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Part Three – Charley Snell Horsemanship

Part Three

With challenges mounting in his personal life, Charley talks candidly about a life-changing event that occurred along a lonely, blizzard-struck highway in Montana.

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STARTING THOROUGHBREDS

From the time Charley was in high school, he had a desire to become a jockey. In his early thirties, he thought he would give it a try.

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I knew a guy in Miles City who worked with racehorses. I approached him with ‘You know, I think I might like to try to take a shot at riding these things. What do you think?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Let’s go saddle one.’ In the next few minutes, I was breezing that horse around the track, thinking ‘Man, I don’t know what cocaine is like but this must be twice as good.’

Giving it a go, I spent that summer and some of the next year riding on the bush tracks in South Dakota along with Miles City, Baker and in Billings. My career as a jockey ended up when I broke several bones in my foot which, along with other difficulties in my life, ended those plans.’

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When Charley’s first marriage came to an end, his life in Montana became uncertain. Needing work, he contacted Ray regarding any possible leads. Ray sent him to San Louis Rey Downs in Southern California where he landed a job starting colts for D’ Wayne Lucas. Being just an Eastern Montana cowboy, the Southern California racing world proved to be quite a cultural shock.

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I stepped in there, acting like I knew what I was doing. They were two-year olds colts destined for the racetrack. One colt in particular, a rank knot-headed thing, was worth about half a million dollars but, still, when you understood Ray’s way of working with a horse, then a horse was a horse whether it was a racehorse or a quarter horse on a ranch. You always came from the horse’s standpoint. If you had a touchy horse, you simply did things differently than if you had one who was dull.

I was certainly impressed by what those racehorses could do. They were incredible athletes with smooth gaits. You could ride them all day long and not get tired. They had good action and ways of moving. Still, the racing world had its drawbacks.

In that world, the purpose of a horse was to win races for its owners and, not generally speaking, making a better deal for the horse. This was painful for Ray, seeing how racehorses lived, but on the occasions that he would come down to Southern California, he always sought to help individuals like me who were trying to create a better deal for the horse.

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After finishing up for Lucas, Charley returned to Miles City around Christmas. That December, something happened that would change his life forever.

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ENCOUNTER ON A HIGHWAY

Driving back to Montana, Charley pulled into the small town of Rexburg, Idaho late at night. He soon learned from weather reports that a snowstorm was headed his way and was predicted to shut down the highway running through West Yellowstone into Bozeman.

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I was halfway awake anyway. So I figured I would try to get to the Gallatin before the road closed. Well, I wasn’t on the road long before the storm hit and found myself in the middle of a blizzard, trying not to get myself killed.

Now driving in blizzards was something that was not new to me, but somewhere on that two-lane highway, I have no idea how to really describe in logical terms, I became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. No bells, whistles or angelic choir. I didn’t pray any sinner’s prayer or do any of that kind of stuff but I felt as though I came very near to meeting Jesus Christ face-to-face that night, at least as close as you can get this side of heaven.

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After Charley reached Miles City, he told his former wife what happened. She immediately made an appointment for him to see the local Assembly of God pastor. The pastor, hearing Charley talk about needing Jesus Christ, laughed, which only made Charley’s blood boil.

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‘Charley, forgive me,’ Curt replied. ‘But it is obvious to me that Jesus Christ has taken up residence in you. As you have been talking to me, it is very evident that you have had an encounter with Christ.’

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At first, Charley was stunned.

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But I took Curt at his word. Somehow the night before I had met Jesus Christ. To this day, the experience mystifies me because what I received from the Lord was direct and not through any agency of man. Whatever took place in that encounter came from Him and Him alone.

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The experience, though, had some precedence in Charley’s life. When he was about ten, he had been herding sheep for his dad. Sitting on a rock overlooking the ranch, as he describes it.

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I had an understanding of who Jesus Christ was. There was also something mystical about the year 2000. Mind you this was in 1957.

Now, after my conversion, coming from a very dark place in my life, I said nothing to anyone. Still, literally overnight, I became a radical Christian. Everything changed especially my attitude towards people.

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Soon, word that Charley Snell had “gotten religion” leaked out.

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Folks would come to my door, asking in disbelief, ‘Hey, what’s this that I hear about you?’ Even at the livestock auction where I was working, some employees said, ‘Folks were talking about you the other day. Hey, did you hear that Snell got religion?’

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Among the things that changed with Charley’s conversion to Christianity was his perspective towards horses.

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After encountering Christ, I became much more self-aware and I realized that to have something to offer the horse, I had to improve myself, meaning my attitudes, inner equanimity and peace. Before encountering Calvary, my life had been all about me and what I could do. Even with Ray’s influence it was still about me. However, coming to Christ initiated a healing process in my life and I went from being someone who really didn’t care about people to a man seeking to have good relationships with people and horses.

In this, I have come to believe that we can only become a better person on our own up to a point. What most people don’t understand — and we don’t teach it in the clinics – is you are not going to become ‘a better you’ without Christ. Those who have experienced Christ in a deep measure know this. Yes. But for Calvary. But, for the Cross. I would be completely different. In fact, I probably would have never met Ray Hunt to start with. Yeah. I believe that.

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A NEW PATH

That spring, a call from a friend got Charley retraining soured racehorses back in Southern California. Soon after arriving there, he met his future wife, Barby, at a church located in Fallbrook, CA. Little did they know that Charley’s work in California would be cut short.

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Just about the time I had those soured horses in pretty good shape, one hurt me pretty bad and it took a while for me to heal. When I was ready to return to riding, I got a call, ‘We don’t need you no more.’ All of a sudden, I could not even buy a ride. It was wild. The only place that I could get work was with my dad, believe it or not, back in Montana. All I can say is that God clearly had something else in store for us.

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Now married, Charley and Barby returned to his father’s ranch in Montana and worked there for the next five years.

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Going back, I honestly purposed in my heart to treat my father with the kind of respect and honor that I would show Jesus Christ himself. Now, if you don’t bet that was a stretch! We were dealing with the man who would eventually disown me. But I did and it was that whole thing, treating my dad in the same manner that I would the Lord Jesus in person, that softened me up and gave me an appreciation and awareness that is the basis of what I do with horses and people today.

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Near the end of those five years, Charley experienced another major turning point, one that would send him to the hospital.

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Part One

 Part Two

Part Four

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