Induction into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame is the highest honor the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) can bestow. MU College of Veterinary Medicine alumnus Tom Lenz received that honor March 4, 2018, during the AQHA Convention in Jacksonville, Florida.
Lenz, DVM ’75, MS, DACT, dreamed of becoming a veterinarian as a boy. He achieved that dream and much more. During his 30-year veterinary career, Lenz has worked in private equine practice, academia, and corporate business. He has spent his career speaking out for equine welfare and has earned national recognition for his work in that arena.
“What’s best for the horse is best for the owner, is best for the trainer, is best for the breed, and is best for the industry,” Lenz said.
Lenz’s association with the CVM and Mizzou did not end with his DVM. He received the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995 and MU’s Alumni Award in 1997.
“Anything I have accomplished in my career has its roots at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine,” Lenz says. “As a small boy, growing up in mid-Missouri just 25 miles from the campus, I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. I viewed our hometown vet as a hero to our small, rural community, and I wanted to follow in those important footsteps.”
He has been an AQHA honorary vice president since 2009. He currently serves on the nominations and credentials committee and the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission. Lenz has been writing the monthly Horse Health column in The American Quarter Horse Journal since 1992.
Lenz, of Louisburg, Kansas, was the 49th president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and received the association’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. For his work in equine welfare, he received the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Award in 2010.
He has chaired the AAEP’s Welfare Committee, served on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Welfare Committee, and currently serves on the welfare committees of the American Horse Council, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association.
“I was taught to believe the purpose of life was to matter, to be productive, and to have made some difference, that you have lived,” Lenz says. “I hope that in some small way, I’ve made a positive difference in the lives of our horses and how we care for them.”
A Brief History of the Quarter Horse
The American quarter horse has its roots in the colonial era. Horses imported from England were bred with native horses of Spanish origin used by the earliest colonists. By the late 1600s, these horses were racing on short tracks in Virginia and Rhode Island. By the early 1800s, thoroughbreds, which ran better over longer distances, had overshadowed quarter horses in the East.
During America’s westward expansion in the 1800s quarter horses found favor throughout the West and Southwest as colonial quarter horses were bred with American mustangs, descended from the Spanish horses of early settlers with a thoroughbred bloodline. Those offspring had inherent agility, quickness, a good-natured disposition and a natural instinct for working with cattle. These horses quickly became the backbone of ranches throughout the West.
Cowboys relied on this American breed. The horses would work in the week and the cowboys would compete in horse racing on the weekends; a competition that eventually became known as the rodeo. The breed’s speed over short distances ― races of a quarter mile or less ― earned the horses their name and reputation. Some quarter horses have been clocked at 55 miles per hour.
Although revered by horsemen of the West, little attempt was made to develop a distinct breed. On March 14, 1940, however, a group of influential ranchers met for dinner to discuss how to save the definitive stock horses that cattlemen like themselves preferred. They formed the American Quarter Horse Association that night. Today, it is the largest breed registry in the world, with nearly 3 million registered horses.