Smithson Keeps Riding, If Not Writing
Veteran equestrian columnist Sue Smithson admits to a twinge of proprietary feeling about giving up her Hoofbeats column.
She considered sharing the horse pages with someone else to help take some of the load off her. Eventually, she decided to let it be someone else's product if it wasn't going to be all hers.
"For me, it's all or nothing," Smithson says.
The Pilot is taking steps to continue the Hoofbeats pages.
"Sue has done a tremendous job and been a real asset to The Pilot," says Editor Steve Bouser. "She has an entertaining writing style and is a great photographer. She is always championing Horse Country -- reminding the rest of us of this segment of the population that is so important to our local economy and to the unique character of this area. We'll miss her."
Smithson has a new granddaughter, and her mother is in poor health. She's continuing to be tied up in organizing and helping manage the regular seasonal events that bring riders to Southern Pines in large numbers in the fall and spring, as they make their way up and down the Eastern Seaboard, training for the big races and events.
Smithson announced her decision to give up the column last Sunday, making it pretty clear she wanted to do something else after 17 years. She has found some disconcerting trends in Horse Country -- mainly involving development pressure -- that have dampened her enthusiasm.
She's still riding.
'Wrong Side' of Interview
"I wish I'd paid more attention in English class," she says. Instead, she has learned by doing. Back in 1989, as she recovered from a fall off a horse that had hurt her back, she began contributing articles about equestrian news she was involved with as a hunter-jumper rider. A year later Sam Ragan, then editor/publisher of The Pilot, began paying her by the column inch for her freelance work.
The Pilot already had a news page on equestrian events. Her predecessor, whom the Horse Country people called "Scoop," wrote "dry" stuff, without humor, she says. By 1990, her plain-spoken, humorous and pithy column was popular enough to encourage her to resolve to write it until she became the longest-running horse events columnist.
As for news stories, she usually provided just the bare facts about what, where, when, why and who -- for the busy horse person.
Her determination has always been to have the horse-related sports treated as sports, worthy of athletic coverage and status for both horse and rider. She has a gripe about newspapers, mostly dailies, that cover horse events as society fluff and ignore the sports part of the event itself for what she calls an "easy, shallow" angle.
"This is only the second time in my life I've been on the wrong side of an interview," she said, after being (somewhat reluctantly) cornered for one.
When Smithson was a teenager participating in a traditional fox hunt with the Mecklenburg Hounds, she was interviewed by a reporter from The Charlotte Observer, who wrote only about how much her riding clothes cost, making no mention of the hunt or the sports angle.
Growing up in Charlotte, Smithson has ridden horses since she was a child. She visited Southern Pines as a junior rider (someone under 18 years of age), participating in the hunter-jumper schooling shows held during the winter.
"I knew I wanted to live in Southern Pines," she says. She moved here permanently in the mid-1970s.
In the '60s and '70s, the Firestones and Reynoldses (families big in the automotive tire and tobacco industries) lived and owned their own big horse farms in Southern Pines.
So did Ginny Moss, a Master of Hounds in the community since the 1920s, whose husband, Pappy Moss, had been an original trainer of James Boyd and his brother, Jim, in the early 1900s.
'Killing the Goose'
In 1976, Sue met her future husband, "Buck" Smithson, on a bicycle rather than a horse. He is the brother of a former town councilman, uncle to current Councilman Chris Smithson. His father, the late Lee Smithson, was also a Southern Pines councilman.
"I've seen Horse Country evolve," Smithson says.
Disconcerting to her are the development pressures being exerted as the owners of big horse farms die and their heirs sell the properties, which are often subdivided, diminishing the open space and pastures that are part of the Horse Country culture.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Southern Pines was the Mecca for hunter-jumper events. Then it was a center for steeplechasing and eventing. It is now popular with carriage drivers.
"The American Driving Society a few years ago reported that the largest concentration of carriage drivers in the world are in Southern Pines," Smithson says, "based on the number of Southern Pines ZIP code addresses in their database."
Protected woodlands in the Walthour-Moss Foundation in the Youngs Road area and Weymouth Woods, a state park, still provide expanses for horseback riding.
"We're losing trails and riding country at an alarming rate, effectively killing the goose that laid the golden egg," Smithson says, adding: "Please don't put this interview on the society page."
More like this story