Reputation of Strength and Distinction Leads to Donations

Jesse Ventura, the colorful former governor of Minnesota and ex-professional wrestler, is the latest celebrity to donate a horse to William Woods University’s internationally renowned equestrian program.


Jester’s as Good as It Gets, a 5-year-old American Saddlebred mare, arrived at William Woods Sunday from Ventura’s ranch in Maple Grove, Minn. Ventura’s trainer, who was familiar with the WWU program, suggested the donation.


Many people are surprised to learn that all horses ridden in WWU’s equestrian program have been donated to the university. What they don’t realize is that William Woods has been receiving horse donations from people and places around the world for more than 40 years.


In fact, many of these horses were originally imported from Europe, complete with their own passport; some are past world champions and yet others have competed in shows at the international level.


The university’s riding program began in 1924 and, in 1972, William Woods became the first school in the country to offer a four-year degree in equestrian science.


Throughout the history of horse donations, numerous big-name celebrities have donated to the program for various reasons. The original Captain Kirk of Star Trek, William Shatner, took riding lessons from Gayle Lampe, professor of equestrian science, in the mid-80s when she was on a sabbatical in California.


Since then, Shatner, who also starred in the cop drama T.J. Hooker and hosted Rescue 911, has donated several American Saddlebred horses to the program. The accomplished horseman also spoke at the university’s commencement ceremony in 2001.

Lampe also met television star Patrick Duffy (Dallas, Knot’s Landing, Step-by-Step) when she was in California and he, too, has given an American Saddlebred to William Woods.


Another famous donor is former New York Yankees all-star first baseman Don Mattingly, whose wife is an equestrian. At the suggestion of their trainer, they also donated American Saddlebred horses to benefit the program.


“Mr. Las Vegas,” Wayne Newton, learned about WWU’s equestrian program while on campus to perform a Christmas concert in 1999. He later donated five Arabian horses to William Woods.


Other donors have gained interest in this unique opportunity through equestrian student participation in prominent horse shows around the country.


“We have lots of connections,” Lampe said, “and they all contribute to improving our program.”


Some celebrities find other ways to help WWU’s equestrian program. Rita Mae Brown, a best-selling author, serves as a member of the William Woods Equestrian Board of Visitors and recently donated a horse van to the university. Brown was the 2000 commencement speaker and the recipient of an honorary doctor of letters from WWU.


To donate a horse, a person must contact the William Woods equestrian studies division. Next, either Laura Ward, division chair, or one of the faculty members gathers background information on the horse, including type of training it has received. If adequate data is not found, a videotape of the horse is requested before a decision can be made.


“We have to determine if the horse is a good fit, not only for the program, but also for the needs of our students,” said Lampe.


All donated horses must be classified into one of four riding seats: dressage, hunter/jumper seat, western or saddle seat.


“We get a lot of geldings and also mares that can’t reproduce anymore,” Ward said. “They seem to work very well here.”


Currently, the William Woods equestrian program is at maximum capacity, with114 horses on campus.


“We don’t have a pasture here, so horses get their own box stalls,” Ward said. “This means we can only house as many horses as we have stalls.”

Since there is a limited amount of space available, for every new horse that enters the program, another must be released to make room in the barn. This system works well to relieve old or injured horses to well-suited, staff-approved homes and begin training the new ones.


“Although William Woods is continuously receiving new horses and therefore selling or leasing horses that it already has, some of our horses stay in the program for many years,” Ward said. “Currently one horse has been here since 1985, that is 18 years in the program, and another has been here for 13 years.”


The horse donation program benefits both the donor and the university. The donors receive a tax write-off for making a charitable donation to a non-profit organization. The university is able to continually improve its equestrian program with the addition of quality horses.


“This donation program allows the equestrian division to build on its existing reputation of strength and distinction,” Ward said. “When people decide to donate a horse here they know it will receive the very best attention and care possible.”