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Horseman: Competition should be about improvement

Chuck Keller says combination of riding, teaching and judging have helped him achieve

July 14, 2010|By JANET HEIM
  • Chuck Keller has served as a licensed judge for the American Horse Show Association, officiating at competitions in more than 25 states.
Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Chuck Keller has traveled the world and credits the equestrian skills he learned as a 4-H'er in Washington County for many of his opportunities.

Keller, a 1970 North Hagerstown High School graduate, said he grew up on a farm with ponies on Jefferson Boulevard in Hagerstown. He was the middle child and only son of Gene and Evelyn Keller.

Gene Keller, now deceased, bought his son a pony when Chuck was about 12, expecting him to take care of it.

When Gene Keller found the pony without water, he sold it. It took Chuck a summer of mowing lawns and painting to earn money to buy another one.

He said his father's lesson helped shape him as a horseman.

It wasn't until he got involved with 4-H locally, at about age 15, that Keller got serious about riding and showing horses, he said.

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"I am very fortunate to have a life like I have had," said Keller, who moved to Washington County when he was 5.

Keller said it was Helen Baker Kelley of Hancock who provided the training and inspiration he needed as a teenager.

"Helen Kelley has been such an influence on my life," he said.

Keller, 57, recently returned to the area to be closer to his mother. He volunteered his time to judge a 4-H horse competition June 19.

"I just want to give back. It's nice to be in a position to give back to the community," Keller said.

Keller's path to career horseman came as a result of being open to opportunities.

"It was just luck and being there at the right time," he said.

He said he was a shy child, the result of living in the country and not traveling.

In 1972, Keller said he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army for three years.

While home on leave, he attended an international horse show in Harrisburg, Pa., and a colonel with the U.S. Pentathlon Team noticed Keller's military haircut.

Keller was asked to join the team, with the job of preparing the horses and riders for competition.

"It sounded good to me. I had no idea what it was," Keller said.

Pentathlon involves five disciplines -- running, fencing, swimming, shooting and horseback riding. Keller signed on and spent two years working with the team in San Antonio.

He said his military experience and travel helped him develop into a confident person.

Over the course of his career, Keller has owned businesses and farms, all related to riding, showing and training horses.

Keller spent a month in Iran, just before the shah was deposed, assisting in the development of show jumping in that country.

To balance the stress of judging, Keller relied on his other passion -- buying and refurbishing real estate. Over the years, he owned several farms and homes in Maryland, Tennessee and Virginia.

His work has taken him to Canada, Puerto Rico, Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland and England. Riders trained and horses trained or ridden by Keller have been successful at the highest level of competition throughout the U.S. and abroad.

"I was on the road a lot," Keller said.

Keller has served as a licensed judge for the American Horse Show Association, officiating at competitions in more than 25 states.

"It was quite an honor to be able to judge the best in the country," Keller said.

Keller advises riders that competition should be about improving at each show, not about the ribbon.

"Riding helped my teaching, teaching helped my riding and teaching helped my judging. I would encourage people to do all three," Keller said.

Keller said he hopes local youths will read his story and realize that with hard work, they can achieve what he has. Keller said horseback riding is expensive, but through 4-H, he learned the skills that allowed him to travel the world.

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