NACOGDOCHES, Texas –– One day after celebrating her fourth anniversary as Stephen F. Austin State University’s Equine Center supervisor, Cassandra Montesano received an unexpected phone call.
On the other end of the call was Dr. Stephanie Jones, associate professor in the Department of Agriculture and director of SFA’s Equine Center, to inform Montesano of the news –– she had been named one of eight recipients of the university’s 2023 President’s Achievement Award.
Montesano was shocked and humbled, wondering if she was the right choice for the recognition. But after hearing comments from colleagues and students during the January Board of Regents meeting, the uncertainty of receiving the award turned to joy.
“It is a wonderful feeling to be a recipient of this award,” Montesano said. “There has been a lot of hard work put into the Equine Center’s breeding program in the past four years I have been here. A lot of hardship, trials and error, and hard lessons. This position has definitely gotten me out of my comfort zone over the years.”
According to an excerpt from Montesano’s nomination form, she “manages and facilitates the Equine Center as best she can and has kept it running smoothly and profitable for several years. She has also managed her student workers with respect and understanding when it comes to work hours, academics and special circumstances. She is a joy to work with and has amazing communication skills with boarders and students even in the most sensitive situations.”
The Equine Center, or what Montesano considers her own “little island,” is located about 10 miles north of SFA’s main campus. The center is one of several within the Todd Agricultural Research Center and gives students a hands-on education on caring for horses. Students also offer horse riding lessons to the public.
Despite being physically separated from the main campus, Montesano and her work still positively impact students.
She wears many hats as supervisor, including managing the center’s student workers, assisting with horsemanship and other equine-related classes, and hauling boarding and university-owned horses to the veterinarians’ office. One of her favorite roles, however, is serving as advisor for the SFA Stock Horse Team, which she had a hand in getting reinstated.
“My biggest drive is the students and the Stock Horse Team,” Montesano said. “I love being able to be a part of their growth and finding their paths into an equine-related career. Watching members of the Stock Horse Team grow and show horses has been an amazing experience.”
It was inevitable that Montesano would follow this career path. Born in Juniper, Florida, but primarily raised in Arkansas, she always had an interest in animals. When she was 5 years old, she begged her parents for horse-riding lessons, and by the age of 9, she received her first horse for Christmas.
Following graduation from Cabot High School, Montesano attended Arkansas State University. While in college, she served as a veterinary technologist and groomer for Sam Schaffhauser Performance Horses. And with the support of her college peers, family and Nathan Wells, whom she considers her greatest mentor, she was encouraged to apply for her current position and hasn’t looked back.
Montesano said she wants to see the Equine Center continue to grow –– she said the center has gone from five full-care boarders to 22 in four years, with those ranging from full-time pasture boarding to stall boarders.
For more information about SFA’s equine science and other agricultural degree programs, visit sfasu.edu/agriculture.