Decades in horses
By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on October 4, 2013 1:46 PM
The Ross Head family of Mount Olive has been showing horses and mules at the Wayne Regional Agricultural for three generations starting with Ross Head Sr., second from left. His son, Ross Head Jr., left, and grandson, Wilson, have carried on the family tradition. Wilson's mule, Ellie Mae, won grand champion in the mules division during Thursday night's Pony and Mule Show.
A quick look at the results of this year's Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair's horse show proves one thing very quickly -- the Head family knows its horses.
It's been more than 50 years since Ross Head Sr. rode his first horse. Tall and lean with a big white cowboy hat perched on his head, the 83-year-old horseman and his wife, Sara, have been participating in the fair horse show for decades, watching first their sons and daughters, then their grandchildren and finally their great-grandchildren show horses raised at their stables near Mount Olive.
Ross Sr. started with horses back when they were legitimate modes of transportation.
"I was a Southern boy. We always had ponies," he said.
Ross Sr. would ride (sometimes a horse, sometimes a Guernsey bull) to friends' houses or to ball games. Or he would set up a plow behind his father's mule to plow. He eventually got a chance to sell them from his uncle's livery in Seven Springs, where he learned the horse business.
After starting up his own stables, business grew. Now he keeps about 30 horses and has an extended family (five children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren) whose idea of fun is coming over to ride and to help take care of them.
"All the family loves to come to our house and ride the horses," Sara said.
Ross Sr. has retired as the head of the business. His son, Ross Jr., has taken over, and Ross Sr. demoted himself to "stable boy."
The Heads also raise beef cows -- a decision made by Ross Sr., who grew up on a dairy farm.
"When he was dating me, he was always late because he always had to milk the cows before he left," Sara said.
As for the horses at the show, Ross Sr. said that he has seen the quality of the horses shown improve over the years. When he does his own personal judging, he takes a horse's confirmation, or its musculature, into consideration. He looks for strong, healthy broad bodies with small bellies and heads that aren't too big.
"He knows it when he sees it," Sara said.
The person showing the horses also matters, too. This year, the Heads had four great-grandchildren enter the competition. They were Andrew and Kaylyn Kelly and Olivia and Noah Conder.
Noah, 7, had shown two ponies during the fair -- Tucker and Pattycake. Like the rest of the Head family, Noah is already a true horseman.
"I like that you can ride them and lead them and feed them and turn them out," he said.
Wearing a hat much like his great-grandpa's, Noah gets to ride the horses only when his mother is around to guide him, but that doesn't stop him from tending to them when he gets the chance.
As for bull-riding, he's pondering it as a future career.
"I hope not," Sara said.
One generation up, Wilson Head, also known as Ross Wilson Head III, showed a few horses this year and took reserve champion in stallions and grand champion in mules.
"I have pictures of me riding with my sisters when I was a baby. We all rode all our lives," he said.
Wilson, 22, hopes to eventually take over the family business after his father, Ross Jr., retires.
His mule, Ellie Mae, tied to the Heads' trailer, twitched her ears as he pointed out her strengths.
"She's just big and pretty-shaped. We clipped the ears, cleaned 'em up. It takes a while to get everything ready," he said.