As Lili Rice Kellogg told VoyageDallas a year ago, her mother claimed that “horse” was the second word out of the baby’s mouth. Even if that might be a slight exaggeration, Lili’s love of horses led her on a journey from childhood riding and showing to a lifelong profession of bringing horses together with humans in need.
But the journey had many stops along the way before she became Equest CEO.
A definite step was her choice of education. She attended Southern Sem College, which she described as a “two-year horsey college in Virginia,” and followed it up by earning her bachelor’s degree in animal science at Colorado State University in 1975.
Landing a position in the University of Minnesota Technical College at Waseca in the horse management department allowed her to work with students and fine-tune her skills as a teacher and equestrian.
Thanks to her husband’s job bringing her to Texas, she found work as an instructor and show coach here. But that freelance life ended when the marriage failed and Lili found herself a single mom with an 18-month-old daughter.
Through some fortuitous developments, she was hired by Equest in 1987 to run the six-year-old equine therapeutic program founded by Susan Schwartz. The benefits for Lili were two way. While she was part of the program’s growing and earning respect in a relatively new therapeutic service, she was amazed at just how impactful the horses were for the clients.
One of the highlights was a visit by HRH Princess Anne in 2000 to “visit an equine-assisted services center” while in Dallas.
It was also during this time that she was presented the “prestigious PATH Intl. James Brady Professional Achievement Award that is given to a person who has made a significant contribution to the industry of equine-assisted services.”
After more than 20 years at Wylie-based Equest, she headed to McKinney to help launch ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship as a director before moving to Houston to serve as executive director for SIRE Therapeutic Horsemanship.
In the meantime, Equest was going through major changes. The program was in a transition from its Wylie location to new digs at an undeveloped acreage filled with trees and brush. Over the months and years, clients and horses carried on at Wylie while a major construction project got underway for Texas Horse Park.
It was during this time that Lili got the call in January 2015 to return to Equest as VP Operations. When the previous CEO departed in October, Lili was made interim CEO. Six months later, in March 2016, the word “interim” was removed and she’s been CEO since.
The new role found Lili shifting from “program focused to leading the organization through major changes, including the consolidation of both campuses to one,” as well as “expanding its vital counseling program, serving more veterans and creating opportunities for the largely underserved community in southeastern Dallas and spearheading the capital campaign to finish the fundraising to build a second covered arena named for the major donor Al Hill Jr.”
In addition to the return to North Texas, Lili settled on “Second Time Around Ranch (STAR), a 72-acre ranch, with her husband Bernie, 40 cows and calves, two hay fields, three horses, 40,000 bees and family dogs and cats.”
Today, Lili announced that she would be saddling up for her retirement effective Friday, March 31.
According to Lili, “Through the years Equest has come a long way with the efforts of many wonderful people. It has been a tremendous honor to walk alongside so many clients, volunteers, staff, board members, donors and horses as we developed and cultivated the organization and, most importantly, changed hundreds of lives. I am very proud of where we are now: financially strong, operating at a beautiful facility with a superb staff, and offering many different programs that serve our community. When my last day finally arrives and I drive away, I will be able to look back with immense pride on what we have accomplished together.”
With this decision, the Equest board of directors is forming a CEO search committee to find Lili’s successor.
As Board Chair Julie Sherman said, “Lili has been a huge part of Equest’s success, especially in developing a robust staff, volunteer base, and reserve funds. Her leadership has positioned Equest to financial stability, despite the COVID pandemic, and continued the organization’s growth through a well- executed strategic plan. We are forever grateful to her for leading the way to a bright future, and we are now looking for a leader that can build on the foundation that Lili has built that will take the organization to the next level.”
* Graphic provided by Equest