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Credit: Julio Sosa

Lucy and Seth Holcombe put in their will that once they died, they wanted part of their savings to go towards establishing an equine professorship in honor of Harry Werner, a 1974 School of Veterinary Medicine graduate. Werner currently runs an independent equine veterinary practice, and was a close friend who cared for their horses.

When Lucy Holcombe died in January 2016, the family lawyer gifted the Vet School with a 5 million dollar donation. This gift will establish a professorship focusing solely on the health and welfare of horses, with the goal of improving overall quality of life.

Dean of the Vet School Joan Hendricks said she was “thrilled” about this new addition to the school. Hendricks said this program is a significant step toward building human empathy for animals, and noted that this gift will not only help horses in-need, but educate owners as well.

“[Horses] end up in the hands of people who love them, but may not know a lot about them,” Hendricks said. “It’s hard to take care of a cat or a dog, but it’s much, much harder to take care of a thousand to fifteen-hundred-pound animal.”

Hendricks added that the donation exceeded the amount needed to establish a professorship by $2 million. The additional money will be used to fund programs decided upon by the professor chosen for the position.

Margaret Leardi, director of development at the New Bolton Center, said the Vet School will conduct an international search for candidates to fill this professorship. Leardi said they will most likely decide on a professor at the end of 2017.

“We’re hoping to attract somebody who is already an expert in the field of equine welfare that would be able to come with their own ideas,” Leardi said. “To be able to start locally and then think globally is really important.”

Although Vet School freshman Katherine Murphy is not personally interested in the field of equine medicine, she acknowledged the donation is a great opportunity for further research. 

“I think it brings great minds together, or likely will,” Murphy said. “It also gives the students here at Penn Vet an opportunity to get involved.”

Both Hendricks and Leardi affirmed that the donation is a huge honor for Werner. He was unavailable to comment on the story, but Hendricks said that he has played a large role in ensuring the Holcombe’s wishes have been met.

“There is an emerging area of society supporting the medical care of animals,” Hendricks said.