Jerry and Melinda Black: Leaving a Legacy

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Jerry and Melinda Black

Born in western Texas, Jerry grew up in eastern New Mexico on the family ranch, where he discovered his love of horses, not only as working animals but also as companions. Melinda grew up in San Diego, Calif., and was a horse lover from Day One. Although each had a different focus, their passion is the same – to secure and solidify the roles of the horse in society.

"Just as the horse carried us on cattle drives, and pulled our wagons and plows, the use of the horse for the benefit of mankind changes, but it does not diminish," says Jerry.

Jerry received his bachelor's degree in biological sciences from CSU in 1967, followed by his doctor of veterinary medicine in 1971. After graduating, he moved to Northern California, where he worked in a mixed-animal practice as an equine veterinarian and, in 1973, he co-founded Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale, Calif. He and his partner began with a small ambulatory service that evolved into a performance horse referral center, eventually employing 12 veterinarians and approximately 50 staff members.

While Jerry was busy building a practice in Northern California, Melinda was showing horses along the coastline of Southern California. "My neighbors had some horses, and I picked out a 3-month-old foal," Melinda says. "She became an AQHA champion and produced two reserve world champions. That launched me into the AQHA program, and I had a tremendous experience that has influenced my passion since."

After 10 years of traveling and showing horses, Melinda decided it was time to expand her horizons, and she got into the breeding part of the industry. She went to work for a small breeding operation in Oakdale, where she met Jerry when she became a client at his clinic. They soon became great friends and, eventually, married.

In 1995, Jerry and Melinda built a second business, Valley Oak Ranch, a breeding farm for cutting and reining horses. Valley Oak Ranch grew from three stallions, breeding 75 to 100 mares a year, to 12 stallions, breeding 300 to 400 mares a year. Melinda was largely responsible for running the breeding farm while Jerry was busy traveling due to his position as president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and his ongoing involvement with the horse industry. When Jerry decided to retire from practice and Melinda decided to retire from the breeding farm, it didn't mean retiring from horses. Jerry is now fully engaged in his second career as director of undergraduate programs in Equine Sciences at Colorado State University, while Melinda is still raising horses and competing in the cutting horse industry.

"When the director's position opened up, I saw it as a real opportunity to give back," Jerry says. "My plan is to take the Equine Sciences program to a new level. A top priority is to work in partnership with the horse and agricultural industries to make sure students have career opportunities. I want CSU to be the place they come to when they are looking for an educated person to fill a position."

In addition to career opportunities for students, a master plan is being developed to expand facilities for more classroom space and a 150-300-square-foot arena. "We also need to expand faculty to accommodate emerging areas in the equine industry," says Jerry. "CSU has tremendous potential as a center of excellence in fields such as genetics and equine sports medicine research. We also are looking at participating in the further development of the Integrated Resource Management curriculum. Because so many ranches are being purchased by folks who are not hands-on, they need educated people to manage their large operations."

Programs are also being further developed in equine-assisted activities and therapies, in partnership with CSU's Occupational Therapy program. While the program will assist both adults and children, Jerry is particularly interested in the benefits received by special needs young people. "We see the connection that young people and the horse have, and it's unbelievable. Whether it's a disability, autism, or just a kid that got on the wrong side of life, if you can introduce a horse into their lives it is amazing what a positive effect it has," says Jerry. While still in the midst of transitioning from a large ranch in California to a smaller acreage in Loveland, Colo., Jerry and Melinda felt it was easier to plan for giving part of what they will have in the future, which they accomplished in the form of a bequest, to benefit CSU's Equine Sciences Program.

"Everyone would like to give more, but when you are not in the position to give as much as you would like at the moment, you can plan for it down the road," says Jerry. "I really believe that planned giving is looking into the future; we just need more people to be thinking about it." Melinda adds, "Everyone needs to pick things that are important to them and support those things. We followed our dreams and we want to repay those dreams. This is one way we can show our appreciation for the industry and what it's given to us."

During his professional career, Jerry has received numerous awards and served on a variety of equine industry boards and committees, reflecting his commitment to the continued growth and development of equine veterinary medicine and welfare. These include the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Horse Council, the National Cutting Horse Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association. In addition, Jerry was recently honored at the Colorado State University Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Awards as the 2011 Honor Alumnus for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

"Dr. Black has long been a friend and supporter of Colorado State, the Professional Veterinary Medical Program, and the Equine Sciences Program," says Dr. Lance Perryman, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "Since his graduation, he has not only worked tirelessly as an equine veterinarian, but as an advocate for the veterinary profession, and for veterinary education. Over the years, many of our students have had internships with his equine practice in California, and he has given his considerable time and talent as an adviser to the Equine Sciences Program."