Gayle Sommer has been named director of the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) in Middleburg, Va., according to Craig Nessler, director of Virginia Tech's Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.

"Dr. Sommer brings a wealth of equine experience and enthusiasm to this position," said Nessler, who is also associate dean of Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "She has a long, successful association with horses through her veterinary practice and as a horse breeder. Under her leadership the Middleburg Center will be of even greater service to the state's large equine industry."

She succeeds Jim Bowen, who had served as interim director since March 2004. Sommer said her goals for the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center include having it serve "as a model of excellence to the horse breeding community, as well as presenting a unique and valuable resource for the equine industry locally, nationally and even internationally."

Sommer graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor's degree in 1970 and then received a B.Sc. Honours Equivalent from the University of Guelph in 1971. She earned her D.V.M. degree in 1975 from the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She opened her own large animal ambulatory practice in Sutton West, Ontario, limiting her practice to equine only, with a special interest in reproduction. She also has operated a horse breeding farm since graduation.

Sommer completed a residency in equine reproduction in 1987 at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. The next year, she opened Sommer Laboratories Ltd., a radioimmunoassay lab for assaying progesterone and other hormones for equine practitioners, as well as continuing her equine practice. She worked in 2002 with Armstrong Brothers, a large Standardbred breeding farm, as one of two residents responsible for 285 mares and their offspring. In January 2003, Sommer returned to solo ambulatory practice, focusing mainly on equine reproduction, mare health, and dentistry.

The Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center is a 420-acre farm with research focused on equine nutrition. The late Paul Mellon donated the land and a supporting grant to Virginia Tech in 1949. The center was used mainly for beef cattle research for 40 years but, with further assistance from Mellon, it was re-dedicated to equine research in 1992. The breeding stock are all registered Thoroughbreds donated by many supporters. The center is currently home to three stallions, more than 40 broodmares and 50-60 yearlings, foals, and mature geldings. Research objectives are to develop pastures and pasture supplements that improve the reproductive efficiency of mares and that provide the most effective growth of foals and yearlings.

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