Animals have often played an important part in higher education. OK, perhaps not that central a role. However, lots of US universities have animal mascots for their football teams or indeed the university overall and Wikipedia has a fantastically comprehensive list of them.
One of my favourites is Bucky Badger who is the mascot of University of Wisconsin-Madison.
And we have also had the recent craze for puppy rooms too which are now commonplace in universities at exam time.
But in what is perhaps one of the most surprising roles for a horse since the days of Caligula and his senator horse Incitatus it seems that Rutgers University has just lost its most famous equine superstar. Lord Nelson, for that was his name, seems to be the only horse ever to have been awarded the title of professor:
Originally a part of the Rutgers University Police Department for 10 years, he served as the first police horse at the university, eventually transitioning to the student-run mounted patrol unit at Rutgers, the only such program in the U.S. As a mounted patrol horse he patrolled for over 20 years and worked with an estimated six police officers and hundreds of students over his long and illustrious career.
Lord Nelson will also be remembered as the first, and only, horse to ever receive an official football penalty in a NCAA football game. In addition to his time with the student mounted patrol, Nelson also served as the horse that was ridden by the Scarlet Knight at Rutgers football games. During a close game against Army in 1994, Nelson broke onto the field and raced all the way down the sideline to the opposite end of Giants Stadium. Receiving a yellow flag for his “un-sportsHORSE-man like conduct,” he almost cost Rutgers the game.
Still smarting from that dreadful pun he retired in 2000 but was then brought back in an educational capacity:
The Equine Science 4 Kids portal was launched in 2010 as a fun and educational space for kids to learn about horses. A companion blog was also created where Lord Nelson would teach kids about the science of horses. Once again Lord Nelson was “working” for Rutgers as a professor emeritus, focused on educating young people.
In 2012 he made a surprise appearance at the Horse Park of NJ to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the State 4-H horse show. His duties included being an honored guest and a culinary expert for the ice cream social and bake sale. Known for his voracious appetite and love of all confectionary sweets, he fit in perfectly.
Most recently, Nelson received the “Horse Personality of the Year Award” from the New Jersey Equine Advisory Board for all his years of hard work. This award signifies a cornerstone in his life and a fitting way to remember an equine professor, mounted patrol horse and collegiate football legend.
Lord Nelson was 42. A really quite remarkable horse. Although you do have to question the award of a professorship.