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For the Love of Horses

For Bill Thompson Jr., it all started with a horse named Cactus Wimpy.

He was Thompson’s horse as he grew up in Aurora, N.C., a farming community just off the Pamlico River in Beaufort County. Hours of boyhood fun in the saddle matured into a collection of warm memories and a love of horses that grew as the boy became a man.

That young man followed his father, William B. “Billy” Thompson Sr., a 1949 graduate, to the College of Engineering at NC State University, where he graduated in 1978 with a degree in chemical engineering before earning an MBA from the University of Virginia. A successful career followed, and Thompson’s love of horses carried into his adult life in a number of ways, including the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses. He also keeps a stable of horses on his farm in rural Wake County.

“Our horses are like part of the family,” he says.

One of those horses, named Dumbledore, is a special favorite. After a successful 10-year career as a racehorse, he’ll be living out his days on the Thompson farm.

“His job now is to educate the young yearlings on their path to racing,” Bill adds.

Four horses in green pasture

Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Dumbledore was the son of a mare named Derby Tie, who had two other foals named after “Harry Potter” characters — Ariana and Aberforth, the younger sister and brother of professor Albus Dumbledore. That touch of whimsy added a note of fun to the Thompson farm until the venerable Jockey Club, the breed registry for thoroughbred horses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, had to stop approving such names once the Harry Potter characters were trademarked.

But while the Hogwarts magic may have come to end, the magic of the family’s love affair with horses goes on, with both thoroughbred race horses and personal pleasure horses still very much an integral part of their lives.

Of course, life with horses inevitably means occasional medical concerns, just as it is with humans and other animals. As a proud NC State alumnus with full awareness of the world-class reputation of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Bill looked to the CVM when his horses needed expert care.

“We’ve seen Dr. [Rich] Redding a number of times for the removal of bone chips,” he says, “and we’ve had colic cases treated there several times — all successfully.”

As a way to show his gratitude and to support the work of the College — and as a way to pay tribute to the horses that have meant so much to the Thompsons — Bill has made a number of donations to the Gallop of Honor program. A gift to the Gallop of Honor means that a commemorative horseshoe mounted on a personalized plaque will be displayed on the Gallop of Honor wall in the CVM’s Large Animal Hospital or the Equine Health Center at Southern Pines.  Each gift helps the College set and keep pace with the newest advances in equine health.

When you love horses it’s hard to have just one favorite, so the Thompsons have honored several with a horseshoe of their own in the Gallop of Honor. Proudly displayed on one or more plaques  are Ariana, Aberforth, Lasque, Class with Luck, Dumbledore, Derby Tie and, of course, the one and only Cactus Wimpy.

Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

As an outgrowth of his relationship with the CVM, four years ago Bill became a member of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Foundation. Established in 1978 to attract funding for the College’s teaching, learning, research and extension in the field of veterinary medicine, the Foundation operates exclusively for educational and scientific purposes. Bill says that serving on the board “has given me much more insight into the College’s operations and its initiatives for the future. It’s been a great opportunity to engage with the professionals and the faculty who are at the heart of everything.”

The Thompson Family is a dedicated part of Wolfpack Nation, so in addition to the Gallop of Honor they have generously supported the College of Engineering and, in 2015, both Bill Thompson and his father Billy, and their wives Brigid and Jackie, endowed scholarships for students at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The first two were awarded during the 2016-17 academic year to students Jennifer Patterson and Jennifer Stiles. Support from people like the Thompsons is critically important as NC State pursues its ambitious $1.6 billion “Think and Do the Extraordinary” fundraising campaign — a goal that includes plans to dramatically upgrade and expand equine care facilities at the CVM.

The Gallop of Honor: Personalized horseshoes are a perfect way to recognize a beloved horse, veterinarian, or friend. For a gift of $250 or more, your horseshoe and personalized plaque will appear on the Gallop of Honor wall in the Large Animal Hospital.  With this gift, you will be helping the College set and keep pace with the advances in equine health. For more information, please visit the Gallop of Honor page. 

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine