East Texas had its share of cowboys and cowgirls through the years and in the Kilgore area there still remain a few who will leave legends.
Those few have managed and continue to take pride in calling themselves cowboy and Texas bred. This is the first in a series of those whose spur, rope, boot, horse, tack or feed became synonymous with their name.
A plaque on her wall explains briefly a life that would have normally been recognized for a man at the height of a career, a career that in the world made for cowboys but was embraced and loved by a woman. Her name is Fay Ann (Horton) Leach and the plaque was presented from the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame during the year 2011.
“What do you expect when they put me on a horse at about age two,” laughed Fay Ann. Born at home to her parents Kyle and Mary Horton, she was raised in the Danville Community. She had two brothers: Robert Winfield, who was ten years her senior, and Joe Clyde who was eight years older.
“I had no siblings close to my age,” she said. “My horse and my dog became my buddies. I also liked to sing, but no one knew it,” she laughed. “I would ride my horse down to the pasture and sing my heart out and then when I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I learned to play the guitar.”
“Growing up, I always hung around the arena,” she continued. “I always wanted to be around the guys as they liked what I liked – horses and rodeo.”
After high school, Fay Ann began training horses for others.
“I just had the natural ability to train horses,” she said nonchalantly. “Even when the rodeo took over and I had to quit, people kept telling me I just had to train one more. I enjoyed it, I really did.”
One of the horses she trained was named Roan Dandy and it belonged to Jack Evans. He bought the horse for his daughter but the daughter cared nothing for Roan Dandy and Fay Ann was told if she returned the money he had paid for the training the horse would belong to her. Although she had several other horses throughout her rodeo years, it was for the most part Roan Dandy that kept her in the competitive arena.
In 1956 Fay Ann became a member of the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) and began competing in rodeo events.
She qualified for the first GRA Barrel Racing Finals in Clayton, New Mexico and went on to qualify in barrel racing for 10 consecutive National Finals Rodeos from 1957 to 1967. From the 1950s until the mid-seventies, she won 7 world titles including all-around, calf roping, flag racing and bull riding.
In 1960, she married Billy Leach. He, too, was born and raised in the Danville Community.
“He lived right up the road from me and I always liked him because he was a cowboy,” said Fay Ann. “He taught me how to rope from a horse, but first learning from the ground.”
Billy roped and bulldogged on the rodeo circuit, too, and has his share of buckles, plaques, and earned a set of silver spurs from the Gladewater Rodeo Association in honor of his contributions to the field of rodeo.
“We got into the rope business by accident,” said Fay Ann. “We were at a rodeo in Magnolia, Arkansas when a man came up and wanted to feel of the rope Billy was using. Then he offered to buy it and Billy sold it.”
“At the time, we came home and bought two more ropes from Mr. Finney and we worked the ropes removing the bristles and making it smooth for the next rodeo,” she said. “Word got out that Billy would sell the ropes and soon Mr. Finney thought it would be better if we just ordered the coils of rope in for ourselves and gave us the name of the dealer. “
“The rope business kept growing and growing until we were working 150 ropes per day and I was hand sewing the leather flap in the eye of each rope. We welded barrels to the inside of a trailer and we would leave with 1200 ropes in those barrels and come back empty. One year at the National Finals every guy but one roped with a Billy Leach rope,” she said.
After twenty years, the couple sold the rope business to another couple but the business stayed on their land.
“There is nothing like having someone call or knock on your door at 2 or 4 in the morning asking for a rope,“ she laughed. “Of course they got the rope.”
“My mother always said when I was little bitty I would say I’m going to marry a cowboy and own a ranch. Well, I married and we have our ranch. I guess we are doing alright,” she added.
Today at age 81, she finds pleasure reminiscing in a log home on a ranch filled with barns and corrals. In the den of her lovely home a fire place burns and the walls are lined with photos of their rodeo days. A glass display table filled with buckles and medallions with the silver spurs on top is located on the opposite side of the room and gives a glimpse of the hard work behind each one earned.
If you have the pleasure of a visit, don’t let her age fool you. Fay Ann (Horton) Leach is still one spry lady.
May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Your Homes Throughout the Week. In the meantime, we may be reached at 903-984-2593 or email@example.com.