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Campaigning in the Carolinas

by Ann Bullard

The Carolinas’ splash may not be quite as big as Kentucky’s, but from Linda Shelhart’s Canterbury Stables on the Atlantic coast through the high plains country, Saddlebreds more than hold their own. Numerous world’s champions have come from such barns as Heather Boody’s Ingleside Farm, Lewis Eckard’s Drowning Creek, Cash Lovell Stables, the many generations of Shiflets, Steve Allred’s Heritage Farm, Johnny Lucas and Sons and Liz McBride-Jones’s Forever Farm. This month, Horse World is highlighting three programs: Nancy, Betsy and Paul Boone’s Boone’s Farm, John Whalen’s Chestnut Lane and Peter and Kim Cowart’s West Wind Stables. Each has an interesting story. Each brings something a little different to the Carolinas’ horse industry.

Boone’s Farm is very much a family operation, started by Paul and his parents in the early 1980s. They focus on amateurs and junior exhibitors, with an extensive academy program bringing new riders into the sport.

Betsy Young and Paul Boone grew up around Carolina one-night horse shows. Each suffered many a hard-knock in those early days. They have proven that faith, determination, loyalty and hard work coupled with talent enable one to overcome even the most difficult of challenges.

"I grew up in Charlotte, about 22 miles from where we now live," Betsy recalled. "My uncle, who had American Saddlebreds and Tennessee Walking Horses, would get up early every Sunday morning and ride through our front yard. I remember getting out of my high chair and yelling to get on a horse."

Betsy’s grandfather used ponies to plow his fields and pull a wagon. "I figured out how to jimmy the lock on the feed room door and sneak their little bridles out. I spent more time catching them than getting to ride," she said, explaining her first rides were with a blinder bridle. In time, her parents bought her a pony that she rode until she outgrew it. Another followed.

Betsy began riding saddle seat "with a guy who had Hackney saddle-type ponies when I was young. I showed saddle seat and rode the same pony in everything. I had ridiculous-looking pajama tops that I thought looked like silks for the road pony under saddle class. My parade outfits looked more like another pair of pajamas with fringe on them."

The shows were "really local; baseball fields with rope around them," she said. "A gentlemen who went to our church and his dad were Saddlebred trainers. I started going there; they taught me a lot through my teenage years."

It was during those teenage years at the local horse shows that Betsy first saw 12-year-old Paul Boone. He recalls thinking the 17-year-old was a "pretty girl, but I was too young," he said.

Like Betsy, Paul grew up around horses. "I had a barrel and roping horse and did the cowboy thing. And we had some walking pleasure horses. When I went to my first open show and saw my first Saddle Horse, I said I had to have one of those. I pretty much set out to get one right away."

He bought a half-Saddlebred, half-Standardbred and "showed every way you could show. I’d tie him to the side of the trailer and show 11 times. We went in speed racking, style racking – everything. He’d win the high point every time," Paul recalled.

Paul says the horse was pretty straight-necked. "I was 11 or 12 when Dub Fink (an old-time Carolina Saddle Horse man) asked me how I ‘set that straight-necked horse’s head.’ I told him and we had a friendship from then on. He helped me find my first unbroken colt, taught me how to gait him and everything."

The Boones’ involvement in the Silver Spur Four-H Program, the largest program in the county with about 65 members, opened many doors. Nancy Boone recalled Art Viles (of Flying V Farm, Lincolnton, N.C.) donating Saddlebreds to some club members.

"We’ve always done this together," Nancy Boone said. "Paul trained his own horses and showed in high school. He turned professional in 1981. We started with 14 stalls and before long added 10, then three and five more. We’re up to about 38 stalls today."

During the months between high school graduation and his parents’ completion of the barn, Paul worked briefly for Bill Becker and Larry Barbee. When the barn was ready, so was he.

Once the professional barn was in full swing, the Boones dissolved the Silver Spur Four-H Club. However, the door remained open for the youngsters to work on some of their skills at Boone’s Farm. It was the county’s Four-H program that brought an eight-year-old petite blond to the farm for a two-week horse grooming and riding class.

Leslie Ann Cannon became the first of the Bill and Ann Cannon family to ride with the Boones, beginning academy lessons in the fall. Her mother followed. In 1991, younger brother Will picked up the sport. Twenty years later, the Cannons remain an important part of the Boone’s farm family.

"I remember Bill coming over and looking at the first horse we sold them. He said, ‘I don’t mind paying all this money for this horse if you think you’re going to use him. It was $6,500," Paul said. "Eighteen years later, that [amount] was nothing."

Ann Cannon thoroughly enjoyed showing New York Talent in five-gaited pleasure throughout the Carolinas in the early 1990s. From that time, through the retirement of three-time Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited World’s Champion of Champions CH Moonchance to the present, the Cannons and Boones have maintained a close relationship.

"We didn’t just get a horse trainer but a new family as well as a new hobby when we began to show horses," Bill Cannon said. "I remember their wedding on a cold and windy November day. Doing those kind of special things together are just as important as the show ring memories.

"Paul has a great sense of humor and is a wonderful fisherman," Cannon continued. "He’s one of those that goes with you and catches 20 while you catch one at the same spot."

Cannon recalls the price he paid for New York Talent as $6,000, rather than $6,500. "We raise cattle; an exceptionally-nice steer costs $500. I said I’ll do this, but I expect them to use it."

Little did he know. That first horse now lives alongside CH Moonchance on the Cannon’s farm, from which they operate their select breeding program. The Cannons have own three ‘embryo foals’ from CH Mountainview’s Starlike Reviews, Will Cannon’s first junior exhibitor five-gaited world’s champion of champions. Startalyst, the first of these, Ann Cannon shows. World’s Champion CH Devoted To The Cause has a yearling filly in the field.

"This is a whole new wrinkle for us," Cannon said. "Paul has been absolutely vital in what we’ve done and how we’ve done it."

Boone spoke of the group who is as much his family as clients. "We’ve shined and we’ve not, but we’ve had fun all the way around. We’ve had our share of prizes and not had them."

While Paul was getting his business established, Betsy began learning her profession, working with Bill Becker, Steve Helms and Lewis Eckard. When the hour and a half drive to Eckard’s became too taxing, "I came back to Charlotte and worked for Porter’s Riding Club. They had a ‘lesson mill,’ with more than 30 lesson horses and ponies."

Betsy got to the point where she "wanted to try to get a regular job. I worked in downtown Charlotte. My horse was close enough that I could take a long lunch hour, work it and get back."

Paul says he and Betsy had known each other for 20 years before they became involved.

"I was on the board of the Lytta Plantation Equestrian Center in Charlotte and thought we needed a Saddlebred show," she recalled. "Our church was looking for a fundraiser for a Habitat for Humanity house they were building. The show sounded like a good idea. I knew Nancy Boone had put on a number of them and called her."

Boone pitched in. The phone lines between her farm and Betsy’s home stayed busy. Not unexpectedly, Betsy and Paul talked on many occasions. After the first successful Charlotte show that June, Paul asked her out.

"We had our first real date just after Louisville," she said. "I remember thinking ‘this is scary.’ I was real quiet. By the time we got five miles out of town, I knew I would end up marrying him."

Life took a frightening turn the following January. Paul was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Within days, Dr. Margaret McNeese had arranged his treatment at M.D. Anderson Medical Center in Houston, Texas. He and Betsy had only been dating two months.

"Betsy came down [to Houston] as often as she could," Paul said. "Wanda Vickers, who had worked for me for 12 or 13 years, long-lined and took care of the horses. She took Monday and Tuesday off for her weekend while I’d come back and work horses Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"At the time I said I wouldn’t do that, but they had this country boy trapped down there in all that concrete," Paul said with a laugh. "I didn’t know how much we would get to show. Everyone went to all the shows because we didn’t know when we could go again. We made 21 of 22 shows, missing only one because of the cancer."

On Nov. 11, 1994, Paul finished his treatments in Houston. The following year, he and Betsy married.

"I was never one to sit in the stands and watch at a horse show and I was pretty cheap help," Betsy said. "We decided it was time for me to get a lesson program going back up there. The only hard part was having to give up my amateur status, not getting to show country pleasure."

Things have gone uphill from there. First, and most important, Paul celebrated his 13th cancer-free year. Early clients such as Wendy and Morrie Irvin, David and Sherry Isenhower and the Camp family shared in the farm’s successes. Michael Gordon and Westgate Villain began racing into winner’s circles in 1999. The pair have been consistent winners on the Carolina circuit and earned top ribbons in Amateur Roadster to Bike classes at Louisville. Ali Deutch had been paired with such horses as CH Hank Heiron before stepping up on Leatherwood’s Hats Off.

Dr. Wendy Troyer has been with the Boones "at least 10 years. They want the horse and rider to be the best they can be. Both take the horse part seriously but definitely want it to be fun. It’s a great barn to be with; everyone cheers for each other, even when they’re in the same class. The personality of our team is whatever the coach’s personality is: hard working [and fun.]"

Troyer showed Zara Spook "forever. I had a blast though I never figured her out completely."

Paul began looking for Troyer’s new horse at Louisville in 2005. CH (SA) Carlswald Prince's Dominoe with Lionel Ferreira caught his eye. At Asheville the following spring, Melinda Moore had the gelding to show.

"I was telling Wendy about the horse. We sat up there and watched him," Paul recalled. "We agreed we loved his open motion; Wendy said, ‘Let’s go try to buy him.’

"At first, it didn’t look as if it was going to shake out," Paul continued. "We walked away three times and finally decided to buy him."

They took the gelding to the Carolina Classic in June; Paul won the five-horse open qualifier, Wendy was up for the championship win. In August, she rode him to a Ladies Five-Gaited Reserve Champion Of Champions title after a third-place tie in the qualifier. Last year, they tied reserve in Louisville’s amateur stallion and gelding and amateur championship. This year, they’re back in the hunt for new titles.

Kathy Lyda Berger brought Casey O’Grady and her son, Ross, to the Boones after Jimmy Orphanos left the Carolinas. "He got the horse put together with Ross," Berger said. "They ended up third in their junior exhibitor five-gaited cut at Louisville."

In 2002, Berger and her mother, Alice Lyda, purchased Prairie Dancer, a horse Berger, Ross and Boone shared. Both Ross and his mother showed The Great Gazoo, with Ross tying third in his age group and back in the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Championship in 2003, less than 60 days after Boone teamed them together.

"Once the kids went off to school, we began looking for something for Kathy," Paul said. "We looked for the biggest part of the year. Kathy is a stickler for one coming off its hocks"

Berger calls herself the Boones’ "biggest fan. Paul is such a wizard with a gaited horse. I felt like this was the place for them to be. Integrity is the Boone’s middle name. They’ve been wonderful. When we lost the big horse (Prairie Dancer,) they wept along with us. And they’re so considerate of their customers."

"I think Paul is one of the most underrated trainers in the country. He’s so sharp and they’re both so open with their feelings. They are the consummate couple," Berger added.

Boone’s Farm remains a family operation. Paul does the training, assisted by Cydney Cutchall. Betsy runs the academy program, entries, horse records and helps with training horses when needed. Nancy Boone handles payroll, bookkeeping and, as Betsy put it, "mans the checkbook."

However they divide the responsibility, it works. Boone riders are at or near the top of their classes at every show in which they compete. And Paul and Betsy find time to promote the Saddlebred whenever possible. Most recently, they brought horses to the Carolina Jumper Classic.

As important as their business is, the Boones know what takes priority. "We have a lot of people with long-term relationships," Betsy said. "We have a sign in barn: this is a gossip-free stable. From people who come for lessons to our long-time customers, none of this ‘us against them’ crap is tolerated. We try to set the tone. All our people are so supportive of each other.

"Paul’s illness gives us a lot different perspective," she continued. "When people pitch a fit at the show, they need to remember this is just a game. They don’t know what real problems are."

John Whalen’s Chestnut Lane and Carolina Riding Academy are comparative newcomers to the North Carolina scene. Not that Whalen himself is new. He began his Saddlebred career with Jan Lukens when she was at Misty Hills. In partnership with Jimmy Orphanos, he trained numerous world’s champion combinations in the early and mid-1990s. Today, he heads a booming academy as well as training program in Monroe, suburban Charlotte, N.C.

"My goal is to get new people started in the business," Whalen said, explaining how he sees his role in the Carolina Saddle Horse world. "Every one of our customers has come through our academy program."

A Lenox, Mass., native, not surprisingly Whalen started off with hunters. When he went to a Kiwanis Club all-breed show, "this big gray and white van pulled in. Off came these horses: it was Misty Hills. I was completely overwhelmed and decided that’s what I wanted to do."

His parents bought into their only child’s dream. Lessons at Misty Hills followed. Whalen learned his personal equitation skills as well as developing his teaching abilities with Lukens, a second generation and NHS Champion equitation rider and teacher.

"I rode with Jan for 10 years. That’s where the whole equitation thing happened," Whalen said, explaining he was "fairly successful – undefeated one year except at the Finals."

After graduating from a small Kentucky college, Whalen decided he wanted to ‘do horses’ and worked for Lukens for "about a year. She about killed me. She was quite amazing; we’d take 24 horses with two people to a show, starting at 6 a.m. and having dinner at 11 p.m."

He took "a sabbatical and lived in the city [New York] for three years, working for a company that made 27-minute documentary films. I got to live in England for nine months," he recalled. "Then the horse craziness bit again. I went back to Massachusetts and started to do hunters."

The hunter-jumper business brought Whalen to Middleburgh, Va., where he worked with Jimmy Piehler and Scott Williamson. Frankie Trull, against whom Whalen had shown in Massachusetts, had moved to Middleburgh. She put a hunter with Piehler.

"Frankie was Jimmy Orphanos’s friend," Whalen recalled. "Occasionally we’d drive up to Rinehold, Penn., to visit for a weekend. I bought her a horse and sent it to Jimmy. We’d go up to watch it on my day off."

After Piehler died, Orphanos offered Whalen a job. He stayed in Pennsylvania for 10 to 12 years, until the two elected to move to Monroe, N.C.

Marilyn and Harry Swimmer first met Whalen and Orphanos when they began looking for land on which to build their barn. The Swimmers, long-time Saddle Horse exhibitors and founders of the Misty Meadows Mitey Riders handicapped riding program, remain Whalen’s friends and clients.

"Jimmy wanted to move from up north," Marilyn Swimmer said. "He was tired of the winters. They and Karen Waldron (of Bent Tree Farm in Shawsville, Va.,) were friends. She told them to call us."

For years, Marilyn Swimmer took lessons from Whalen while her show horses were with Kim and Fran Crumpler in Kentucky. When she no longer could travel on that circuit, the Crumplers suggested she bring her pony to Whalen.

"John was known for being an equitation person and the lesson person with Jimmy. When Jimmy left, he became the trainer," Swimmer said.

Amy Roberts was a ‘lesson person’ when Orphanos decided to dissolve his and Whalen’s partnership. She had found the barn "by accident, in the year 2000.

"I was looking for something for my very-intellectual eight-year-old child. I’d tried all the girlie things: ballet, gymnastics, ice-skating. We tried soccer, golf and tennis. She wasn’t excited about any of those. I happened to see a flyer for year-round riding with private lessons. I’d had a little exposure to horses and decided to look into this for Jennifer. John gave me directions to the farm 21 miles from my home. I remember wondering what was I thinking, I’d never keep this up as I was driving out there."

Roberts took a lesson, came home and told her husband, Dr. Bill Roberts, she had found something she wanted Jennifer to try. "He said OK, but he didn’t want her jumping," she recalled. "I told him they rode English, but I didn’t see any jumps."

That was in January when Roberts was hooked. Missing lessons while Whalen was at horse shows left her wondering what that was all about. She decided to go the Blue Ridge Classic to learn.

"I felt so stupid. All I knew was what John was teaching [equitation.] At the show I’d run up to the barn when he was in the middle of doing other things asking about such things as why a certain horse won when the rider couldn’t stay in the saddle," she said, smiling at the memory. "John got a break, sat with me and explained what every class was about, what judges were looking for. I was blown away by the breed."

She began showing academy at the Clemson Fall Classic. The following January she saw a piece of property in the area of the stables listed for sale.

"I told my realtor friend I wasn’t interested but just wanted to see something about the property. When I printed out listings, I saw 10 acres on Clarence Seacrist Road, with a 28-stall barn and indoor arena. I thought, ‘That’s our place! Oh my gosh, is it for sale!’

"When John told me Jimmy wanted to get out, I wondered what we were going to do," she added. "I’d fallen in love with the whole thing. He told me not to worry, if a hunter person bought the property he would find a place where we all could stay together. I told my husband, and he decided to buy it."

There have been no regrets. Both Jennifer and Amy Roberts are enjoying their time riding and showing with Whalen. Amy pointed out what she considers her trainer’s strongest attribute.

"The most perfect thing you can say about John is that he will never over-mount any rider. Safety is his priority," she said. "Some might say he’s not a great businessman, but as he says, ‘I want people to be safe and have fun. I don’t want them ever to be scared.’"

Roberts says he looks for a "visual set. He’s meticulous about horse and rider turnout; he’s made us clothes snobs. We know what an appropriately-dressed saddle seat rider should look like as well as how the horse should look. With John, it’s the little things. It’s very obvious when someone’s hat is not steamed correctly; when their clothes aren’t tailored well."

Improvement over the previous ride means as much to Whalen than the color of a client’s ribbon. Not that he doesn’t want them to win; he simply is more about self-esteem, confidence and commitment.

"John wants to develop one’s love of riding from here on out – to have a passion for the sport without being afraid of it. It’s never about buying and selling a horse for commission, but finding the perfect horse for a rider. He takes his time. He is very patient, never forcing a horse into doing anything. He approaches it as making the animal happy in its job."

Making people happy and riders better at their ‘jobs’ is what makes John Whalen tick. Many Saddle Horse trainers offer riding camps. The one Whalen holds gives national-level riders (and an occasional very amateur adult) the opportunity to learn, to make new friends and improve their skills.

"Those camps have taken on a life of their own," Whalen said. "We do three or four a year in January and early February. Last year, riders came from 16 states. Morgan Wolin has come nine years, Carol [Hillenbrand] comes every year. Nancy Leigh Fisher, Sally Jackson, Cheryl [Innis,] Judy Cox, Lisa Schlesinger and Betsy Thomas all have participated."

Today, Whalen is working 16 horses. Nicki Inmonen, who succeeded Erica Savary as assistant trainer and instructor, teaches 50 to 60 lessons a week.

"Nicki had a small business in Massachusetts as a professional," Whalen said, introducing his assistant to the horse world at large. "When she came here from Massachusetts, she brought her daughter over for a lesson. She had learned from her mother."

He was so impressed with the youngster's skills, he offered her mother a job. Not only does she teach, but she showed Lisa Austin’s CF Not Tonight Chief to a Park Pleasure qualifying blue and the Park Pleasure Championship at ASAC this spring.

As busy as he is, Whalen does take some personal time. "I love the theater and ballet. Marilyn [Swimmer] gets me to go there as often as she can. I like to keep up with old friends, and try to spend some of my vacation time at Carol [Hillenbrand’s] in Naples, Fla., and head over to the East Coast to see other friends at Wellington."

Taking care of his four-legged charges’ needs is of prime importance to Whalen. Taking care of his clients, the students in the academy program and their parents comes next.

Roberts calls Whalen "an encourager" where his students and his clients are concerned. That’s the role he sees people in the Carolinas and elsewhere need to play in getting new people into the Saddlebred industry.

"We just need to get them to love the Saddle Horse and what we do," he said.

Kim and Peter. Peter and Kim. In whatever order you put them, Peter and Kim Cowart are the lifeblood of West Wind Stables in Statesville, N.C. Their program is somewhat different than many of their North Carolina counterparts. Where other professionals bring new blood into the industry through academy programs, the Cowarts see their role is ensuring the horses are there when those clients are ready to step up.

Not that they aren’t outstanding teachers. Peter grew up in the midst of kids of all ages, riding with his parents, the late Anita and John Cowart at their Heathermoor Farm in suburban Birmingham, Ala.

Moving to the farm was an answered prayer for the senior Cowarts. Buying it was beyond their means; however, John Cowart’s boss was looking for an investment. He purchased the property; the Cowarts moved in. One of three sons and a daughter, Peter mucked stalls, carried water buckets and fed the horses before he went to school.

"I went to school smelling like it," he said. "Horses were a part of us, whether we wanted it or not."

Favor smiled on the Cowart family. They had bought some good mares. Bob Smith, a Nashville trainer, owned the stallion Blanchita’s Society Rex (Society Rex x Oman’s Blanchita Blossom.) When Smith could no longer house the stallion, the Cowarts obtained him.

The family made the popular Alabama one-night show circuit. At age seven, Peter won a blue ribbon aboard Snowfire, which later became his and Kim’s daughter, Camille’s, first mount. Although he liked the horses and showing, other sports, especially football, became the high schooler’s first love. The star had several college options. Still, he withdrew from school, worked one year in business and returned home to work with his father.

Kim Bavin grew up on the Connecticut beaches. Still, horses, not the Atlantic Ocean, claimed a big piece of her heart. Her first pony, saddle and bridle cost $100. She lived in the Bavin’s backyard.

Lessons came next. Kim rode her first Saddlebred with Donald Holmes at MJ Farm in Madison, Conn. She helped out in exchange for lessons. Later, she worked off the training bill for her first Saddlebred.

Knowing the need to support her horse, Kim took a part-time job at Roben and Kathy Bagdasarian’s hotel on the Atlantic. It wasn’t long before Kim’s horsy enthusiasm infected the family. That business relationship lasted into Kristen Bagdasarian’s amateur and ladies career.

Unlike Peter, Kim had chosen her career path while still a child; that interest never strayed. She worked with Marty Mueller when he was in French Lick, Ind. When the Hall of Fame trainer moved to Georgia, she moved to Donna Moore’s, later joining Bob Vesel at North Carolina’s Flying V Farm.

Once Peter settled into the idea of training horses, he did his ‘graduate work’ in Kentucky, with Charlie Smith, Mitch Clark and Carter Cox. Kathy Bagdasarian, who had horses with Cox at the time, told Kim about "this cute guy who worked for Carter."

It wasn’t long before they met. When Kim accepted a job at Hallston Manor in New York, Peter followed. A year later, they moved to North Carolina.

Many trainers start on a shoestring. Few persons’ shoe string was shorter than the Cowart’s. "Kim had $1,000 from a commission; I had an $800 vet bill," Peter recalled in an earlier Horse World interview. With $200 [and a lot of faith,] they leased a barn in Taylorsville, N.C.

The Bagdasarians soon came knocking on the stable door. Their home trainer had left; they brought a gaited horse and Kristen’s walk-trot horse to the Carolinas. Kathy and Kristen Bagdasarian began the regular trek, climbing into the car and driving more than 700 miles each way to ride two days on the weekend.

The late 1990s were ‘wonder years’ for Cowarts. The Hess family (Southwood Partners LLC) of Birmingham, Ala., joined the West Wind family. Kristen Bagdasarian and Emily Hess (Levine) dueled in the show ring aboard CH The Homecoming Hero and CH Gypsy Supreme in junior exhibitor five-gaited competition. Add CH Moonchance, CH Doubletree’s Steal The Show and CH Callaway’s Frank James to the mix, and you had some of the deepest junior exhibitor five-gaited competition of the decade. The West Wind duo more than held their own.

One of the highlights of Kim’s career came on her 40th birthday aboard the great mare, CH A Sweet Treat, who belonged to the Hess’s Southwood Partners in the late 1990s. The mare was a many-times world’s champion in harness for the late Sallie Wheeler and trainer Nelson Green. Kim rode her to the 1999 15.2 & Under Three-Gaited title and the Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. The following year they again won the under 15.2 class and a reserve in the championship. In 2002, Sweetie again was in harness, with Kim driving her to the open and championship titles at Lexington Junior League before Stonecroft Farm purchased her to show and as a broodmare.

The birth of Peter and Kim’s only child, Camille, in 1995 made the family complete. Anita Cowart was a comparatively short plane ride away. Being the designated ‘sitter’ at horse shows helped keep her young and the couple able to successfully juggle parenthood and their jobs. More recently Sherrie Gibson, Kim’s mother, has moved about a mile from the Cowarts. She took over when Camille started in school.

Camille, who will be 13 in May, is almost as tall as her mother. "I don’t know where she’s getting the height," Kim said. "There aren’t a lot of long legs in this family and she has some long legs."

While the seventh-grader loves the horses, her future goals focus on cooking and the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte.

"She likes to cook, and loves gourmet," Kim said. "She goes to a restaurant and orders like she’s 45-years-old. Camille’s told us for years she is going to open a restaurant."

Kim spoke of her joy being Camille’s mother. "We did it once, got a real good one and stopped there. If I’d known it was this much fun, I’d have started earlier and had more of them. If it were up to Peter, we’d have six; he’s a kid lover, like his daddy."

And she shows horses, making her debut on the Snowfire pony her father showed. She graduated to and from the pleasure pony, Santana’s Flaming Dawn. In 2006, Peter and Kim teamed their daughter with the five-gaited pony Small Packages and then Heathermoor’s Prince, owned by Anita and Camille. These mounts took Camille to the ‘big time.’

Camille was in the midst of a great 2006 season, having won her age group and championship aboard Heathermoor’s Prince at Lexington. The day before the family shipped to Louisville, she fell off her pleasure pony and broke her ankle. Always a good sport, she sat in the stands and cheered as Brittany McGinnis showed Small Packages to the 13 and under title and a reserve in the Five-Gaited Pony Championship. She was back in the saddle by the North Carolina State Fair.

Anita Cowart’s death on July 3, 2007, while not unexpected, put a damper on last show season. Peter, Kim and Camille had made many trips to Birmingham. Still, their show string and clients were primed for the two biggest summer shows. Days after her grandmother’s death, Camille rode the horse Anita had bottle fed to reserve in Lexington’s Three-Gaited Junior Exhibitor 14 and Under qualifier. She came back on Saturday night to win the blue-dominated tricolor. At Louisville, the two won their 13 and under qualifier and then the Three-Gaited Junior Exhibitor World’s Grand Championship. Camille said that win was for her grandmother.

"I wish I’d been able to hug her [Anita] afterward," Kim added.

Joy O’Neal first knew Anita Cowart through Jennifer Alvis and Heathermoor Farm. During the last five years of Anita’s life, the two became close.

"Anita was an artist and in the horse business. She would get distracted. She walked in the park across from our house and often left her car keys. I’d give her a ride home or help her find them. Finally, we planned to walk together. That’s how I met Kim and Peter on a personal level. It was Anita’s idea that I move a horse to them. I think she knew we would need each other for comfort after she died," said O’Neal, explaining she had no displeasure with Alvis or Heathermoor Farm and still has three horses there.

They made the decision the day O’Neal took Anita to the hospital for the final time. Champagne’s China Doll moved to West Wind in June. O’Neal’s daughter, Alexis Braswell, and China won the Amateur Three-Gaited title at the recent J.D. Massey Horse Show.

"Moving her was something I knew Anita would be pleased with," O’Neal said, adding initially she was a little intimidated about making the move. "We’ve taken it very cautiously. Being there helps me not miss Peter’s mother so.

"Everything works like clockwork at the barn," O’Neal said. "I’d heard Peter was a little hot-headed, but when things are hectic at barn, he doesn’t lose his cool. It’s like he’s always in control of the situation. I feel very safe with them. As a parent, that’s important. I feel they will watch out for my daughter as best they can."

O’Neal calls Peter "the reincarnation of his mother, telling funny stories with [at times] a dry sense of humor. He’ll tell silly stories about what it was like to grow up on the farm with a million other kids running around."

More important, O’Neal says Peter "doesn’t make promises he can’t keep or force something to happen. As he helps my daughter, he does so in a way that is encouraging. I was afraid he would be frustrated and yell at her when she made a mistake. He’s a great teacher who loves to explain things to a rider. They might spend 10 minutes talking about how to wiggle your little finger at different times. If he sees she needs to do something better, he’ll stop her then show her and explain it. She learns to do so not because Peter said to, but because she understands how and why it makes a horse better. That’s one of the hallmarks of a true teacher."

Peter spoke of Braswell’s abilities. "Alexis is one of the best riders I’ve ever had," he said. "Jennifer Alvis did that."

Stefanie Lackey Sanchez and her mother, Sharon Lackey, have been West Wind clients for close to 20 years. They have had the fun of watching Camille grow from infancy into the poised teenager she is today and in watching Peter and Kim mature in their lives and relationships.

"Stefanie probably is my best friend," Kim said.

"Camille is a little reserved until you get to know her," Sanchez said." She is a good rider and a very genuine person."

The Lackey/Sanchez family has had numerous horses with the Cowarts through the years. Peter showed their She’s A Red Hot Chili Pepper to the 2006 Five-Gaited Mares World’s Championship after winning the Five-Gaited Championship at the American Royal the previous year. They owned the World’s Champion Ladies Fine Harness Mare, New York Trend, now retired and producing a new generation of Saddlebreds.

Sanchez now shows Stonewall’s Stargate in five-gaited pleasure. After being on the ground for years, Lackey decided it was time for her to show. Peter is working The Blonde Bombshell with Lackey stepping into the fine harness buggy as his goal.

Jackie and Lindy Ware own the reigning Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited World’s Champion I’m McDreamy. Kim calls him "the best walk-trot in America. He does all the stuff he’s supposed to do; he’s perfect as far as I’m concerned."

Jackie Ware graduated from William Woods University and worked two summers for the Cowarts. Currently, she is expanding her knowledge by working with Nelson Green.

"We’ve been with Peter and Kim for five or six years," Jackie said. "I did two summer internships with them. The first year, I didn’t know anything.

"You have to understand everything has to be done Peter’s way. The first thing he told me was that there are 10 ways to do everything, but while I was working for him, I was to do it his way," she continued.

"That first year was a big struggle. All the help was kind of new, but I liked it because I learned so much. When I came back, it enhanced what Peter and Kim already had taught me."

‘Peter’s way’ extends to the smallest detail. "One year at Lexington he showed me how to wet down a mane three times on the same horse," Jackie recalled. "Everything is very regimented; there’s an exact reason for what you do. Peter will always tell you why."

Peter teaches by analogy and demonstration. "I love the way Peter taught me. He’d have a plan for everything. There was a lot of communication. We never just had a ride, we had an event," Jackie said of the team which has been her mentors. "They’re more than willing to do anything for me. They have helped guide me into making decisions. They’ve been great!"

Jackie says Kim always is very good and kind; Peter is very honest (about one’s riding and work.) "The second summer I was there, I brought two horses from William Woods to work. I had the best ride I’d ever had on one of them. All Peter did was say, ‘Good ride, but these are the things you need to change for the next time.’ Peter’s saying ‘good job’ is the best feeling in the whole world. There’s no fluffing of any sort; he’ll never says ‘good job’ when it’s not. He never gives any b.s. – things are what they are."

The Cowarts do two things which many people may not realize. They get their first two horses of the day ready themselves. And they get their own hay. Ware said she had never been in a hayfield before that summer.

"I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as Kim and Peter," Lindy Ware added. "We could have gone anywhere but like them better than anyone else. Their collection of horses … the way they’re cared for are really high class. They operate the farm as a real business; I get along best with someone who understands business. I hate driving four hours from Atlanta, but am willing to make the trip.

"Jackie loved getting instruction from Peter; she called him Simon Cowell [for the more blunt member of the American Idol judging team.] Kim is a real happy girl; Jackie calls her Paula, for the show’s more positive star, Paula Abdul.

"To me, Kim is one of the best women Saddlebred trainers out there. She is wild and fun in person. She makes showing look easy when it’s not," Lindy added.

West Wind has a very interesting show string this season. They jumped in full-speed-ahead, taking 20 horses to Clemson.

Peter will show Megan McClure’s Breaking News in Open Five-Gaited as McClure’s college schedule doesn’t afford her much time to ride. McClure’s grandmother, Beth Arndt, shares in Breaking News’ ownership and owns Saturday Night Live, shown by Peter to the Junior Five-Gaited Championship at the 2008 J.D. Massey. The family sold CH Justa Rascal to the Cowarts for Camille to show this season. Cara Wolfe, who began riding with Midge Hunt, made her debut on her surprise Christmas gift, Who’s Your Daddy, at ASAC.

Dickey Davis, who bred and owned She’s A Red Hot Chili Pepper, has sent her full sister to the West Wind. "She’s not quite as explosive as Chili Pepper was, but has a little more talent and I think will be nicer for an amateur," Davis said.

Davis has been a West Wind client "off and on for probably 15 years. When I was injured [and could no longer train horses,] I had a lot of horses here. I got my mother to call Peter to see if he were interested in coming here to train. They already had decided to go out on their own."

He calls Peter and Kim "real personable. They just seem to care about their customers and kind of do the most they can to satisfy you. I’ve sent horses there; after 30 to 60 days, Peter would call to tell me he didn’t think they would make it, that I shouldn’t spend a lot of money on them."

Having a teenage daughter and a large farm and show string to manage, Peter and Kim don’t have a lot of outside interests. "We like to travel to the Caribbean every January. We try a new island every year." Camille and Kim enjoy their pool at home; Peter rides dirt bikes on the track he built on the farm."

"A lot of our peers do young people; we do young horses. Academy is not our forte, but boy we need it," Kim said. "We are turning out juvenile and amateur horses that people can come buy."

One project they will tackle when time and emotions allow is reviewing the large number of Anita’s paintings they have at the farm. "There was a log cabin that’s over 100 years old under the clabbered farm house that was here when we bought the place. We knocked it down and put it up by the front gate," Kim said.

After the cabin was moved, Peter did the redecoration himself. Anita Cowart’s paintings, drawings and furniture that they brought home from Birmingham make this cozy cabin a tribute to Peter’s mother. It serves as the farm’s new guest house.

As for their business… "It is almost a hobby," Kim said. "We came up the hard way and worked for a lot of good people. No one gave us anything. We’re real proud of that now."

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