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When he's not making music, Lyle Lovett spends his time horsing around

Jon Bream
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Lyle Lovett sounded as giddy as the character in his "If I Had a Boat" song who envisions "me upon my pony on my boat."

The giddiness was because Lovett was talking about horses. Whether he's on his ranch outside Houston, competing in Make-A-Wish's Celebrity Slide in Oklahoma or in concert, he loves to go riding. Specifically, he's into a competitive event called reining.

"Reining is like a Western version of dressage. It demonstrates the willingness and athletic ability that a horse needs to be able to work a cow," the Texas troubadour explained. "But it's cow-work athleticism without a cow. Reining is more of a Midwest, Pennsylvania and Ohio event because of the more limited access to cattle in those places."

Does he practice this at home?

"Not enough — like my guitar playing," the four-time Grammy winner said with a chuckle.

Last month, Lovett earned a second-place ribbon — and $77.44 — in the limited non-pro class — "the emphasis on limited," he says, "and non-pro means you ride your own horse" — at the National Reining Breeders Classic in Byars, Okla. He usually competes in two or three such competitions a year.

"I feel a little bad riding up to a 12-year-old girl and saying 'You're going down,' but it's great fun," said the singer, who has been serious about reining for a dozen years.

Lovett, 52, is the two-time defending champion in the Celebrity Slide in Oklahoma City, where in December he bested actor William Shatner, jewelry designer David Yurman and professional bull riders like former world champ Adriano Moraes.

"I have a very good horse," said the humble horseman, who, at age 2, got a pony named Tiny. "They team me with a Make-a-Wish kid. I got to ride for the same girl for the last two years, and she's thankfully doing pretty well."

Last year was a slow one for Lovett on the charity circuit; he did only one concert. "We're doing more than last year," said the singer-songwriter, who typically does eight to 12 charity performances per year. "They're a good way to keep the band together and working."

Lovett worked solo this year at his first-ever performances in Milan, Zurich and Helsinki (touring with John Hiatt). Last month, on his first foray to Australia, he traveled with His Acoustic Group, a k a the smaller version of His Large Band.

While Down Under, Lovett caught the James Taylor/ Carole King tour, which features Lovett's usual rhythm section, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar. Before the concert, Lovett visited with Taylor, who extended his appreciation to the hit-less but successful Texan.

Said Lovett: "James said something about 'being out with your band.' I had to laugh. That was really generous of him. Those guys are inextricably linked to James Taylor forever."

Just like horses are linked to the guy who dreamed about being on his pony on his boat.

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