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SMITHFIELD — George Bell said his love for horses dates from almost as far back as he can remember, and at age 70, it’s just as enduring now as it has ever been.
“Ever since I was a child I wanted to ride horses,” said Bell, who thinks his inspiration came from watching cowboy movies as a child while growing up in rural Bertie County.
Along with wife, Carol, George Bell has been able to turn his love for horses into a successful business venture as the couple has managed an operation called Bell Ranch on Brogden Road in Smithfield for the last decade.
Bell said wife Carol loves horses even more than he does.
The Bells, who have three grown children ages 49, 46 and 42, raise horses for competition known as reining. They have about 25 that are currently in training for the sport.
The next big event on their schedule is the National Reining Horse Association Derby next month in Oklahoma City.
George Bell described reining as an equestrian competition similar to ice-skating in that it involves spins, circles and other maneuvers, only these are performed on horseback instead of ice skates.
In addition to training horses, Bell is an accomplished rider and competes worldwide, highlighted by his being named world reining champion in 1997.
Bell also owns several car dealerships around the nation, although he said horses are definitely his true passion.
Most horses used in reining competition are quarter horses and these are the kind the Bells raise and train.
George Bell explained that quarter horses are the kind cowboys used to ride on cattle ranches and in rodeos.
“They got their name from being the fastest horses in the quarter-mile,” Bell explained.
Bell said he started out with a pony when he was a kid growing up Bertie County.
“I could not afford a horse because our family had no money,” Bell said, “but no one else did either.”
He finally got his first a horse at age 18 and said has been riding ever since.
Bell played football at Bertie County High School and attended North Carolina State University where he was a walk-on member of the football team, eventually earning a scholarship.
While at N.C. State, he earned Atlantic Coast Conference all-academic honors in addition to being named most valuable defensive player in the 1972 Peach Bowl that N.C. State won, dominating West Virginia by a score of 49-13.
Bell’s football coach at NCSU was the legendary Lou Holtz, who went on to head coaching jobs with the professional New York Jets and the University of Arkansas, University of Minnesota, University of South Carolina. At the University of Notre Dame, his 1988 squad won the national championship.
Bell said Holtz was responsible for contacting the News & Observer sports department in Raleigh and suggesting an editorial cartoon about Bell that called him “Cowboy” George Bell due to his involvement with horses.
Bell said he tried his hand at coaching football after college but never really had his heart in games or at practices and usually found himself thinking more about horses than blocking and tackling.
His favorite horse at the moment is a 3-year-old palomino stallion named Blast, one of many world champions Bell has raised over his career.
“If you are hooked on alcohol they have AA, if you are hooked on drugs they have rehab, but if you are hooked on horses, there is nothing they can do for you,” Bell quipped.