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Two WVU horses' retirement home and care ensured

Photo of woman on horse

The horses of the equine program at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design are undeniably loveable. One student of the equine program loved a teaching horse so much that she planned to take him in once he retired. A decade later, that day finally came.  

“I worked as a student there, and I would joke with Crystal that when she retires Dickie, he’s coming to me,” said Melissa Saffelle, an equine program alumna. “On a bright sunshiny day, we’d have a great ride and I’d tell him, ‘One day, buddy, you’re going to be mine.’” 

Dickie, a 23-year-old quarter horse gelding with an endearingly grumpy disposition, had been working in the program since 2011 alongside Cash, a 26-year-old gelding.  

“Cash and Dickie know exactly what to do when asked, so when students learned to ask correctly, they earned a perfect response from those perfect horses,” Crystal Smith, teaching professor in the equine program, said. 

They were part of a hands-on lab-based course from Monday to Thursday. More than 125 students a year work with and learn from the horses. The horses help to teach students about routine veterinary care and train the students in a handling and training lab. They also give students the opportunity to learn about different personalities and body styles. They were well-trained ex show horses so students in the riding classes benefitted from their experience. The horses did have the weekends off to get some much-deserved downtime. 

“I always told her that I would buy a place. I would make it work. When I met my husband, I told him that I come with a horse. If we ever get the phone call that it’s happening, then it’s happening.” 

It happened just like that in September of 2021. 

Smith called Saffelle and told her that the time had come. Though Dickie was still in good health, he was getting older and needed the workload that comes with being a WVU school horse to lessen. 

Photo of woman and man riding horses

“I said, ‘Done.’ She asked if I needed to call my husband, and I said no. He signed up for it and we already have the space for Dickie on our property. Then she said, ‘Well, I have another ask.’” 

Dickie would come with a friend.  

“If it were just me making the decision, I would have told her ‘Heck yeah!’ right then. I told her I’d call her back after making sure it was ok with my husband, too.” 

Moments later she called Smith back.  

“My husband had never even met Dickie. When I called and told him, he was so excited. When I told him Dickie came with a friend, he just said, ‘Done.’” 

Dickie and Cash were transported to the Saffelles’ home in Virginia after their last Halloween with the Horses in October 2021. 

“People probably think we’re crazy, but it has been an absolute joy to take in these two retired horses. Their personalities are the exact same as when I was at WVU. I thought they’d come down here in retirement and be calm and cool and collected, but no. They are still the same spicy and saucy horses as before. I am just truly thankful every day that our home is their home forever.” 

Cash and Dickie are well loved and well taken care of. Though they don’t teach hundreds of students a year, they do still teach.  

“They are teaching my daughters how to ride! I have a three-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old (step) daughter. We do some light riding and the girls love hanging out with them.”. Melissa Saffelle
    Photo of small child petting horse

Since their departure for greener pastures, two younger teaching horses have been purchased with the support of the animal and nutritional sciences program and generous donations to the Roberta & William Gellner Equine Endowment. Charlotte, a draft cross mare, and Louie, a quarter horse gelding, have both been wonderful additions to the program.  

Next to retire will be Fat Boy, a 27-year-old sorrel gelding, who is just now starting to slow down. 

Those interested in helping with upcoming retirements of teaching horses should contact Smith.  

The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design envisions a world sustainably fed, clothed and sheltered. To learn more about the Davis College, visit Keep up with the latest updates and news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by following @WVUDavis. 



CONTACT: Leah Smith
Communications Specialist
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 

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