Generations of students learned to ride and care for horses at the University of North Texas thanks to a woman named Sweet Estes. Ms. Estes was born in Ennis, Texas. She was named Sammie Jean Estes and acquired the nickname “Sweet” from her big sister, Queena Jo Estes, shortly after birth. Sweet started selling rides on horses and mules as a child. The practice continued when she arrived on campus in the 1941-1942 school year. Rides on her horses cost 50 cents for the first hour and 25 cents for the second hour. Before long she raised her prices to 75 cents an hour. Soon the school approached her to give classes to her fellow students. The stables were located on Maple Street. Her stables later moved south on Bonnie Brae. As a student she had a little time for anything but being a student, running her business, and teaching riding to her fellow students. However, she was a member of the Physical Education Professional Club. The horse rentals and a salary for teaching helped pay her way while earning a bachelor’s (Winter 1948) and master’s degrees (January 29, 1956).
“My sister and I rode at Sweet Estes’ stable on the far west end of Maple Street, a dirt street at the time….I can remember the names of 14 horses: Jitters, Indigo, Cho-Cho, etc. We rode west and south of town and around the golf course being built.”
-Marjorie M. Dannelley Larson, North Texan, Fall 2011
In 1948, Sweet was hired on as a full-time faculty member to teach horseback riding and other physical education classes. Shortly after her appointment she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She took time off from teaching to pursue treatment for the disease. Her name does not appear in the catalogs between 1950-51 and 1951-52 school years. The doctors had warned her that she might never be able to ride a horse again. She proved them wrong, returning to teaching and riding in 1952-53.
The classes ceased in 1962, when the Texas Legislature removed funding for physical education courses they felt did not belong in colleges and universities. Ms. Estes continued as a Physical Education instructor. She also continued to act as the sponsor of the riding club, Los Caballeros, so students could continue learn horseback riding (just without course credit). She also altered her business plan by renting her horses to summer camps and gave individuals and groups riding lessons outside her university employment.
“Riding is a team effort where the human has the responsibility to make it work”
-Sweet Estes, North Texas Daily, 1977-04-28
Horseback riding would return to UNT in 1972. In 1974 backpacking classes were also offered. She took students on field trips to hike in Colorado and New Mexico. During the winter the trip was to Blanca Peak in Colorado. Warm weather trips visited a different site on each trip.
“This is a great chance for them [students] to get out and see the country and learn how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful world and to get a chance to experience it. It also gives them a chance to learn what they can and cannot do, to gain confidence in themselves. And it’s a great way to put problems back home in perspective. It gives them and me a chance to clear out the cobwebs”
-Sweet Estes, North Texan, Winter 1985
Sweet Estes was last listed as a faculty member in the 1989-90 Undergraduate Catalog. She died in Florissant, Colorado in 1989.
One of Ms. Estes favorite sayings was “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and smile through it all.” Her life gave her numerous examples of hard times and hardships she had to overcome. Throughout it all, she followed the course that gave her the most happiness – working with horses and bringing that joy to anyone who wanted to learn.