For Lyle Lovett, Horses Provide Anonymity and a Connection To Dad

Decades after being given his first horse at the age of 2, which was kept on his grandparents’ farm in Klein, Texas, Lyle Lovett purchased that house, and took to the sport of reining horses, which he describes as “a series of maneuvers based on the kind of athleticism a horse needs” to work cattle. These days, the 59-year-old attends two or three reining shows per year and keeps his horses-in-training at McQuay Stables in Tioga, Texas -- “the birthplace of Gene Autry,” he’s quick to point out. He sang the line “Home is where my horse is” on the title track to his 2009 album, Natural Forces; the lyrics were far more than just cowboy posturing.

What has been your most memorable horse-riding experience?

A lot of times in life you do things over and over, trying to recapture some perfect moment. For me, riding horses takes me back to being a kid and getting to ride with my dad. We’d ride here, and our community was small enough that we could ride all over. Being involved with horses connects me to him.

What has horse riding taught you about life?

It teaches you a sense of justice: If you do the right thing, you’ll usually get the right result. Not always, but usually. Every year, I work with a wonderful horseman named Bill Smith, and an expression that he learned from another great horseman named Ray Hunt goes, “When you get right, your horse will get right.” There’s some deep, deep wisdom in that.

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Are there any parallels between riding horses and playing music?

Being in tune with your horse is absolutely analogous to becoming part of your instrument. When you’re first learning [how to ride], after a certain amount of repetition, you develop muscle memory, and you develop a sensitivity, or what is known in the horse world as “feel.” Through feel, you’re able to help your horse do the things you want it to do. Likewise, you’re able to play notes in an expressive way, not in a mechanical way, where you have to think about it.

Other than the animals, what else do you like about going to horse shows?

I’m not a novelty. I’m just a guy with a horse. No one asks about music.

What kind of relationship have you developed with your most-winning horse, Smart and Shiney?

Well, he’s kind to me. And responsive to me. (Laughs.) People who own horses give them credit for having human characteristics. It does seem like they know you. It certainly does seem like that when you walk into the barn and it’s feeding time.

This article originally appeared in the May 13 issue of Billboard.