By Don White
Thanks to Papa Hunt, there’s not much about horses Gary Baber doesn’t know.
Lately, he’s become more of an authority on goats too.
“They’re no trouble, and they don’t stink like I thought they would,” says the 52-year-old South Irvine resident.
He should know.
For the past three years the former factory worker has served as manager of White Oak Stables, a business started by his late grandfather, John N. ‘Papa’ Hunt, in the mid-1960s.
The 20-stall stable was owned by Jimmy Webb from about 1991 to 2006, being sold to the current owner, Billy Dawes.
As he sits in front of the big barn and whittles, Baber is surrounded by familiar territory and fond memories.
He points out a hillside location where his grandparent’s brick home stood before burning several years ago. That home and the stables sat on a 350-acre farm where he spent a good part of his childhood.
“People can’t believe this, but I was riding horses before I could walk,” he says, noting how Papa would sit his grandchildren in front of him on the big horses.
“I spent a lot of time with him and know he helped a lot of people,” he says, pointing with pride to several framed photos of Papa hanging in his office. Most of the photos were taken at horse shows, after having won best in class.
He recalls how his grandfather had to overcome protests from Mamaw, the late Edith June Hunt, to have the stable built in 1965.
“He had the lumber piled up here for more than three years while she tried to talk him out of building it,” he says.
Eventually, a show ring was added, and under Webb’s ownership, a unique metal stand used for video taping the horse shows.
During the heyday of the local saddle club, events were held often under the lights, even square dances.
“The saddle club was big here at one time, and I would like to see it get started back up,” says Baber, offering White Oak Stables as a meeting location.
One drawback has been the high cost of insurance.
“They want $1,200 for insurance that would cover only four events per year,” he says.
Meanwhile, Baber spends time making sure the horses (and occasional goat) in his stable are well taken care of, wins his share of awards at the local fair horse show, and passes along advice learned from his grandfather.
“He was around animals all his life, even going back to World War 1 when he worked with mules.
“He taught me that if you can’t put your hand between a horse’s eyes, you don’t want him.”
No doubt, Papa would be proud this grandson is carrying on his legacy.