As soon as she could, Chele McGauly Murrell firmly pronounced what would become her lifelong passion.
"My mom said the first thing I ever said was ‘horse,’" smiles the Louisiana native. "It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since then. I started working when I was seven years old. I gave pony rides at a public barn in New Orleans, where I grew up. I’d give rides so then I’d get to ride the ponies myself. And it just progressed from there."
Today, Murrell owns several barns, not to mention horses and riding arenas. Her equine business — Three Rivers Performance Horses, located near Elm Grove, La. — specializes in training and breeding show horses, namely quarter horses, palominos and paints. She also judges horse shows worldwide.
"It’s a very demanding way to make a living, but between the two, it makes everything work," she says.
At Home in the Arena
On a beautiful autumn morning, Murrell — outfitted in blue jeans, a black polo shirt and brown Western boots with spurs — sits astride Pal, a golden palomino with gentle brown eyes. Pal gallops across the arena, comes to a smooth halt, and then moves into a graceful spin. On cue, he stops and stands quietly. From her saddle, Murrell pats his broad neck.
"He has a good disposition and tries hard," she says of the four-year-old, bred and born at Three Rivers. "It takes a lot of time to develop a horse so you can take them places, and they don’t get too excited."
Understanding and training horses comes naturally to Murrell. Years of hands-on experience have also sharpened her skills.
She worked for a horse-trainer part time while attending Louisiana State University, then full time after graduation. Thirteen years ago she moved to Elm Grove and bought her own horse farm. "After I went on my own, I went to horse clinics and learned at shows. You’ve got to ask a lot of questions and just keep learning," Murrell says.
Nowadays, much of her time is spent in the arena on horseback, alongside assistant trainer Brandi Scheer. They train and board as many as 25 horses at a time, and also foal out about 25 mares every spring.
Knowing a Good Horse
Murrell says it can take several months to find out if a horse wants to work. "You want one that likes the job but isn’t over-eager," she says. "Whether it’s being trained or shown, the horse’s goal is to wait to be told what to do — then do it willingly," she continues. "Our ultimate goal is to have a horse quiet and confident enough to carry an amateur rider in a show."
Murrell’s clients are typically amateurs who own and ride horses for a hobby. Although he doesn’t ride, Tommy Smith of Ringgold, La. — who bought Pal two years ago — recommends Murrell to other horse owners.
"Chele handles every facet of her business very professionally," Smith says. "She’s a very good trainer. She’ll tell you how it is — whether your horse is going to make it or not. She takes very good care of the horses, too. Chele’s just an incredible person."
An International Judge
As a judge, Murrell has visited Australia, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Canada. She judges about 20 shows a year, including, most recently, the National Reining Horse Association regional finals in Quebec.
"I’m gone a lot. I couldn’t do all this without help, and I have wonderful help," she comments. One of her helpers is her husband, Lendon, a Bossier City firefighter and experienced roper.
Six years ago, Murrell financed the construction of a much-needed covered arena with Louisiana Land Bank. "David Ogletree (Shreveport branch manager) was truly a gem to work with. And he has the nicest staff, too," Murrell comments.
Funding projects that help his customers succeed makes his job gratifying. "Chele’s a very talented and respected horsewoman," Ogletree says. "She’s a hard worker, and I have a lot of respect for her."
Despite the physically demanding work, Murrell feels blessed. "I love waking up in the morning," she says simply. “I get to walk to work, my dogs come with me, and I get to train horses all day. It’s a kid’s dream come true."
– Article and photos by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers