Manhattan is heartless? So some say, but not around Pat O'Connor, who heads the group of keyboard operators that feeds every editorial word of SI into our computers each week. Her Upper West Side apartment is a haven for animals in distress. Cats and dogs she has found in supermarkets, parking lots and empty apartments, on fire escapes and even trains have turned her lodgings into a sort of Booth cartoon and have cost her as much as $1,000 a year in veterinary bills. Lately, after reaching an alltime high of seven cats and three dogs, the four-legged population has leveled off. But now there is a horse in her life if not in her living room.
Though O'Connor first rode in 1961, she didn't begin serious hunt seat riding until two years ago, under the tutelage of Manager Lance Williamson at Claremont Stables, situated two long blocks from the bridle paths of Central Park. "I got used to dodging open fire hydrants on the way," O'Connor says. "There have been firecrackers now and then." In the park she dodges joggers and, on fine weekends, picnickers who place tables, chairs and kiddies directly on the paths.
When in 1979 Williamson and his wife Cyndi established their own stable, Heather-Hill, in Hopewell, N.J., O'Connor followed them and continued her lessons. And last October she bought Piece of Cake, a big-boned thoroughbred chestnut gelding she keeps at Heather-Hill and commutes to three or four times a week.
"The first time I rode him I knew I had to have him," she says. "And the first time I took him over a small cross rail, I wrote out the check. The name comes from back then. A junior rider wanted to show him, but was frightened that he might be difficult. I told her, 'Don't worry, he's a piece of cake.' " Only later did Pat O'Connor realize the appropriateness of the initials.
Riding hasn't always been a piece of cake for O'Connor. "The first time I rode cross-country and jumped, I went downhill over a stone wall," she says. "I was supposed to turn left just afterward because of a tree, but I landed on the horse's neck and a limb hit me in the chest, knocking me off. Thank God she was a tall mare, or it would have hit me right in the face." On Piece of Cake, O'Connor has done considerably better. At their first major show, sponsored by the Delaware Valley Horsemen's Association last April 26, the pair picked up three ribbons for jumping and one for equitation.
But can she type? Ask the FBI, for whom O'Connor worked for nine years, as a teletype operator, secretary and receptionist before coming to SI in 1969; or Assistant Managing Editor Mark Mulvoy, whose books on Ken Dryden and Bobby Orr, among others, first took shape as O'Connor typescripts.
O'Connor hopes to move closer to the Williamsons to cut down on the exhausting three-hour round trips to ride Piece of Cake. "There's so much work involved in getting a horse to just walk properly," she says. "A person who simply gets on and thinks riding only means going fast will never know the joy of bringing a horse along."