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listening to horses
Editorial By Susan O'Connor, illustration by Brittney Guest

My first love was a horse, a brown and white paint named Charlie. My parents, neither of them “horse people,” had difficulty understanding my passion. Their youngest child was an enigma in many ways I’m afraid.

I wore pointed toe cowboy boots to school every day in the third grade, which actually gave me an advantage in games like kick ball. I also collected Breyer horses and post cards with horse scenes. My great uncle, Charles Snapp, owned the Best Western motel, The Alamo Court, in Walnut Ridge during my childhood, and my family often ate at the restaurant, appropriately called The Davy Crockett. The best chocolate cream pie in this part of the country could be had at The Davy Crockett, by the way. Uncle Charles also kept the best selection of post cards I’ve ever come across, western themed, of course. I placed each one carefully in a photo album.

I was active in 4-H in Lawrence County and one year my team won a regional contest judging horse confirmation. We were all surprised and proud. We had 4-H horse shows, and I especially enjoyed the trail class, where the horses had to jump small fences and back around cones and such.

Over the years, my love of everything equestrian has not diminished. When my girls were little, we showed horses. In the last 10 years, trail riding has become a love. There is absolutely nothing better than a leisurely ride on a good horse along Buffalo River trails. Tie a blanket on the back of the saddle, pack a nice lunch and tuck a bathing suit in the saddlebag to go for a swim on a warm afternoon — life is good.

Since this is horseracing season, I have to say that I also enjoy an occasional trip to Hot Springs. I’m not much of a gambler, but the people watching, track food, spring weather, the smell of horses and the excitement of each race, all make for a very enjoyable experience.

So, usually once a year I venture to the races, hovering around the paddock to see the trainers and hands interact with the animals. Ever since I read Monty Roberts’ book, The Man Who Listens to Horses, I place bets according to Roberts’ criteria. His training methods are in sync with how I try to handle my horses.

Roberts, who spent many years compassionately training racehorses in California, said a horse shouldn’t be too agitated just prior to racing. The horse that shies away from the starting gate is not usually the horse that will win.

Because a horse that has been trained properly wants to work and wants to run – it is their nature. A well-trained horse and rider are a team. And the experience of being at one with a creature of such beauty and power is really unlike any other.