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2002/06/12

Nina Willis Performance Horses - Specializing In Youth by Tom Burriss For one person to get many horses to perform successfully is one thing. It is completely another being able to get many people to perform successfully on their horses. At Nina Willis Performance Horses in that is exactly the goal that is being met. Under one roof in Tupelo, Mississippi you will find overall high-point winners from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Monroe, Louisiana; Circuit Award winners; Horsemanship Champions; Mississippi State High-Point Champions; Dixie National Champions; placing in the top 20 nationally; and an armada of class and division winners. On any given weekday afternoon one could peek into the barn on the outside of Tupelo and find a gaggle of youths, which include Rebecca Goysich 12, Camie Crowes 12, Aley Couch 14, Beth Hawkins 12,Emily Nunnelee 1, Sydni Stallings 10, Baily Fleming 11, Mary Henson 15, Banks Ready 11, Anna McCoy 11, and Abby Hester 11, preparing for their practices. A flurry of semi-organized chaos ensues in the after school hours as they tack-up their individually owned horses for the tasks which are prepared for horse and rider. Among the bustle you will find two adults. Nina and Steve Willis are wife and husband and the operators at Nina Willis Performance Horses. "This is what it is like three days out of the week," Steve says. Not one of the girls would stand for such a short sided observation of their dedication, "Uh...more like five!" The group's dedication is obvious in more than just their awards, but in their commitment to daily practice with their horses. Most of the group has been training together for most of their riding careers. The have grown through the ranks of Saddle Clubs and 4H and now are into registered APHA and AQHA shows. For the group who comes in the afternoons, it is more like a family. To the Willis', "these are our kids. We treat them as if they are our own." In fact, they had just returned from a weekend together, not to go to a horse show, but to go camping in Alabama. Of course that is not the regular weekend. They will spend just about every weekend together in the summer, and most weekends in the fall and spring taking all the girls and one boy to horse shows. The Willis' expect their next weekend off to be in August, hopefully. Eighty to ninety percent of the horses there are trained and shown as all-around horses. Nina teaches horse and rider to do everything: English, Western, Trail, and Showmanship. The culmination of being able to show the efforts and fruits from the week of practice has them plenty aglow. There is seldom a weekend that someone in the group does not place in the top five to ten percent. "That is pretty good when you think about it," says Steve. Tupelo is not really known as "horse country" and is a fairly small town. There is plenty of fun and good natured teasing to go with all the hard work. For Steve's efforts at the shows, he is often referred to as "James." He runs around grabbing this saddle, and fixing that tack, grooming and setting up feed and water. With a truckload of riders this can keep Steve pretty busy. "The only thing we need now is a bell," The group chimed. It is not as if they are doing nothing while Steve is running around for them. Since most of them show in numerous classes , the time between is a hasty change of clothes and tack for which they are ultimately held responsible to have ready for their next showing. Of course no one "sleeps" on show weekends, there are just naps. To be most noted is that all the girls own their own horses. "Not one of these families is really loaded with money. Their parents all work pretty hard to make sure they are able to stay in the program," comments Steve. Emily's dad told the story of when he one day looked at the bill for what they were spending on all of Emily's horse stuff. Then his wife pointed out for him to imagine what it would cost if they were paying for drug rehab or her being pregnant. The cost seemed suddenly insignificant. Many of the girls have quit school activities, such as dancing, sports or band, to be more fully involved with the horses. Some of them have even dropped a boyfriend. This not only keeps them busy, it also keeps them disciplined. There are number of rules to which they must adhere. For instance, if they do not make school the Monday after a show, they cannot go to the next show. They must also maintain their grades. The worst rule though is the boot rule. Boots that get left out after practice get tossed on top of the storage room. The distinct impression is that they would all much rather go to school on Mondays and maintain their grades, than to have to sift through the cobweb infested space above the storage room to retrieve their boots. Each rider is responsible for their own horse. Although Steve and Nina may take care of some of the daily chores while the kids are at school, each one needs to at least groom and vet their mount. For Nina, there is more than just this group who comes out. She is also very dedicated to teaching and showing with other youth riders, of which there are thirteen, who participate in Lee County 4H. Not to mention she is Vice President of the Northeast Chapter of 4H. In addition to the youth, she even has some adults who come to train with her. The biggest talent Nina seems to possess is her ability to make a connection between horse and rider. "What she really does well is picks horses and kids that are well suited for each other," says Steve. Nina is originally from Tipp City, Ohio. She graduated from the Meredith Manor, a private college in West Virginia with an equine science degree. The route from there to Tupelo was a working one, as she ventured south and west among the instruction and employment of various training facilities. She has been established since 1991 on their fifteen acres in Tupelo.

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