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June Liston Enjoys the Best of Both Worlds – Showing Horses & Flying Planes

The first thing on Select exhibitor June Liston’s Christmas list was always a horse. When she was 11, that dream finally came true. Her family was moving to California, and Liston was upset about it. So, her father bought her a horse to make her feel better.

From there, the obsession grew. After her first mare, Liston’s father got an Appaloosa named Mark’s Poker Chip. Liston began showing Chipper and even recalled receiving her first place in 1971. But, as Liston got older, horses fell to the back burner.

“When I was 17 years old, we sold (Chipper), and my dad was like, ‘You’re into cars and boys, and I’m not going to support this habit anymore,’” Liston said. 

While Liston focused on other things, she realized that there was a void that Chipper had left.

“I was lost when Chipper was sold because yes, I looked forward to Mondays when the barn was closed, but the minute my horse drove down the road, I was in hysterics and wanted him back,” she said. “There was a void I didn’t realize would be there.”

To fill that void, Liston found a new hobby: flying.

“They sold my horse, and I took the money and learned to fly,” she said. “Now, I support horses with flying.”

Today, Liston is a captain for United Airlines, a company she’s been with for 33 years. She flies Boeing 777’s and although she’s had quite a career as a pilot, it didn’t start that way.

“There weren’t female airline pilots back then, so I just started learning to fly, not with a career on the horizon,” she said. But, as she racked up more hours in the sky, more opportunities became available.

“I think the fact that I grew up in California, there were some doors that might’ve been closed to me in other parts of the country,” Liston said. “I kept building my time in airplanes. The more time you get, the bigger the airplane your insurance will let you fly and the more jobs you qualify for. I kept getting more ratings, and after about 12 years of building time, I was hired by United. It was a good progression.”

Eventually, being a pilot allowed her to return to her first love. When Liston was 26, she bought a western pleasure mare and re-entered the show pen.

“I always wanted to come back,” she said. “I just had to support it myself.” 

Liston, who has ridden under the guidance of Chad Evans for almost four years, has two horses she adores: Just Becuz Im Lazy, or Ty, and My Vital Valentine, or Fluffy.

“Ty, he is just a good guy. He’s very talented in the trail. We’re just starting horsemanship on him, and that’s going well,” Liston said. “When I bought him at the Sun Circuit four years ago, I thought, ‘Oh, I can see myself in my 70s riding this horse, and he will take care of me.’”

“My Vital Valentine, Fluffy (pictured right), he is amazing. He is one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses that you never thought you’d have,” she said. “He goes out in the pen, and he’s honest, a sweetheart, just a lovable individual. He goes and does his job. He doesn’t cheat you. You do your job riding well, and he will give you a great performance.”

One of the things Liston loves most about showing is the self-improvement she sees. She attributes much of this improvement to her trainer, Chad Evans.

“The barn is wonderful. I’ve learned so much in that program. Even though I’ve ridden forever, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve changed and am doing better now than I was before,” she said. “It’s a craft that’s been my hobby since I was a little kid, so I like to better myself. I like seeing the improvements.”

She also loves the friendships and connections that blossom between exhibitors. 

“It’s the camaraderie, the competition,” Liston said. “I like the fact that, especially in the Select group, that I want to win, but if I don’t win, I want you to win.”

It turns out that flying is the perfect job to support her love of horses — her work schedule is flexible, and she even gets free flights to horse shows.

“I’ve always done my schedules around horse show schedules,” Liston said. “Tomorrow I leave for Honolulu and then Guam and then back to Honolulu for six days, and then I come back, and I’m home for a day, and then I go to Georgia. So I live out of a suitcase.” 

Overall, Liston is grateful for the opportunities she’s had in the air and in the show pen.

“It’s been a great career,” she said. “I love flying. It’s my second hobby, and it’s a great living, but I also love doing it. It’s the best of both worlds.”

About the Author – Olivia Bradish has been an equestrian for 15 years. She attends the University of Michigan and works for The Michigan Daily. Olivia shows the all-around events with her horse, CSR Roan Bar Penny, known around the barn as London. They enjoy showing in the showmanship, horsemanship, equitation, and trail.