The McConnell Equestrian Center
Where the feeder stream takes off to the right, Waddington Creek enters the grounds of the McConnell Equestrian Center. Sue McConnell, when she was still a teenager, had a difficult decision to make. She lived at Billsburg and wanted to attend college at Newport; but she had no transportation. The only thing that she could sell to provide adequate funds to buy a used automobile was her beloved and faithful horse, Beans. He’d had earned his name by an ongoing performance of unpleasant-smelling body function; otherwise, he was a perfect gentleman, both in attitude and action. She just couldn’t do it. As a result, she was the last woman in the state to ride her horse to college. Fair weather and foul, she made the 24 mile daily trek from Billsburg to Newport and back riding her faithful steed. College officials were so impressed by her fortitude that they never complained about the damaged sod or the ring of “deposits” around the oak tree where Beans was tied through the day.
Such a woman wouldn’t settle for just any man and Hank McConnell was a charmer, good-looking as a western sunset, and sat a horse like he was born on one. His vast wealth consisted of a horse, a saddle and a weather-beaten old pickup truck with livestock racks on the back. When they married and added Beans and her saddle to the operation, they figured that they had the beginnings of an empire. The plan almost worked.
They kept their day jobs for a few years as they bought and paid for the little farm in the narrow valley. They put in an outdoor arena, a jumping course, and a stable. They then started contacting local horse owners about training their horses for a reasonable fee. Business boomed. They built more stables, moved some used mobile home trailers onto the property and courted the favor of Winston College, a small college an hour’s drive east on the Northwestern Pike. Soon, they’d started Winston College’s Equestrian Studies Program; some trailers were used for dorms, others for classrooms.
Suddenly, their stable-yard was a campus; paying students mucked their barns while horse owners paid money to have the students train their horses. The money flowed in and the McConnell’s built regular classroom facilities and an indoor arena. Extra trailers were moved in for more dorms and the old ones replaced with newer ones. The money flowed faster, facilities were improved and a second equestrian center was partnered with a small western college in Texas.
People began approaching them to help with charities, sit on boards and commissions and to join various civic groups. With all the good works they were doing, and two widely separated facilities to run, Hank and Sue were slowly becoming strangers to one another. Sue gradually took over the western facility and most of the civic responsibilities; Hank concentrated on the local campus and the advanced training of the horses.
There was one thing Sue didn’t count on—all those lonely 18-23 year-old girls whose parents had sent them to some hollow in West Virginia, hoping that hiding them in the middle of nowhere would dry up their drug problems or end their “unacceptable” romances. They needed someone to talk to about their problems and, with no parents or boyfriends to confide in, Hank became that person. It would have still been okay if it hadn’t have been for Becky. She saw that Sue wasn’t around much, figured that Hank had his own set of problems, and decided that she was just the one to help him.
For a couple years, Sue didn’t figure it out. An epiphany occurred, though, when Hank hired Becky to work in the office on her graduation and Sue filed for divorce. She got the western facility and he got the one on Waddington Creek. Sue ran and improved the western campus for a few years and then sold it at a great profit and retired. Hank continued to keep the first operation running, but things haven’t gone well. Technically, the place is still in business, but it looks like a ghost town compared to its earlier days. Some neighbors say that Hank’s perfect proof of the old saying that nothing destroys a man like success. Copyright 2008