Craig Huffhines, a top executive with two-plus decades of leadership experience in the equine and beef industries, is returning to his alma mater as Colorado State University’s director of Equine Sciences and Elite Bovine and Equine Genetics.

Huffhines, who starts his new role Aug. 15, will lead the Equine Sciences program in the Department of Animal Sciences and serve as the Wagonhound Land and Livestock Endowed Chair in Equine Sciences.

“We are excited to welcome Craig back to CSU to serve in this newly expanded role,” said James Pritchett, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station. “Craig is an accomplished executive who brings with him an entrepreneurial spirit and industry awareness that will help advance CSU’s equine and seedstock research and position us as a leader and trusted partner for industry.”

Huffhines replaces former director Jerry Black, who retired in 2020 after 10 years at the helm of CSU’s Equine Sciences program.

The road to Fort Collins
Huffhines grew up on a cow-calf operation in central Texas. At the age of 5, his father returned from the Fort Worth Stock Show with a sorrel-colored quarter horse filly who had just come off the racetrack. After an extensive and frustrating training period, Huffhines befriended the stubborn horse while feeding her.

“My love for animals started right there with that relationship with that horse,” he said. “My interest in beef cattle really grew, too, and those early experiences along with key influences planted a seed to want to work with animals.”

As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M University, Huffhines served on the student seedstock and livestock judging team while pursuing pre-veterinary studies. As his interests evolved, he decided to apply to graduate school at CSU, remembering the campus from a visit once during the National Western Stock Show in Denver.

Huffhines came to Fort Collins in 1990 and became University Distinguished Professor Gary Smith’s first graduate student, studying and conducting beef quality research under other renowned animal sciences faculty members such as Daryl Tatum, Tom Field, and Temple Grandin. His thesis focused on the performance and palatability of Hereford cattle, an exercise that turned into his first job at the American Hereford Association.

Return to academia
After 18 years as an executive with the second-largest U.S. beef breed association, and six as the CEO of a 250,000-member international equine breed association, Huffhines is turning his focus to academia, hoping to build on the success of leaders before him to provide answers and develop future industry leaders.

“When you’re in industry, you’re in the trenches every day dealing with complex challenges, and you need partners at the university level to help you solve them,” he said.

With his enterprising approach, he aims to position CSU as that partner — a leader in cutting-edge equine and bovine genetic research and a go-to institution for nurturing young professionals.

Building connections
The addition of a program focus on both equine and bovine genetics highlights a commitment to elevating CSU’s Equine Science program.

“Hiring Craig presents an opportunity to provide elite genetics to both the horse and beef industries, which is something we haven’t done in a long time at CSU,” said Keith Belk, head of the Department of Animal Sciences. “Craig will facilitate a stronger research program by helping hire the right scientists and facilitating grants and funding.”

To achieve these goals, Huffhines will work quickly to build his new team and fill vacant positions and strengthen relationships with CSU partners such as the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory, the Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center; and the University’s biological sciences programs. He will also work closely with CSU’s collegiate rodeo program, Legends of Ranching performance horse sale, Right Horse program, and the Temple Grandin Equine Centers in both Fort Collins and at the new CSU Spur campus in Denver.

“As we grow our equine program, Craig can help make the right hires to advance the science and elevate the program,” Belk said. “He will help facilitate greater success in all of the things that we do well now as we work to align more broadly with the horse and beef industries.”

Looking ahead
As he transitions to his new role, Huffhines is excited about the culture of CSU.

“The core values are still there – strong agrarian roots with the goals of providing answers to industry,” Huffhines said. “All of the tools are in place to maintain and advance this entrepreneurial spirit between academia and industry. When you have that, the experience you can create is second to none.”

That experience can have broad implications for both people and animals.

“My job is to provide an experience for students as we help create new thought leaders of industry and to encourage discovery,” Huffhines said. “The pursuit of discovery will socially change the well-being of the horse and the wellbeing of humanity.”