years before University of Texas students took to the streets of Austin
to protest the war in Vietnam, school officials must have seen undergraduate
student Helen Hall as a proverbial burr under the saddle.
The coed from West Texas
wasn't against anything so much as she was strongly for something.
She thought a university of the first class, where in 1928 she would
be a senior, needed to offer its students instructing in riding. Not
"All last year," a writer for Austin's
Sunday American-Statesman Magazine reported in October 1928, "Miss
Hall argued and plead with the powers that be to grant university
land for stables and assist her in building them to the end that horseback
riding might be put in as part of the regular physical training work
of the university-but to no avail."
Finally, Hall succeeded in talking UT's physical training department
into agreeing to add an equestrian skills credit course if funding
could be found for such a program. Other than hiring an instructor,
another obvious necessity would be horses on which students could
To that end, when Hall arrived for the beginning of fall classes that
distant fall only one year before the coming stock market crash that
led to the Great Depression, she did not come to Austin
alone. She and her younger brother Frank (a student at Texas A&M)
rode horseback from the family's Elm Motte Ranch near Eden
with a string of eight horses. Sister and brother drove the horses
the 190 miles from their family ranch to Austin
in five days. (That's averaging 38 miles a day.)
Hall had spent most of the summer teaching riding at Camp Ekalea near
Estes Park, Col. She taught 20 young ladies from "back East" to ride.
Hall stabled her remuda-all horses she had raised and broken to ride--at
Austin's Westenfield Riding
Club. She did not live far from the club so she could take care of
her horses before and after classes at UT. Impressed with Hall's moxie,
UT officials set aside a tract of land on the north side of East 23rd
Street as a practice riding field. Presumably, the university then
found some way to offer a credit course in horseback riding.
Hall was no average coed. Born on Feb. 7, 1905 in Junction,
near where her parents had a ranch, she grew up on another ranch they
had acquired in Concho
County in 1917. Enrolling at UT, she had much to learn, but when
it came to horseflesh, she dang sure knew the difference between withers
When the reporter interviewed Hall, the woman journalist asked what
her favorite pastimes were.
"Oh," she replied, "riding, breaking colts, trading horses, buying
horses, doctoring horses…"
Hall and her brother came by their horsepersonship naturally enough.
In the early 1880s, their future father, Frank S. Hall came from England
to Texas to take up ranching.
Before leaving, he and a friend about his age had argued over whether
to go to Australia or Texas. Unable to
agree, they flipped a coin. Tails won and they came to Texas.
Hall's partner moved on to Alaska, but Hall stayed in Texas
the rest of his life.
Calling her a "versatile young woman," the author of the article about
Hall noted that her bedroom back at the family ranch was decorated
with rattlesnake skins representing the 30 or so snakes she had dispatched
during her girlhood. In addition, the writer said, Hall was a "well-poised
college woman at home in any society, a fine conversationalist, [and]
a graceful dancer" whose ambition was to become a writer of Western
If she did try to sell short stories to the pulp Western magazines
of the day, that's not what she became known for. On the short term,
after graduating from UT, she stayed in Austin
and ran her own riding academy. On the long term, her life continued
to largely center on horses.
Marrying Max G. Michaelis Jr. in 1932, she sold her stables and most
of her horses and moved with him to Mexico. They operated a ranch
in Mexico and she continued to raise and train horses, particularly
Helen Hall Michaelis went on to be one of the founders of the American
Quarter Horse Association. In 1940 she was elected to the board of
directors, and from March 1942 to August 1946 she served as the association's
Eventually moving back to Texas, the couple bought a ranch near Kyle
in Hays County. Only
60, she died in Austin on
July 26, 1965 and is buried in Kyle.
Despite Hall's efforts, apparently UT did not continue offering a
credit course in horseback riding. But the school does offer an informal
class in English riding. UT also has an equestrian team that competes
in English riding.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March
7, 2018 column
award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction books, Mike
Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters.
A long-time freelance writer and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley
in the Hill Country. To read about more his work, visit his website
at mikecoxauthor.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.