On the morning of September 1, 2023, William Hereford (“Bill”) Thompson passed away peacefully at the DeGreefe Hospice House in St. Louis, with his family at his bedside, following a fight with cancer. Eighty-three years old at the time of his passing, Bill leaves behind an incredible legacy as a longtime publisher of Saddle & Bridle Magazine, an industry innovator, an advocate for equine welfare, and a visionary who played a vital role in the creation of the American Saddlebred pleasure division.
Bill was born on July 12, 1940, to Walter and Adele Thompson of St. Louis. Bill always loved horses, following in the footsteps of his father, “Paw Paw,” who rescued horses of all types, including a circus Clydesdale named “Moosehead” that made him a hero of sorts in the local newspapers. Bill remembered all his horses fondly, including his first horse, “Princess,” who was soon followed by a Saddlebred named “Manna.” His first personal purchase was against his new wife’s wishes and aptly named Hadhisway. Bill’s other favorite horse was Royal Bobbie Sea, or “Irving,” who he showed and then retired to his Fieldstone Farm property.
In high school, Bill met and fell in love with Nancy Van Ronzelen, the daughter of Arthur Van Ronzelen, renowned publisher of Saddle & Bridle Magazine. Bill and Nancy were married soon after he finished school at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Bill joined Saddle & Bridle in 1963 and advanced to the role of publisher in 1965, continuing his father-in-law’s legacy in publishing. Bill and Nancy welcomed and raised two sons, Jeffrey Arthur (“Jeff”) and Christopher John (“Chris”).
Bill was at the helm during many of the magazine’s iconic firsts: the creation of the industry’s first high point system, Best Of Breed, the industry’s first color front cover and many more.
His innovation extended beyond publishing as well. He was constantly working to promote the American Saddlebred, whether that meant providing a Saddlebred horse for a Prairie Farms commercial shot on the streets of St. Louis, or trailering his horses (and sons) to local open shows to compete.
Perhaps most notably he was instrumental in the formation of the Saddlebred pleasure division, and worked alongside Irene Zane, Sally McClure Jackson and others to popularize the American Saddlebred pleasure horse. To that end, he started Saddle & Bridle’s Pleasure Equitation Medallion class in 1979, Saddle & Bridle’s Shatner Western Pleasure class with his friend William Shatner in 1986, and finally the Hunter Seat Classic with Christine Shaw in 1990.
“He was a big part of supporting the Saddlebred market of horses suited for these classes, and a champion at promoting the versatility of the American Saddlebred horse,” said Elizabeth Shatner, who also worked alongside Bill during the formation of the Hunter Classic.
It was sometimes an uphill battle, as not everyone saw the value of these divisions at the time, but Bill persevered in his beliefs. In 1979 he also played a large role in resurrecting the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show after a 25-year hiatus, serving as a founding board member of the revitalized show, which would go on to host many of Saddle & Bridle’s National Finals. Today, pleasure classes are the backbone of many shows in terms of entries, and it is a coveted honor to be named one of Saddle & Bridle’s National Champions.
In 1991, his sons Jeff and Chris bought the magazine from him, freeing him to pursue other passions. One of those was collecting classic cars, but the other was the founding of Fieldstone Farm, an equine retirement farm in Lincoln County, Mo. In typical Bill fashion, Fieldstone was one of the first public retirement farms of its type, though it has since led to many others, and it is still active after 30 years.
Bill stayed up to date on the show horse industry throughout his retirement. Even in his last months, he continued to discuss horses with his sons, pondering who would win at this year’s Kentucky State Fair and trying to think of new ways to promote the magnificent American Saddlebred. He always wanted to hold an open breed horse show, judged like a dog show, where each breed was judged against its own breed standard rather than the other entries. His love for the breed was boundless, and he still eagerly anticipated and critiqued every issue of the magazine, even while in the hospice home.
“Though the magazine has grown substantially since 1991, he still liked to point out that it took two publishers to do what he did by himself,” his son Jeff said.
Bill received several honors during his lifetime. In addition to being a member of the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show Fall of Fame, in 2012 he was awarded the coveted ASHA Lifetime Achievement award, and earlier this year he, along with his sons, was inducted into the International Saddlebred Hall of Fame in Mexico, Mo.
Bill, known as “Baba” to his family, was the loving patriarch of the Thompson family; he is survived by sons Jeffrey (Sharon) Thompson, and Christopher (Christy) Thompson, and grandchildren Jason (Lexa) Thompson, Kari Thompson and Brooks Thompson. Bill was preceded in death by his parents, Walter and Adele, sister Mary Tilman and brother John. His last words to his family were, “I love you.”
Bill’s life was saved by horses decades ago when he survived a brutal home invasion, recovered, skipped out of rehab and rushed back to the farm against doctors’ orders to his beloved retired horses. Over the years he absolutely returned the favor by continuing to save many horses through his Fieldstone Farm Foundation. His sons, Jeff and Chris, vow to maintain the foundation and to continue to save and benefit the horses that their father loved so much by funding similar rescue operations. In lieu of flowers, donations are welcome to the Fieldstone Farm Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity at 375 Jackson Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63130.