Susar Farms founder faces disease, continues horseriding legacy

Susar Farms founder faces disease, continues horseriding legacy

Susar Farms founder faces disease, continues horseriding legacy
November 08
21:27 2017

At first glance, Susan Mayo appears frail. 

She has a thin frame, wears a soft beanie and breathes from a nearby oxygen tank. But as soon as she speaks into the microphone, the field across from her echoes with strength and even a bit of dry humor.

“In addition to not being able to breathe, I’m also deaf, in case you didn’t know,” Mayo said after a contestant had to repeat themself. 

Mayo, 72, is the founder of Susar Farms, a place where locals can learn to ride, train and show horses. And here, at its  year-end horse show, everything is orchestrated under her order.

Mayo has over 40 years of experience with horse riding, mainly competing in shows located in Southern California. She established Susar Farms in 1973 after she graduated college, but has charted an even longer history with her love of horses.

“I’ve been doing it since I was about a year old,” Mayo said. “My parents put me on a horse in Griffith Park Zoo in California on a little pony ride. When they tried to take me off, I screamed bloody murder.”

Recently, Mayo was approved for a lung transplant after years of battling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an umbrella term for progressive lung diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema. However, in her usual fierce manner, Mayo has refused to let it stop her from carrying on her duties at the farm.

“I’m having a lung transplant,” Mayo said. “Obviously, if I croak, it will be [the last show]. But I’m not planning on croaking.”

Those in the Susar Farm community, ranging from beginners to riders of more than 30 years, have been supporting Mayo throughout the process.

“I’m just hoping and praying that she gets this lung transplant,” close friend Christine Bode said. “ It’s amazing to me that she’s here today doing her usual thing. There’s just something about her.”

Blazing the Trail

Mayo and her family moved to Texas in 1960, where she sought out a community for beginner riders. At the time, Mayo said horse shows did not offer the training she knew was necessary.

“When I moved here there were no shows in Texas where people could come who were not experts,” Mayo said. “Once you go to the big shows, you have to have all the facts and you have to know everything. It’s very discouraging.”

After forming Susar Farms, Mayo established its mission as a place of community support and learning. It’s the reason why Mayo holds open shows for beginner riders and does not attend national competitions even though they qualify every year.

Competitors in the horse showmanship portion of Susar Farm’s High Point Show stand idly as they are judged. Susar Farms has been hosting horse shows for over 30 years. Sara Carpenter

In her years of experience, she said she has seen enough of the dark side behind competing. 

“Competition is nice, but it’s very important that competition stays fun — that it stays happy for the horse and the rider,” Mayo said. “I see far too much stuff done to horses that should not be done to [them] in the name of competition.”

For years now, Susar Farms has worked with riders of all backgrounds and multiple generations. Mayo currently has three to four students, but she has taught nearly 30 in other years. Denton resident Rebecca Boardman, who was a rider and now owns an Arabian horse therapy center, said Mayo’s shows made a huge impact.

“It wasn’t about perfection,” Boardman said. “The only perfection that was striven for was how well you and your horse got along.”

Since then, Boardman said she continues to ride and let others enjoy the same inspiration she experienced during her time at the shows.

“Susan was part of who developed me into the horse person I’ve been my entire life,” Boardman said. “She was very empowering for young women.”

Over the years, the amount of shows at Susar Farms has shrunk from seven to five due to Mayo’s lung condition. However, riders still come from hours away to participate.

Regulars say this is because of the supportive nature that has been cultivated by Mayo.

“Everybody has a fair chance — there are no politics,” close friend and rider Cookie Feagins said. “You get comments on what you did wrong and what you did right, and it’s a fun place to be.”

Looking forward

Mayo said she quit smoking 30 years ago, but that was not soon enough.

“I just damaged my lungs,” Mayo said.

Mayo was riding every day a week ago, but her lungs suddenly took a downturn. She was put on protocol at University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, where she found out she needed a lung transplant. However, she said she has high hopes and is approaching it with the tenacity she does with everything else.

“Aside from having very bad lungs, I’m in excellent shape,” Mayo said. “The surgeon said that I would be riding again as soon as all this heals. I’m looking forward to it.”

Mayo has been carrying around an oxygen tank for four years now due to her COPD. At this point, the tank is a part of her daily life. It follows her to the farm, to the gym and even while she is riding.

“I ride with my oxygen on my back, and that’s not ultimately the greatest thing in the world, but you do what you do,” Mayo said.

Beside her damaged lungs, Mayo has been known to be a proponent of fitness. Doctors found no traces of plaque in her arteries, and she said it’s simply a matter of time now.

“I go to the gym every day and even though it takes me forever because I have to bring my oxygen levels back up and do a little bit more, I’m in good shape,” Mayo said. “The surgeon said I would be riding again as soon as all this heals.”

Those around her are hoping for the best as they wait for the future operation.

“I hope she can continue and do great,” Feagins said. “We just all love to be out here and help any way we can.”

Mayo is ready to hit the ground running as soon as she can.

“I have a high tolerance for pain, and I will get up and run as soon as they let me,” Mayo said.

Featured Image: Susan Mayo, owner of Susar Farms, has worked with horses all her life and has aimed to educate her students on horses, helping them nuture a healthy relationship with them. Sara Carpenter

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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