By Kristina Houck
While longtime horseman Francisco “Pancho” Lopez was never able to complete veterinary school, a new scholarship established in his name will help some UC Davis veterinary students realize their dreams.
“It feels great,” said Lopez, a Rancho Santa Fe horseman who has been in the business for a half century. “It is such an honor.”
Philanthropist Bob Haas, former chairman of Levi Strauss & Co., recently established an endowment to provide four years of support for a Hispanic student entering veterinary school. Haas started the Francisco “Pancho” Lopez Scholarship in honor of his friend.
“This scholarship is an expression of love, respect, affection, and of hope,” said Haas in a press release. “Originally it was a birthday gift for my beloved wife, Colleen, who enriches my life in so many ways. It’s also a measure of respect for Pancho Lopez, with whom we’ve been associated for many years and for whom we have deep affection. And finally, it’s a measure of hope that talented young deserving students get opportunities to become veterinarians and help animals in the ways that Pancho has done throughout his distinguished career.”
Born in Mexico, Lopez came to San Diego when he was 16 years old.
On his first day in the U.S., he walked a couple of racehorses at the Del Mar racetrack, where some of his family members worked.
“I just liked working with the animals so much,” said Lopez, now 67. That experience, he noted, sparked his passion for working with horses.
In his 20s, Lopez learned the basics at a veterinary school in Simi Valley. Although he attended the school for about six months, his family commitments ultimately kept him from pursuing a career as a veterinarian. Instead, his passion for horses and skills led him to manage some of the top barns in the country and care for dozens of horses at the Olympic Games, World Cup Finals and World Championships.
Since 1996, Lopez has worked at Willowbrook Farms, a private Rancho Santa Fe estate previously owned by the Haas family. He has also spent many years working with Elise Haas, daughter of Bob and Colleen Haas, and her horses in various competitions.
“I don’t feel disappointed at all that I’m not a veterinarian,” said Lopez as he reflected on his long career, noting he is proudest of the riders and trainers he’s helped through the years. “I just feel great that students are getting that opportunity now.”
Jose Guerrero Cota received the first Francisco “Pancho” Lopez Scholarship in August during the annual UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine ceremony. Both the Haas and Lopez families were there to congratulate the first of what Lopez said would be many scholarship recipients.
“I’m very, very happy I was able to be there,” Lopez said. “And there’s more to come, thanks to the Haas family.”
For more about the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, visit www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu.