FROM THE VAULT: Sam Raner is more than a horsewoman

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2023

By the Late Gordon Cotton | Originally published in The Vicksburg Post on June 16, 2013

She’s a girl who wears many hats, figuratively speaking, but the one you’ll most likely find Sam Raner (that’s short for Samantha) wearing is a cowboy hat.

She has many interests, but the main one is horses. She has seven but her favorite, her first love, is Rey Rey. She’s had him for 10 years, from when she was 11 and he was 10. Rey Rey has been with her for almost half her life (she was 21 last week).

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

She grew up riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers and playing soccer. Her parents weren’t into horses, so what turned her on?

“I think they’re beautiful,” she said. Her dad told her he’d pay half if she found the right horse, so she sold her dirt bikes and went to work to pay for her end of the bargain. It took about a year and a half. When she first saw Rey Rey, “He had a personality a mile long. He made funny faces.”

 It was love at first sight. Though he had been trained, Sam started from scratch with her first horse. The two of them spent three weeks together in the round pen (an arena that is basically round, made with panels) just building trust and making a bond, “built by time. They have to want to be with you, they have to want to come to see you.”

Sam said horses are a lot like people.

“If you make them think it was their idea, they are all for it, every day of the week,” she said. “If you try to force them, it will be a battle. You have to learn to manipulate things.”

It really wouldn’t take much for that 1,200-pound animal to kill you — if he wanted to — but he doesn’t, Sam said. In the saddle, she continued, you feel every muscle of their body — when they get tense, when they are scared — and they feel the same about you.

“They feed off your emotions. They know exactly what you’re asking, what you’ve trained them to do,” she said. “They’re gorgeous and majestic and strong. From the back of a horse, things have slowed down and you feel so free. It’s a whole different world when I’m riding Rey.”

Sam learned her horsemanship from friends, mainly Cline Williams of Hermanville and Bubba Daigre of Yokena. Everyone does things their own way, she said.

“You can train under someone and try to be exactly like them, but it’s not going to happen because everybody rides with a different touch,” Raner said. “Their posture is different, their hands move differently.”

Sam had the opportunity two years ago to test her knowledge of horses: she rode almost 900 miles, from Iowa to Mississippi — and without getting saddle sores.

She was one of five who made the trek with a covered wagon down U.S. 65 from Decatur, Iowa, through Missouri and Arkansas, then crossing the Mississippi River at Lake Village, Ark., and taking Mississippi 1 and then U.S. 61 to Hermanville, east of Port Gibson.

The reason for the ride was something that happened before Sam was born — it had to do with veterans returning from the Vietnam War. 

It was a very unpopular war, and most returning veterans didn’t receive much of a welcome. Among them was Cline Williams’ brother, Herman. Some kin and friends were moving to Iowa and he decided to go with them. Though life was good for him in Iowa, he always had that lingering feeling that he had never really gone home.

The trip had been discussed and debated for years. It would be in honor of all veterans, but especially those from the war in Vietnam. Those on the trip were Cline and Herman Williams, Wayne and Beth Brown, and Sam who “just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

They were joined by another veteran, Bill Hartweig, in Missouri.

“This was Herman’s way of letting everyone know that we are One Nation Under God, that we really do care,” she said.

Their horses pulled an Amish-made wagon, and they also had a special-made trailer pulled by a pickup. The trailer had living quarters and a bathroom. A homemade grill was used for cooking. But they didn’t always have to cook, for a response from the public was unbelievable.

They often were invited to supper and provision was made for their horses. They spoke to schoolchildren along the way and made untold numbers of friends.

The ride lasted from Sept. 3 until Oct. 20 — “never cold cold nor hot hot – and it was like somebody held up the rain. We were in only one light sprinkle,” Raner said.

The whole trip was done on faith, she said, and she felt that “God stepped in whenever we came close to having a problem.”

All along the way, and especially when they reached Hermanville, they were applauded for what they were doing. In their old hometown, the folks in Claiborne County greeted them with a virtual feast and celebration.

There was some talk of a coat-to-coast ride, but Sam thinks that can wait, something she can do in later life. In all her activities, Sam didn’t neglect schooling. Her family moved to Warren County from Port Gibson when she was 6, and through the seventh grade, she attended the Montessori School, then Mount Salus Christian School in Clinton and graduated from Central Hinds Academy.

For a year she attended Mississippi College on a scholarship and was on the soccer team. She thought she wanted to be a veterinarian, working with large animals, but she realized she just didn’t have the zeal.

“I knew that loved riding, but I don’t want to make it my job,” she said. “I want to be able to do it when I want to, so I switched my career goal to emergency medicine because I want to help people.”

In working as a paramedic, “You’re the first one on the scene, and someone is having a serious life crisis, some worse than others. Blood and guts don’t bother me that much. I know there are people who can’t handle it. You condition yourself. You know it looks bad but you can save this person. I can make a difference, and I love that.”

She has completed her emergency medical technician training and was “thrilled to learn something new. I loved everything about it. Now if something happens to somebody, I can help that person survive until they get to a hospital.”

She took the class with a group of volunteer firefighters, but that wasn’t new to her — she grew up at the Fisher Ferry Volunteer Fire Station as her dad was a volunteer and her mother was a support person.

She’s been asked why she would want to do such a dangerous job, and her reply is that she loves the job, feels very comfortable with it and enjoys going to work. She has passed her physical agility test and can go on medical calls.

The firefighters have a brotherhood, she said, and “We’re able to help people regardless of personal risk.”

When asked if the tests are less stringent for women, her response is, “Do fires burn colder for girls? The training is the same.”

In high school, she could kick a 45-yard field goal for the football team, and she played soccer, but she also loved getting dressed up for the prom.

“There’s a time in a girl’s life that she wants to be that beauty queen, that prom queen, they want to win something. I had those days. I won’t lie about it,” Sam said. Instead, she was in the Miss Dixie National Rodeo competition and was the director’s choice.

“They complimented me on my horsemanship,” she said. “That’s all I cared about.”

Sam still has time for horse-related activities. She’s an active participant in an event held each April in Jackson for the handicapped. The program has been in operation for about 30 years, and the sponsors gather from 30 to 40 horses in the livestock arena at the state fairgrounds in Jackson, and for four days the handicapped of all ages — the blind, deaf, mentally and physically handicapped are given the opportunity to ride horses. The program, free to the participants, attracts 2,000 to 3,000 each year. Sam has broken horses, she’s been thrown but hasn’t broken anything, and though working with horses can be dangerous, Sam points out that many things in life are. 

“If you’ve never been heartbroken, how do you appreciate life?” she asked. “How do you appreciate being healthy if you’ve never been sick? If you put yourself in a perfect little box you miss out on life you’re not living.”

Her passion for helping those in need includes horses. She has taken several that had been greatly abused and rehabilitated them. And she has her favorite: “The quarter horse, hands down. They’re the bulldog of horses. They’re fast and agile. If there was a soccer player among horses, it would be the quarter horse.”

“I love barrel racing,” Sam said. “It’s gorgeous. A dance between the rider and horse. It’s amazing.”

Though she’s never tried barrel racing, Sam has participated in the Western Pleasure, “where you doll yourself and your horse up. You have to be perfect and pristine and a lot on image. It’s cool, it’s really neat. 

“You can go out and buy breast collars with all the bling and all the shininess. You can buy the top-notch saddle,” she said. 

Sam, though, has never done that. She’s competed in jeans and a t-shirt, has never been to the expensive, showy rodeos. But when she and Rey Rey have competed “and he has run his heart out and we’ve won” in small local rodeos, she realizes it may be a top-notch saddle on that horse, “but it doesn’t matter what you look like. That saddle just sits on the horse. It’s you and your horse.”

It’s hard to compete with the team of Sam and Rey Rey. 

Gordon Cotton (1936-2021) was a Vicksburg and Warren County icon who spent a lifetime learning and sharing history.