William Henry Dorsey: The 85-Year-Old Horse Whisperer


In observance of Older American’s Month, The Baltimore Times will periodically publish stories about seniors who are not only aging gracefully, but are doing extraordinary things. Every May, the Administration on Aging, part of the Administration for Community Living, leads our nation’s observance of Older American’s Month. The 2018 theme “Engage at Every Age,” emphasizes that you are never too old to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It also celebrates the many ways in which older adults make a difference in our communities.

For more than 50 years, a dapper fellow by the name of William Henry Dorsey has worked with horses.

“I’m a barn manager,” said Dorsey. “Right now, I am taking care of 27 horses. For me, it’s easy because I have been doing it for so long. It’s relaxing and laid back. I feed them hay and make sure they get their shots. It’s a complete upkeep of horses.”

He added, “There’s no one to bother you, and I love being outdoors with nature. Horses really take to me. I believe it’s a God-given connection.”

However, Dorsey isn’t your average “Horse Whisperer.” Dorsey is 85-years-old. He works at Willow Wood, a full service hunter and jumper show barn located in Howard County.

“The other thing I like about horses is that you can talk to them when you can’t talk to people,” said Dorsey with a smile. And you don’t have to worry about them talking back.”

Dorsey talked about his early upbringing.

“I was born in Provident Hospital in 1933 when it was on Division Street,” said the soft-spoken Dorsey. “I went to Carver for auto mechanics, but finished my education in Howard County where I stayed with my grandfather William Powell. He loved working with horses. That’s how I got into it. He was a horse person all his life. He and grandma got married in 1886 and had 22 children.”

Dorsey traced the rich lineage of horsemen in his family back to his great-grandfather. He said the tradition continues.

“My son Charles Dorsey got into it, and so did my grandson Todd,” said Dorsey. “I also rode for a little bit. I was a fill-in jockey. I once won a race with a horse called ‘Country Side Lane.’ But I wasn’t recognized, because it was alleged that the horse had been given performance enhancers. I also won another race.”

He added, “At one time, I owned six horses, which were all given to me. I donated two of the horses to a riding school for disabled kids.”

Dorsey reflected on some of the things he has experienced over the course of his 85 years.

“I have seen a lot,” he said. “I remember I had to get permission from the National Guard to leave out of Baltimore during the riots after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Baltimore was locked down during that time.”

Dorsey said he has worked for Willow Wood for 18 years. Willow Wood provides services including riding lessons, boarding, showing and USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) rated competitions. Willow Wood is owned by Kim Williams, and has become one of Maryland’s premier show facilities.

“I work with show horses,” he said. “They are beautiful. My day starts at 5:30 am and stops when I want to end it. I am content.”

Dorsey has 15 children, 22 great-grandchildren and 47 grandchildren. He is expecting to add to his ‘herd’ in September with the arrival of another grandchild.

He shared his secret for longevity. “I attribute it to clean living,” he said. “It’s about working, enjoying what you are doing, and seeing past the negative stuff. Every day, I eat a regiment two cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons of honey.”

He added, “My legacy is to retire at 90 and do my Bucket List. I would like to lay back and relax. I will be happy to retire.”

Dorsey resides in Howard County with his wife Debbie Dorsey. “It amazes people that William still works,” said Mrs. Dorsey. “He still does a lot of manual work. I would put him up against any young person. He loves it. Anyone who lives in Howard County, who has a horse, knows him and his quality of work. He never says ‘no.’ It keeps him alive and happy. He is as strong as a horse.”