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Changing Course: Ray Coutley Shifts from Flying Planes to Horses


Ray Coutley riding Navier StokesWhen you ask most folks how they got into horses, the story generally starts, "I've been in love with riding since I was a kid…" Not so with self proclaimed amateur rider Ray Coutley. His story doesn't kick off until his middle years, and it sounds more like the plot of a Scorsese movie than a storybook.

"I was in test pilot school at the time, and I was dating a young lady who rode horses," Ray grins. "Test pilot school is stressful and infamous for being hard on relationships. Well, it was in the midst of this relationship that I went to the 1991 Tailhook Convention in Las Vegas, which was later known as the Navy Tailhook Scandal. But instead of being on the third floor where all the alleged activity was going on, I was downstairs gambling. I won $5,000 and decided that I would foster some common interest between my girlfriend and I by buying a horse. I bought Ferns Ruby, not knowing what I was getting into."

Ray never says what happened to the original object of his desire, but he does admit that he fell in love with Ruby. Today, Ray lives a life that revolves around riding, a path he started down when he began jumping Ruby competitively - and to his surprise, successfully.

"The fact that we won together is kind of a fluke," he says. "When I bought her, I had never shown a horse and she had never jumped. Four years later she won at the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Amateur World Championship – despite having me on her back. Then she just started winning everything."

Ray says the excitement of jumping and winning fit his personality perfectly.

Ray Coutley"I'm retired military now," he says, standing with his hands clasped behind his back like a soldier at ease. "I was a Naval Flight Officer. I flew in the righthand seat in an A-6E Intruder off of a Navy carrier. About the time I stopped flying to take a desk job is when I got into horses. They sort of filled that excitement void for me."

"Turns out I enjoy jumping horses more than flying planes, but horses are actually more difficult. A plane reacts to your physical input, so you know how it will perform. With the horses, you have an animal underneath you, and you don't know how it's going to react."

Ray just retired his first World Champion, Ferns Ruby, after a career that netted 3 wins at the AQHA World Show, 2 wins at the All American Quarter Horse Congress and 2 Horse-of-the-Year Awards for Zone 3 at United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) events. He says he never could have enjoyed this mid-life success without the help of a lot of knowledgeable enthusiasts. "Ferns Ruby and I would never have crossed paths without the gracious gesture of Bob and Lorraine Allday deciding to sell Ruby," says Coutley, referring to his good fortune in landing such a capable mount. "Then, my success in competitions would never have happened without the patience and sense of humor of great trainers like Tracy Miller-Murray, Winn Alden, Ian Silitch, Alfred Hewitt, Beverly Fields, Joel Leveson and Tracy Magness."

It takes a strong team effort to produce the kinds of wins Ray enjoys. With their help and Ray's enthusiasm, Ruby retired with dignity at the top of her game – but not before a few seasons of jumping along side her bay son and successor, Navier Stokes.

Ray Coutley"I delivered Navier Stokes so that's one reason he's so special to me. I was a nervous daddy. I'd watched all the videos, and the first night I stayed in the barn, he was delivered," says Ray with a marked degree of pride. "But the other reason he's special is that, like his mother, he's a winner. 2007 was only his second year of showing, but he went to the AQHA World Show for his first time ever and won. He'll be with me for a long time. He's not going anywhere."

It's inspiring to see a man like Ray Coutley talk so sensitively about a horse. Ex-military, an adventure seeker, a guy who his friends call "Critter" for reasons never mentioned, Ray doesn't exactly fit the mold of an equestrian devotee. But according to Ray, his passion goes beyond devotion…all the way to parental love.

"With six horses, this is a lifestyle. I take care of them all myself. I get up early in the morning to feed, go off to work, get home, clean out stalls, ride if I can and just generally give my time to take care of these kids."


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