By Jeff Shearer
Even before Auburn began its Equestrian program, Dr. Jennifer Taintor could be found taking care of horses on campus.
"When I used to manage the Horse Center, Dr. Taintor came in as a freshman student out of Miami and worked for me for four years," Auburn equestrian coach Greg Williams says. "She's very entrenched. To her, that is her place."
Taintor, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences in Auburn's College of Veterinary Medicine, helps Auburn's equine athletes do their thing, so the Tigers' top-ranked human athletes can do theirs.
Taintor earned all three of her degrees -- bachelor's, master's and doctor's -- from Auburn.
"I worked under Greg Williams for several years and learned quite a bit," Taintor says. "When I left and came back, the equestrian team had been started."
"Her passion of caring about our program is unparalleled," Williams says. "That part is amazing."
"To me, it's rewarding in that sense that they gave me so much, so now I can give back," Taintor says. "And this is a way I can provide support to the team, to give back everything that was given to me."
Taintor started working with the team in the '05-'06 season, the year the Tigers won their first of three national championships.
She helps oversee the 50 horses Auburn uses for training and competition.
"We provide support in trying to keep those horses as sound as possible," she says. "So they can do their job."
Nicks and scrapes from practice. Vaccinations. Nutrition. Dental care. Taintor's team does it all.
"She will do anything from the high-end work with the horses to running a score during a meet," Williams says. "She's a workaholic. She's always busy. There's no task for her that's too scary to tackle, or too little to be beneath her. She's just amazing."
Almost all of Auburn's horses are donated.
"I always say that our program in collegiate riding is sort of the rescue system for retired show horses," Williams says. "They're a lot of times, just some old guys. They had to be retired because they had an injury. It's so crucial to have a lot of constant, on-site care, just to make sure that they stay healthy and game ready."
Picture an aging basketball star who still loves the game but can no longer compete in the NBA.
"A lot of our guys are older," Taintor says. "They come to us. They've kind of gone through the circuit, and they're still good athletes, they just can't compete at that same high level. And so they get to drop a little bit."
That could mean practicing three times a week instead of daily, or scaling lower jumps than before.
"The horses enjoy it," she says. "To still be able to do what they want to do. But it's not the same intensity."
Having the College of Veterinary Medicine right across the street from the Horse Center provides what Taintor calls "an incredible teaching environment" for Auburn students.
"It's a chance for senior students to have that exposure to the sport horse industry," she says. "With the idea that, over there, the senior students get to do everything."
"Sports medicine for horses is a huge growing field," Williams says. "I like to feel like we're an amazing resource for the College of Veterinary Medicine, that they can come over and work on those horses and have them in an actual sports setting.
"They're evaluating them like that. They know that it's important to get them back in the arena," he says. "And they can see their results right there. It's definitely a win-win for both of us, and it's such a win for the horses."
The collaboration between student-athletes and educators makes a profound impression on future equestrian team members.
"It's a feeling that our recruits get to see," Williams says. "When you get to see the College of Agriculture, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Athletics. How they work hand in hand. Literally, they just can't get over how true the Auburn Family really is."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer