Tucked away among the stalls, concrete pathways and dirt arenas at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds complex, two Chickasaw equestrians relax with bottles of water and engage in casual conversation.
Such calm moments are fleeting for Abbey and Addison Kliewer. When the call to compete echoes through the building’s loud speakers, their actions are fast and serious; horses are blanketed and saddled; sequined riding attire is donned; knee-high riding boots are tugged into place; horses are combed and curried; mom, Milli, double checks everything and then checks it again for good measure, as only a horse show mom can.
Their dad, Phil, takes it all in with a father’s immense pride and enthusiasm. He doesn’t sling saddles into place nor does he wield a curry comb. What he does do is provide all the essentials so the girls can compete and succeed. He is the enabler for the horses, funds the insurance, and quietly keeps tab of victories that could lead to college scholarships for both his daughters on equine riding teams.
A photo of the Kliewer trophy gallery probably would be proof enough. Trophies, silver belt buckles, a championship silver-ornate saddle, ribbons and plaques fill every nook and cranny of the home and ranch operation both located in Cordell, Oklahoma.
Eighteen-year-old Abbey is scheduled to graduate very soon. Studious, serious and focused, Abbey is hoping to earn a scholarship competing with equine teams at either Oklahoma State University or Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Abbey, very self-directed, is an online student who assists without much parental interference in her academic pursuits. Abbey is looking at equine teams at about any Division I University, but would prefer to stay close to home. Her desire is most likely to compete in the Big 12 conference. Kansas State would be OK, as would Texas Christian or even becoming an Aggie at Texas A&M.
Her father is a lifelong University of Oklahoma fan. He bleeds crimson. But, he takes it all in stride with a heavy sigh that the university he loves does not offer funded equine opportunities for his beloved daughters.
This summer will be one full of competitions. Abbey may even delay college for a year to rack up more trophies, buckles and saddles in order to sway Big 12 schools. She’s building a scholarship-worthy resume and hopes universities will take note.
Just like major college football or basketball, it boils down to “what have you accomplished” in order to obtain a much coveted scholarship, Phil Kliewer explains. Title 9—the federal government mandate stipulates women’s athletics be given as much attention as men’s athletics—leveled the playing field and has extended opportunities for women to compete in many nontraditional sports, he adds.
No Fear Of Flying
At 16, Addison isn’t feeling the pressure her big sister is experiencing. There probably is plenty of time for the Cordell High School sophomore to win so many trophies the Kliewer family will not be able to navigate the trophy room without knocking them over.
“I love it,” Addison says of equine competition. “My sister and I are different in some ways. I probably don’t take it as seriously as Abbey does, but I still want to do the very best I can and hope a university equine program notices,” she says while sipping a soft drink between competition venues. “It’s fun … and demanding,” she adds with a lovely smile and typical teenage gesture of shrugging shoulders while being wide-eyed.
The Chickasaw young women compete in a variety of equine events. Addison is active in the “Hunter” classes. It’s the one where horse and rider follow a pre-determined course and jump over obstacles while using different gaits.
On a beautiful spring afternoon at the fairgrounds, Milli and Phil took up seats in the arena to watch Addison. Milli, a former teenage champion competitor, knows how judges might score the ride. Even with Milli’s eagle-eye for imperfections, each parent expresses satisfaction with Addison’s overall effort.
However, there is a “little” problem, Milli noted. Addison’s left foot was free from the stirrup briefly and that’s a big deal. Did the judges notice?
Unfortunately, yes. Her score was much lower than hoped. On to the next event and a clean slate. Addison beams and is ready for the “next go.”
A Life Away From Horses
Abbey’s life is full of books and horses. Addison’s is full of horses, but she also plays basketball, runs cross-country and is active in track at Cordell High School. Both girls also enjoy their church in Cordell and are active in community activities.
Addison’s extra-curricular activities sometime require mad dashes across the state. Phil and Milli want to drink in every sport their daughters are involved in and sometimes that requires drive time. And, sometimes, it requires Milli to attend horse competitions while Phil cheers on the school-related sports.
“Sometimes, it can be quite daunting,” Phil says with a laugh. “You meet yourself coming and going.”
He is a soft-spoken, thorough professional whose day job is a financial advisor for Edward Jones. The job makes the highly competitive and hugely expensive “equine venture” more possible.
He thanks his grandfather, Harry Hill Phillips, a Chickasaw, who inked the Dawes Commission Rolls and soon after acquired various oil and gas leases in his Pickens area home. For the Kliewers, Mr. Phillips just happened to have oil and gas beneath the surface that he sniffed as a landman as a nice living for several generations.
“I laugh and say my Edward Jones job makes the horse business possible, but it’s the Chickasaw mineral production that saddles us up,” Phil explains with a smile. He appreciates the fortuitous life event of his Chickasaw heritage and what the land has given us back.
Vets, Trainers and Expenses
Supporting the efforts of two daughters who love to compete in equestrian events is not for the financially faint of heart.
Both girls have excellent trainers. Horses are purchased—sometimes for prices greater than the national average for salaries—vets are on call, the expense of transporting them to competitions from Oklahoma to Ohio, Kentucky and beyond is formidable. Boarding them, training them, working them and feeding them would make an accountant earn continuing education credits.
“We are blessed by our Chickasaw heritage,” Phil points out. “Without that, it would not be financially possible to live the dream. What is the price tag for the dreams of your children,” he asks. “It is limitless,” he answers his own question.