Skip to content

Mary And Evan Orr Thrive As A Couple And Trainers





Mary and Evan Orr 
Mary was named Instructor of the Year
at the recent National Academy Finals.


by Ann Bullard

August 1997. The
William Woods University campus had a different look then: the school had admitted its first male students. Little did those who made that decision imagine that two young people who met during those years would marry and become one of the more successful and hard-working young training teams in the Saddlebred world today.

Mary Marcum came from the very small town of Fall River Mills, Calif. Her selection of William Woods was a late decision. Coming from a primarily western and Arabian background, she knew nothing about an American Saddlebred.

“My introduction to horses was rodeo. I wanted to ride and that’s what you did,” Mary said, conceding she wasn’t very good at rodeo. “Dad thought horses were very expensive but bought me an 18 or 20-year-old grade gelding named Red. After he passed away, my parents decided not to go the rodeo route.”

Mary’s mother taught school; her father was a plant pathologist with the University of California. Their friend, Shirley Hall, had an Arabian farm about two hours from the Marcum home. There they found Mary’s champion half-Arabian, High Caliber or ‘Pistol.’

“He was a half-Arab and half-Quarter Horse that was trained western,” Mary said. “We went there every weekend except Christmas and Easter for eight years.”

Pistol took Mary to the show ring. They showed hunt seat, trail, ladies sidesaddle and western. But Mary didn’t stop there. Rather she showed everything Hall would put her on. They did well on the regional level.

Mary and her brother, Jeff, took different routes as far as sports were concerned. Where she followed horses, he was an avid skier. On weekends, one parent took Mary to the farm; the other took Jeff to the slopes.

The siblings were close and lived what might be called a charmed life in that tiny town that Mary describes as being two and a half hours from the nearest Wal-Mart. Reality came crashing down three days before Christmas 1993, when Jeff was killed in an automobile accident five miles from home.

“My brother and I were our parents’ lives,” Mary said quietly. “It was all they could do to keep functioning. I was all alone. I had always been passionate about horses, but that was when I really knew they were my calling. I’ll never forget the day I called Shirley and told her my brother had died. She was very instrumental in helping me deal with that.”

So was Pistol. “When I put my arms around him, I felt that in some way he knew what had happened,” Mary said.

Hall, who still teaches riding after almost 40 years, spoke about the young lady who has become one of her most successful students. “I had her from the time she was nine. I saw the talent that was there, but she needed encouragement. She had taken lessons before she came to me, but knew nothing about caring for horses.”

Hall concedes she was hard on Mary, teaching her the business from the inside out. When the admittedly “somewhat spoiled” girl acted out, Hall brought her up short.

The barn was the one place Mary could get away from the constant reminders of her brother’s death. “I wasn’t Mary Marcum who lost her brother when I was with my horse,” she said.

She, Hall and Pistol took to the road. At the Arabian Regionals, they earned more championships with that one horse than others who brought 20 head. They were number one in the nation. Still, Mary didn’t feel she was good enough to compete at the Nationals.

Mary, her instructor and Hall’s daughter, Lynn, stepped out again the following year.

“The summer of my junior year, we won all these Regional Championships again. We decided to do late entries and went to Oklahoma City [for the Youth Nationals.] Pistol and I were Reserve National Champions in Ladies Sidesaddle and Top 10 in both western pleasure classes. We came home after an amazing horse show.”

Although Mary went half-way across the country for college and today is almost as far away from Red Bluff, Calif., as is possible, she and Hall remain close. They speak at least every week.

“Mary is like my own daughter,” Hall said. “She thought she was too short to train horses, but I told her she could do anything in life. She is an awesome human being and a survivor.”

Mary wanted to train horses; her parents thought she should become a veterinarian. She applied to 11 schools – anything that had an equestrian science program, Mary explained. They visited them all.

“Then I got an offer from Stephens where they offered me a full ride. My dad said to visit there by myself. I thought that was where I was going to go. And then David Gates’s wife suggested I visit William Woods while I was in Missouri,” she said, explaining Gates had been a music star with the 1970s group Bread. “I did visit Stephens but it wasn’t a match. Then I walked on the William Woods campus and there was no question. I loved it and decided to go there.”

Mary’s parents had heard of William Woods’s Professor of Equine Studies, Gayle Lampe, and her father had Lampe’s book. They told her to meet the professor who would become her freshman advisor and friend.

“I registered her for classes before she was on campus,” Lampe said, explaining that it was a telephone registration. “I asked her, ‘What seat do you ride?’ She replied, ‘I ride Arabians western, but I don’t care.’ That opened the door for me to put her in Saddle Seat. Her reply: ‘If you want me to, I’ll do that.’ She was game and willing to try something new.”

“Miss Lampe told me ‘You are going to take Saddle Seat and this is what we’re going to do. It opened a whole new world in the sense of what the American Saddlebred was,” Mary said.

Evan Orr followed quite a different path to Fulton, Mo., and his place as a professional horseman. “I kind of grew up with horses,” he said, adding, “I started riding at 12 when we went on a Colorado trail ride. I wanted to take lessons when we came home. Mom was an ER nurse who had a co-worker who owned horses. Sharon Rubsam introduced me to the horse world.”

Rubsam taught only a few lessons and allowed Evan to “do everything around the barn. I could ride any and everything she had and got to show a little bit. I started working, cleaning stalls in junior high and high school.”

Rubsam introduced Evan to Cathy McKinley, owner of State Line Tack, and her mother, Joyce. Cathy McKinley recalled the young man she calls “a great big, tall kid that the wind could blow over.

“Evan was probably a junior in high school when he came here. He came down in the summers and stayed with my folks,” she said, adding that Evan rode and helped in the tack shop as well.

“He was just like a grandson to us,” Joyce McKinley said. “He was so nice to put up with me, to drive me to shows and help me.”

She smiled when telling about Evan’s first show with them. “He was about 16 and had never shown in a big show. I had ridden my gaited horse and was in Cathy’s trailer helping out. Evan showed and when he came back he was white as a sheet. He said, ‘I’m 16 and you’re 67. How can you do that?’

“We laugh about going to a little show in Iowa, about 45 minutes from here. Cathy was the trainer and always telling us what to do. This time, she couldn’t go. Evan and I loaded two horses, showed and did just fine. Afterward, he looked at me and said ‘And we did it by ourselves.’ ”

Cathy McKinley had graduated from William Woods University and arranged for Evan to lease several William Woods’ horses. Her letter to Gayle Lampe helped open the door for young men to enter the university.

“Cathy wrote a letter stating why she felt William Woods University should accept male students. It was a letter specifically on Evan’s behalf,” Lampe said. “It kind of made you cry when you got through reading that. She asked why Evan should be denied being able to come to William Woods and to further his knowledge of horses just because he was a male. I turned that letter into our president who shared it with the board. I think Cathy’s letter was very instrumental in having William Woods University go co-ed. The letter came just at the right time.”

“My first day on campus, I was nervous and homesick,” Evan said, conceding he was homesick the entire first semester. “John Field and I buddied up. We went through all the planned activities but were like deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to think. We were on our own, away from home. It was a little intimidating.”

Evan says the students three years above them had been used to an all-female college. Some upperclassmen weren’t that receptive.

“A few didn’t want there to be men coming on their turf. It wasn’t a hostile environment; the other 99 percent were glad the transition was being made. It was kind of a shock to the whole system.

 

Interactions between students had been working just fine. When they changed it, the university had to adjust. To their credit, they tried to involve the students in a lot of these changes. As years went on and the ratio [of men to women] got smaller, it turned into a regular small college atmosphere.”

Evan and Field were the first two men in equestrian studies. “I took full advantage of being the first to take advantage of the gender barrier,” Evan said. “I did a lot of things. I co-authored a paper about a recreational area for African Americans during segregation. It’s unusual for an undergraduate to work on something like that with his history professor. I studied abroad in Japan one summer. I got to do a lot of tutoring and work study programs.”

Although he didn’t get a degree in equine sciences, Evan did a great deal of what he calls “horse-related stuff. I did a lot of jumping and really enjoyed that. It helped improve my all-round horsemanship. I worked one of the Callaway Hills’s sales and spent one summer working there when Bob Brison and Martin Teater were training.”

As he put it, “I had a great time.”

In contrast to Evan’s first days at William Woods, Mary says, “The minute I set foot on the William Woods campus, I knew I was at home. I wasn’t homesick for a day. One of first people I met was Allison Deardorff. We clicked; she is and will be my best friend for all my life.”

Deardorff, daughter of trainer Don Deardorff of Molalla, Ore., was in her final year of equitation competition.

“Allison was gone every weekend. I had no clue she was in training with the Shivelys. I just knew she was horse crazy like I was. One weekend she said she was going to New York. When I asked why, she said it was to compete in the Finals,” Mary said.

“I met Mary the first day of school and had no idea about her background. She asked if I could help her which I did. She kept getting better and better. By the time she was almost done, she didn’t need anybody’s help, that’s for sure,” Deardorff said.

“Mary was hard-working and dedicated, especially for someone coming from such a different background. She didn’t come in with any preconceived ideas about the Saddlebred breed, people or anything. She wanted to learn and absorb everything.”

In many respects, Mary was (and is) a starry-eyed, giggly girl.

“I’m Mary Marcum from Fall River, Calif., and I have a question” became her mantra. She spent every possible waking moment at the barn. It was something Lampe noticed. The university had a work-study program to help pay expenses for students to show. Mary’s job was to work with Lampe and her horses.

“I should have turned around right then,” Mary said with a giggle. “I showed, and showed and showed.”

Mary was “addicted to Saddle Seat from the beginning. I had found my calling. I felt like I was ready for a summer job. I’d been befriended by Ashley Isenhower and Michelle McVey and wanted to go to Kentucky. I called Marilyn Macfarlane. That summer I just did horses and got to meet all the people I needed to meet.”

Although she enjoyed her Kentucky summer, Mary realized that was not the place for her. A friend suggested she talk with Kim and Peter Cowart.

“I told Miss Lampe, ‘I am going to North Carolina. I’ve heard Peter is tough to work for but I think I’m ready for something different,’ ” she recalled.

“I walked into the most amazing season. I got to take care of A Sweet Treat. I had Gypsy (Supreme) and took care of CH Winterfest. I rode every mile Kim rode with Sweetie at Louisville. I was with her every step of the way and went running in with Kim when they won the Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship.

Emily Hess and CH Gypsy Supreme were reserve in 14–15-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Championship and tied reserve in the stake. Hess and CH Winterfest won Lexington’s Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Show Pleasure Championship.

“I learned a lot more in that summer – and lost a lot of weight I needed to lose. They invited me back next year,” Mary said.

The following summer, Mary learned first-hand the vagaries of the horse business. The world’s grand championships went to other barns.

“No one came running back,” she said quietly. “I hit my senior year and got spooked. I thought ‘What happens if I hurt myself. What am I going to do?’ I thought that if I weren’t going to be able to train, I would like to do what Miss Lampe does. To do that, I had to have at least a Master’s degree. I thought it was important to get a Master’s in education.”

Mary worked part-time for Virgil Helm and pursued a Master’s program. She had a year and a half to decide her career path.

With both being in equine studies, it’s not surprising Mary and Evan became close friends.

“Mary and I were like best friends until after college,” Evan said. “We didn’t start dating until after we graduated. When we were going through college relationships, the up and downs and that sort of thing, Mary was the person I always wanted to bounce things off of. We’d cry on each other’s shoulders. It wasn’t until we matured and graduated that we realized we were more than just friends.”

Deardorff agreed that her friends’ relationship was “out of the blue. They developed a very good friendship in college, but I don’t think any of us guessed they would end up married.”

Evan was ambivalent about his professional future. He interned one summer in a human resources position. After graduation, he worked briefly for a medical products manufacturer in Ft. Worth, Texas. After his mother died, he and Mary got really close.

“Not long after I graduated, I enrolled in the St. Louis University’s law school. I did orientation and in the second day of Torts class, I wasn’t taking notes or paying attention. I realized I was going to spend a lot of time in class doing something I didn’t want to do,” Evan recalled. “Mary had helped me move into my third-floor apartment and a week later helped me move out. Dad’s health wasn’t good, so I went home.

“I needed a job,” he continued, saying he answered an ad for a beginning English riding instructor with Paula Briney [at Pratense Farm in Chatham, Ill.] I started working Saddlebreds and the warmblood stallion she rides dressage. I helped her work horses and teach lessons and got back into horses full-time. She gave me a lot of leeway.”

Evan decided if he were going to be in the horse business, he’d best get immersed in it. He accepted a job working with Tom Bombolis and John Conatser at Glenmore Farm.

When Mary finished her Master’s program, she was ready to set out on her equestrian career. She had worked part-time for Virgil Helm, a man she describes as “nice and quiet. He told me I needed to be around people. He said he thought Cash [Lovell] was a heck of a horseman who did amateurs.

 

At Lexington, I went to Cash and Parker, telling them I knew they were looking for a riding instructor. For some reason, I thought they were the match.

“I flew out, stayed with them for three days and fell in love with their customers,” Mary said. “I told Evan I was going to North Carolina. He said he was going with me.”

Evan proposed in October and moved to North Carolina in January. He went to work for the Cowarts at West Wind Stables. He and Mary lived on the Cowart farm with Mary commuting the 40-plus miles to the Lovells.

“I would finish at Kim and Peter’s and drive to Winston to help Mary give lessons. The whole year we were planning the wedding. She would plan and I’d try to keep her calm. I knew my opinion didn’t matter so much, but I had to have one. The proper answer isn’t ‘I don’t care.’ ”

Deardorff laughed when talking about her friend’s wedding planning. “She watched Weddings Of A Lifetime every single day at school. Her wedding is one of the nicest I’ve ever been to.”

They were married
January 3, 2004.

“The day I got married, my horse died. When we were on our honeymoon, Evan didn’t want to tell me. Pistol knew he could go because Evan would take care of me now,” Mary said.

The two have settled into life in the Carolinas. They share a lovely home with two dogs, Sarah and Molly. And they work long days. About the time they finish with the training horses, it’s time for Mary to begin teaching.

“From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., we train horses. Between then and 7 or 8 p.m., I teach riding,” Mary said. “I never really wanted to just be a riding instructor. I really enjoy the amateur and kid horses and the equitation horses. Getting a horse ready for someone else, finding the right one is an art form.

“All the little girls love Mr. Evan,” she said. “They walk down the aisle holding his pinkie; when they get bigger, they come to me.”

The Orrs’ success shows through the performance records of Cash Lovell customers the past few years. Vickie Byrd with Attaché’s Crown Royal, Kate Bryan and CH Sportster, Donna Fitch and CH Riva Diva, Sarah Beth Longworth with CH Diamond’s Hope and Kalarama’s Shiraz, Susan Hollowell and Catalytic, Anna Drew Jackson with Cameo’s Carte Blanche, Sarah Martin aboard I Believe I Can Fly and Corinna’s Star, Margaret Morrison and CH The Showstopper, Alex Foster with Wait And See’s Postmaster, Katie Morrison, Drew Taylor Hewitt aboard Perfect Offering and Geoff Bodenhorst are but a few. Add to those, such equitation stars as Cagle James, who shows Seattle Song, and Stephanie Brackett with Much More Radiant and you have a show string any trainer would covet.

Mary’s personal highlights involve the youngsters she teaches. Jackson’s 2005 world’s championship with Cameo’s Carte Blanche and Longworth’s Lexington win with CH Diamond Hope rank near the top. For Evan, heading Susan Hollowell and Catalytic after they won the Ladies Fine Harness World’s Championship in 2005 heads the list.

The Lovell academy program has blossomed in the past four years Mary has been there. Children, particularly little girls, are everywhere on weekends and some evenings. The Orrs took 13 youngsters and six horses to the National Academy Finals in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Six ‘show customers’ went along to help.

Vickie Byrd was among them. “I see her with the children all the time, but that weekend I was really in the midst of how she interacts with all these kids. She is so great with these kids. They love her to death. I see how she encourages them. Mary is strict with them and teaches them a lot besides riding.

“In two days, we put 74 entries in the ring. I didn’t even know my name and I know Mary didn’t. Getting to see Mary and Evan with kids and their families …” Byrd paused and then continued, “She goes the extra mile.”

“I think the world of both of them,” said Marion Bryan, mother of Kate Bryan who shows CH Sportster. “Mary has such a large personality. She’s such a people person, everyone wants to be around her. A lot of the young girls almost jockey to see who will stay with Mary and Evan at shows.”

Bryan was part of the group who groomed for the National Academy Finals. “Four adults and two teenagers flew down and stayed in hotels because we wanted to help her. We knew how much it meant to her and it was great fun. Mary said the neatest thing to me when we were down there. She was kind of nervous, and told me that the biggest thing to her is that everyone who comes out of the ring is happy, that they feel like they did a good job and had fun. Our riders won several national championships. The parents’ reaction: we’re so happy for Mary.”

Those who know Mary say she is one of, if not the most, enthusiastic person they’ve ever been around. Kim Cowart calls her “one of the most energetic and positive people I’ve ever known.”

Parker and Cash Lovell couldn’t be more pleased. “The kids are doing awful good,” Cash said in his inimitable way. “She works very hard and is a loyal worker. She’s got a magic to her with people. She’s always happy and jolly, go-getting little dude. Her husband is a good horseman, too.”

“We had thought that when Cash got ready to retire, that would be it,” Parker added. “I might run a riding program but we never thought we’d find someone who could take it and run with it. We always figured when Cash hung up his boots we would too. I can’t remember when it wasn’t all about Cash at that barn. Long-time customers love Mary and Evan as much as him.”

Mary and Evan recognize everything the Lovells have done for them. “They are very supportive. They give us lots of guidance and tons of opportunities,” Mary said. “It’s worked out to be a pretty good team. We get the opportunity to work all the horses. Cash steps in if we have a problem and Parker keeps the business pumping. It’s lots of fun, too.”

Evan describes himself as “just a laid-back person who loves the horses. I love the people more. I probably am a quiet, intense kind of guy but I don’t show my intensity a lot. I like to find a good solution, to see and help people succeed. I don’t think success can always be measured in blue ribbons. When I see some of the kids achieve something, I have one of those moments. It’s really rewarding.”

Cathy McKinley took a frank look at the young couple and their relationship. “I am really proud of Mary and Evan; they complement each other. From the outside looking in, it appears Evan has left his male ego behind. He adores Mary and likes to put her in the limelight. There appears to be no professional jealousy between the two of them. He is equally as valuable as she is, but he’s happy to let her shine. He steps back and does what is necessary.

“Mary’s enthusiasm is absolutely contagious. She never quits giggling. I’ve never seen her in a bad mood. She’s so upbeat, positive and energetic that I wonder how someone can keep up that pace. I think she totally appreciates Evan and realizes what great natural talent he has. He is comfortable in knowing that people will see that. He has enough self-confidence that he doesn’t have to go around telling people how good he is. He does his thing and lets people discover his talent.”

There is a wonderful song that says “You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings.” That might be the best way to describe the Orrs’ relationship. Parker Lovell called Evan as the strength, the steadying force behind his wife.

“Evan talks about how he is quiet. He is why I can be me. I’m the one who is loud and out front. He takes care of me, takes me to the doctor when I’m sick. Evan is my rock,” Mary said.

Vickie Byrd has been part of the Saddlebred world for more years than she likes to discuss. She looked to the future saying, “Evan and Mary’s generation and people like them are going to keep it going. This sport that I love is in good hands.”

More Stories

  • Bookend Morning

    Read More
  • Kentucky State Fair Update

    The American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association (ASHBA) received a letter from the Kentucky State Fair Board (KSFB) yesterday acknowledging that they would not be pursuing a path that would allow them to hold the ASHBA Prize Program classes at the Kentucky State Fair Horse Show in 2024.  Read More
  • FoalsNFocus – Week 3

    We’re in full swing as entries for our weekly contest are being submitted from breeders across the country. This week’s winning shot came from Shale HillStables, Muncie, Illinois. Jan McGlaughlin and family sent this photo of their curious filly by Reedann’s Flying Double out of Forty-TwoSecrets (by Forty-Second Street ERB). Read More
  • Obituary – Jane Blue

    A USEF judge, steward, many times committee member, exhibitor and lover of all things Morgan, our friend Jane Blue passed away Monday, April 8. A tribute obituary will run in an upcoming issue of Saddle Horse Report. Read More
  • A New Look For Connecticut Morgan Horse Association

    The Connecticut Morgan Horse Association, a leading Morgan Horse Club, is thrilled to announce an exciting rebranding initiative in partnership with Firebrick Design and Pam Howard that marks a significant milestone in the club's evolution. The comprehensive transformation encompasses a new logo and visual identity, redefining CMHA's presence in the equestrian ecosystem. Read More
  • Latest Issue 4 8 24

    Read More
  • FoalsNFocus – Week 2

    Week two of the #foalsNfocusphoto contest had several adorable shots from a group of nice American Saddlebred, Morgan and Hackney babies. Not many things put a smile on your face the way these shots do as they are the pride and joy of their breeders. Read More
  • The Evolution of Buchanan Stables

    May 12, 2001 is the day Michael Buchanan came to the United States from South Africa to be a part of the horse business. He’s worked several different jobs on the path that eventually led him to Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he purchased part of the Split Decision farm to hangout his own shingle as Buchanan Stables. Read More
  • Latest Issue YIR 2023

    Read More
  • Latest Issue YIR 2023

    Read More