not only throughout Ireland but also from abroad.

But one of the successes of the provision has been the industry links. It was felt that it was just not good enough for a student to obtain a diploma or degree and feel ready to gain employment in the equine industry. At Enniskillen Campus, students have some amazing opportunities to gain valuable experience at industry level during their years of learning.

One of the first links was through Joe Osborne, managing director of Godolphin Ireland which has its Kildangan Stud in Co. Kildare where it is home to the Irish-based Darley stallions. It is also used as a breaking and training centre for the majority of Godolphin yearlings in Ireland, and some 20 yearlings are also raised at Kildangan.

The work developed between Seamus and Joe resulted in student placements with the world-renowned breeding establishment, not only in Ireland but at their centres throughout the world including Australia’s Hunter Valley.

Student placements progressed to the offer of internships which enable students to spend a year in one of the prestigious stud centres.

Internships have also been established at Coolmore Stud in Co, Tipperary, where students can share experience in horse breeding and training in Ireland and in Australia. Another interesting internship is with Irish Field magazine, as an equine journalist.

Under Seamus’s expansion in educational provision, the first bursary was offered by Tyrone Farming Society. Now 22 bursaries are competed for each year by students, the monetary value of which supports them in their studies.

Others include; Ballylinch Stud, Bluegrass, Godolphin, Horse Racing Ireland, Showjumping Ireland, Spy Coast Farm, Coolmore, Danske Bank, Horse Sport Ireland, The Aga Khan Studs, Irish thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Tinnakill House, Derrinstown Stud, Irish Farmers’ Journal, Downpatrick Racecourse, Juddmonte, Vaughan Trust, Weatherbys, Northern Ireland Horse Board and Gerry Dilger and DAERA.

The links established between Enniskillen Campus and educational and industrial contacts in Lexington, Kentucky have proven key as students and staff from the Campus have been given first hand opportunities to look at specialties in the horse world including groundbreaking research and new ways of using horses for the benefits of human health and welfare.

Seamus said Enniskillen Campus will be at the forefront of equine health and safety as well as equine assisted therapy to help those with special needs. This is part of a new equine strategy to examine the expanding knowledge at the Campus.

The Campus will also be offering an online certificate course, in higher education equivalent to a first year of a degree course and validated by Ulster University.

While the Enniskillen Campus has historically been used for agricultural education, walking around the farm estate now will enable the visitor to see how horses are integrated into the environment there, with hacking tracks created to exploit the best scenic and landscape value. It brings the horse closer to the people and in harmony with nature.

Looking back over his tenure as Head of Campus, Seamus said he has been immensely proud of the achievements of his students and staff and the fact that 60 students leave each year to begin their new careers in the equine world. Soon the number of alumni will reach 1000 and the presence of a student trained at Enniskillen Campus will be felt in countries around the world.

Seamus also alluded to another small gesture the Campus was able to make during the onset of the Covid pandemic. With students remaining at home, Seamus and his staff responded to a request to offer accommodation to doctors and nursing staff from the South west Acute Hospital who were on long frequent shifts dealing with the large number of admissions. Rather than return home, many of these medical staff went across to the College for a rest between shifts.

“We were extremely proud we did this,” he says.

Seamus can look back to his earlier career where he acquired numerous skills which has help shape his thinking with equine education.

A graduate from Queen’s University Belfast in Agriculture, he also holds a Masters Degree in Farm Business Economics.

He began his career in the Department as an agriculture lecturer at Greenmount and later took responsibility for farm enterprise information collation and transfer.

Seamus first came to Enniskillen College in 1989 as a Dairy and Business Lecturer transferring five years later to Loughry on promotion where he looked after work-based agriculture programmes, student recruitment and adult education and continued this work at Greenmount.

One of Seamus’s specialties was in rural enterprise, posted to the DARD Advisory Service in 1995 based at Sperrin House, Omagh responsible for engaging farmers in rural development in both Fermanagh and Tyrone as well as taking part in cross-border programmes.

It was then in 2001 that Seamus was appointed Principal, later renamed Head of Campus at Enniskillen.

Enniskillen Campus is richer today for having Seamus at the reins over more than 20 years of an exciting journey in equine education which has put the student first whether they are working in their own family horse yard, with one of the renowned studs in the horse breeding industry worldwide or within the equine industry.