Minnesota Horse Council Announces 2016 Horse Person of the Year

Mark Ward

 Mark Ward

Mark with Katie, receiving the  Horse Person of the Year Award from Dan Dolan


On Saturday, January 21, 2017 the Minnesota Horse Council announced their 2016 Horseperson of the Year recipient. Criteria for the award includes:

  • Long term, serious commitment to equine activity in the Midwest
  • May be professional or amateur.
  • Should have contributed in many areas, i.e., Western shows, English shows, 4-H, Little Britches and High School Rodeo, trails, legislation, clinics and other equine related activities.
  • Usually the individual will have been a horse owner for many years although it certainly is not a requirement. The person could have worked “behind the lines” to great achievement.
  • A mature individual, with long-term commitment.
  • The individual should have excellent character.
  • The individual will likely be recognized by members of many horse-related groups and perhaps by the general population.


The Minnesota Horse Council takes great pride in awarding this honor to Mark Ward. Former Horseperson Of The Year recipient Dan Dolan was on hand to do the presentation and educate the crowd on a few lesser-known facts of what Mark has accomplished in his lifespan. Mark grew up in Rochester, MN where he took lessons from Jack Brainerd at Diamond B Ranch. Jack was the ‘Who’s Who’ of horses back in those days. Mark showed in English, Western and jumping classes as well as joined Jack’s rodeos when he was a teen. He rode saddle broncs, bareback broncs and even the bulls.

          Mark completed a B.A. degree from Stanford in 1973, then became a TA and instructor while working on his graduate degree and PhD at the U of MN. While writing his dissertation and teaching, Mark turned his attention to earning a living in the horse industry. In 1979, he bought a 22-acre property in Woodbury at 2700 Manning Avenue and names it Windy Ridge Ranch. He also bought his first horse Brutus that year and started teaching a fellow associate professor how to ride. In the 1980s Mark added some buildings to the property including an arena so that he could give lessons year round. Today he has 50 horses and teaches over 200 students on a regular basis.

          Mark started the Windy Ridge Riders Horse Club as a member of the Western Saddle Club Association and a social riding club. He also started the Windy Ridge Riders Drill Team, which competed at the MN State Fair from 1985 through 2014. They still compete at Washington County Fair. He also started the Windy Ridge Riders Club Junior Equestrian Team for the Kids (JETS). The JETS performed at the MN Horse EXPO through 2006 and at the MN State Fair through 2014. In addition, he started a Windy Ridge Riders Square Dance Team that also competed regularly at the MN State Fair. In addition to these activities, Mark composed and recorded original music for both the drill team and JETS. He ran the Woodbury Days Celebration. He was President of the MN Horse Expo for many years in the late ‘80’s to early ‘90s and under his guidance made the decision to move the event from the Minneapolis Convention Center to the MN State Fairgrounds. The event has now grown from two buildings to over 12 buildings and close to 50,000 attendees.

          Mark co-hosted a radio show with ‘Calamity Jeanne’ Jeanne Ahrenholz who owned the saddle shop of the same name in Long Lake in the ‘70s and ‘80’s. He also raced his stallion at the Washington County Fair and competed in many other classes at the event. Mark used to bring 28 horses and riders to the St. Paul Winter Carnival each year, winning numerous awards up through 2013. His Windy Ridge Riders parade unit has also participated in the Woodbury Days Parade, the Afton Parade and the Oakdale Parade. He ran a summer camp for the Science Museum, provided Girl Scout rides and Birthday Parties. He also gave lesson to Special Olympic riders and hosted a show for them to compete.

          In 2004, Mark’s Windy Ridge Riders were the first Drill Team to compete wearing helmets. He also pushed for the 4-H kids to wear helmets back in the 1980s. It was not adopted across the country fro nearly two decades. Mark was also the leader of the Valley Shamrocks 4-H club for over 20 years.

          More recently, Mark has served on the Board of Directors of both the MN Horse EXPO and MN Horse Council. He created the MN Horseman’s Directory, a free website where local equine business can promote and advertise. He and his wife, Katie Clapp still maintain the site on a volunteer basis. The also helped create the MN Horse Council website and assist with the maintenance of that yet today. While serving as President of the MN Horse Council, Mark spearheaded efforts to provide key input to the MN Dept. Of Revenue to create clear and fair guidelines for classifying properties which are homes to businesses involved in the keeping of horses. His goal was to have the properties classified as agricultural and the tax laws were changed to agree with the MHC position.   

Mark and his wife Katie Clapp both compete in Eventing with their horses, as do his grand children and several of the students that ride at Windy Ridge Ranch. 

          Mark Ward was joined by his wife Katie Clapp, along with several of his family and friends on Saturday night as he received the MN Horse Council’s highest honor, Horseperson Of The Year for 2016 at the MN Horse Council’s Annual Meeting.

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