Finnish Intern Enhancing Horse Nutrition at the Center for Equine Health

“I sold all of my furniture, left the lease to my apartment, and worked overtime to be able to come here to UC Davis,” explained Eira Jokela, a 27-year-old Equine Nutrition master’s degree intern from Finland, studying at the Center for Equine Health (CEH).

In a country that predominantly produces grain and cattle for beef and dairy, finding a hands on equine research center to learn from was nearly impossible. After studying for a year at the Equine College in Finland, Jokela was one of 25 students accepted into an animal science program at the University of Helsinki, in the capital of Finland.

“I originally wanted to go to Vet school, but there is only one in Finland, so I knew I needed a different step,” she said, “Since my first day in the facility of animal science, I knew it was meant for me, even though I didn’t used to be a studying type of girl.”

Jokela explained that she began her nutrition studies in 2009, and has been striving toward her master’s degree for the last seven-years.

“It has been a lot of work, and I haven’t taken a real holiday in years,” she recalled. Jokela explained that she did take one-year off of school to work full-time as a butcher in a fancy deli shop where she says her work in customer service helped her become less shy and more of a people person.

Now, only months away from graduating, Jokela earned what she calls the opportunity of her life, a two-month internship at CEH while she finishes her thesis.

“I knew I had to do an internship that lasts two months in order to graduate. I sent about 40 applications throughout the world, even to the Philippines and more,” she explained. And it was after connecting with a CEH animal research manager by email and Skype in the beginning of 2016, Jokela found herself on a fast track trip to the states, shuffling to get her student Visa in order.

“Finland is a tiny country; only five-million people total and one-million of those living in the capital city. Our university mainly works with cattle, swine, and poultry, and no equine nutrition experts,” Jokela explained, “It is much colder, with a short growing season, so they really focus engineering silage and forage for livestock.”

“I have been working on horse nutrition studies mostly by myself because the topic is so limited where I am from,” she continued, “Even though horses are important in my country, and we even have two riders in the olympic games this year, they are mostly associated with an elite  hobby. I wanted to come see and learn in a large unit, rather than independent posh stables with one or two horses.”

As an intern at CEH for the past two weeks, Jokela has been analyzing and monitoring feed, hoping to pull data from her research and experiences together. She says she has found herself adapting to many different aspects of animal nutrition in America versus her country, including hay qualities, measurements conversions, soil and water differences.

“It is so important to feed well for horses to work well. Small principles start at the basics,” she said, “Maintaining feed in the cold is a challenge, we only get about one cut from our hay during the growing season, while, all of our water comes directly from wells so we don’t even have to think about how good our water quality is there.”

Jokela hopes to cram as much hands on experience into her time at UC Davis as she can, bringing everyone together with a different outside view and ideas.

“Because we are a research facility, we are constantly analyzing the way we do things,” says Jori Vasgaard Animal Resources Manager at CEH,  “With Eira’s expertise in nutrition we have been able to modify the way we purchase and feed our herd. She has created criteria that fits the specialized needs of our diverse herd, especially with our geriatric horses.”

When asked what is next for Eira Jokela, she was excited to tell about yet another exciting opportunity before her.

“I had a Skype interview with a German feed company who is recruiting for an agent in Finland. I had my interview in my apartment room here in Davis the week I got here; I had to fix my lighting, have on a nice shirt, and really hope the internet connection work,” she laughed, “I had 45 minutes and if I lost my connection I would lose my interview time.”

“I quickly got an email saying they were impressed and moving me forward in the interview process, and just this week I was offered the position. It is my dream job, they are a nature-friendly company operating in a 600-year old mill. My position will include giving lectures two times per week, talking with feed suppliers explaining the nutrition, and working as a liaison between Germany and Sweden,” she says.

“I knew when I left Finland I would see something amazing. I am so honored to be here and humbled, says Jokela, “At the end of the day if I can have one thing impact, I will be happy.”

“Eira has been a joy to work with, she has such a positive energy,” says Vasgaard, “We are confident that she will do well and we look forward to collaborating with her in the future.”