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Rider fights for horses

Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer

On a sunny Saturday in early June, a small crowd watched cowboy and all-around horse expert Bill Newman head east from Carson City’s Capitol with three mustangs and many good wishes.

Headed for Washington, D.C., he hopes to show the public the beauty and strength of these animals as well as explain the need for public support, adopters, and a better working solution for handling mustangs.

Now close to the halfway point in Wilson, Kan., Newton said the ride has been tough. The pace has slowed and the horses have lost some weight due to the heat, but all is well.

“It’s been grueling, but all of the great people I’ve met have drowned out the negatives,” Newman said. “The horses are fine, but it’s been so hot that I’m drained. But I’ll make it. I’m that hard headed. I’ll just take the badger by the bootlaces and hang on E I want to see this program work so bad.”

The grandson of Czechoslovakian immigrants who trained warm-blooded horses for military work, Oklahoma-born Newman was practically born in the saddle.

“I started riding when I was 4 and I’ve never done anything but,” he said.

He dropped out of school after the sixth grade, riding bush track races in New Mexico and working as a “bug boy,” a person who gallops horses, for owner-trainer Lee Jones in Oklahoma before he acquired his parimutuel jockey license at age 13.

He eventually graduated to parimutuel jockeying, riding the bigger California tracks including Del Mar in San Diego, Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley and Hollywood Park in the Los Angeles area.

In his early 20s he acquired his dual owner-trainer license and co-owned about 25 head of racing quarter horses with Jones. But fate took a turn one day in 1982 at Del Mar.

“I was out in front, second behind and my horse swallowed its tongue,” Newman said. “Eight horses ran over the top of me and I was hospitalized for 18 months.”

Injuries included a broken neck and femur, crushed sternum and facial damage. His condition was exacerbated by the osteoporosis he had developed over the years, because the dieting he’d done to keep his weight down. Newman spoke casually of the accident but his wife Stella did not.

“They pronounced him dead at the track,” she said. “But he took a breath when they hit the speed bumps at the morgue. His family was told he would be a vegetable and he spent another 18 months in rehabilitation before he was released.

“He has a tenacity,” wife Stella said. “He must have a purpose, because things have happened to him that would have killed most people.”

Newman was no stranger to injuries before the accident, saying he’d broken both feet, ribs, an arm, his femur and both shins, but nothing before had ever stopped him from riding. In his early 20s at the time of the accident, he said it settled him down and gave him time to re-evaluate what he was doing.

The accident spelled the end of his jockey career, but Newman, now 40, has found a new purpose in these wild horses.

“I love them. They’re my life,” he said. “Lots of horse trainers are willing to work with domestic horses because they’re something that people will buy,” he said. “Very few will work with the mustangs. I feel like this is a calling. I enjoy helping people learn how to train them, and I love the wild ones.”

The Bureau of Land Management currently handles the adoptions for about 6,000 horses on most public lands in Nevada and Wild Horses in Need feels the adoption process could be more effectively handled by qualified private nonprofit organizations.

To that end, Newman and his wife Stella own acreage in the Honey Valley, about halfway between the Litchfield wild horse facility near Susanville, Calif., and the Palomino Valley Center facility just north of Reno.

“If they have horses they know will be hard to place, I would volunteer my time,” Newman said. “But they turned me down. Said they couldn’t it do because of insurance reasons. Why not enter into agreements with nonprofits? They have nothing to lose.”