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After Years in Faraway Places, Claudia Billups Rides Back Home to Oxford

Claudia Billups and After Eight at the Indianapolis 500 Horse Show, 2014.

Claudia Billups stays extremely busy these days managing a new restaurant, Fill-Up with Billups, on the Oxford Square. HottyToddy.com’s Steve Vassallo crossed paths with her last week to discuss her previous, present and future plans.

HottyToddy.com: Claudia, your interest in horses has already taken you to some faraway places.
Billups: Yes, riding has not only taken me across the United States but over the pond to Europe as well. I have been to England, France, Holland, Germany, as well as lived in Belgium for a bit following horses.
HottyToddy.com: It is our understanding that you’re currently assisting the Oxford Police Department in caring for their mounted patrols.
Billups: Yes, I started working for the mounted patrol early in July of this year. I help keep the horses fit and ready for patrol. I feed the horses and take care of them as well as ride them.

Claudia Billups and Armageddon at the George Morris Horsemanship Clinic in Wellington, Florida, 2013.

HottyToddy.com: When did your interest in equestrian activities commence?
Billups: They started at a very young age. When I was 5, my grandfather, who was not a fan of horses, got me a small paint pony, which I still have. He is close to 30 years old and spry as ever. But it honestly started before that. Both my mom and dad rode western, and my closest cousin rode English. I really wanted to be as much like my cousin as I could and followed her footsteps into the English side of riding instead of western, much to my dad’s dismay, although he and my mom came around and were my biggest fans. I grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, three miles from the Gulf Coast Winter Classics, and I remember during show season, as a family, we would go watch the Saturday night Grand Prix. That’s where I met my first show jumping trainer, Holly Shepard, and I owe a lot of my career to her. She was tough, and she taught me how to be tough. I highly doubt I would have gotten very far in riding had it not been for her. In the beginning, I could not stay on to save my life and needed someone tough driving me and pushing me to stay on. She said, anytime I fell off a horse, “Suck it up and get back on.”
HottyToddy.com: Changing reins to the Oxford eatery, how did you become involved in Oxford’s restaurant scene?
Billups: After I moved back from Belgium, I honestly needed a break. I had gotten burnt out. So I moved back to Oxford and transferred to Ole Miss. I wanted to keep busy and started working at Snackbar. I learned a lot in the time I spent there and pushed myself to get behind the bar and really enjoyed working with everyone. I had the privilege to work under Ivy McLellan, the bar manager, and Head Chef Vishwesh. They were really supportive and taught and pushed me in the restaurant. My dad approached me, about the time I started working for the mounted patrol, to come help him with his dream of carrying on his father’s legacy in the form of a diner inspired by and designed after his family’s old Fill Up with Billups gas stations. Naturally, I wanted to return the support my mom and dad gave me with the horses in this new adventure, and it is exactly that … an adventure.
HottyToddy.com: At such a youthful age, you have already achieved a great deal in your life. What’s next on the horizon?
Billups: Well, for now, I am working at the Fill-Up with Billups restaurant as the general manager and with the mounted patrol and am very happy. I have also recently started teaching riding lessons again and taking on horses to train. I hope to continue expanding my training and riding business and get back to showing again soon. I would like to help grow the equestrian community in Mississippi and the surrounding areas.
HottyToddy.com: How did your education prepare you for your current roles in business and community service?
Billups: For my last years of high school, I homeschooled and traveled around with the horses. That really helped me learn the value of planning and time management skills. I have not taken too many actual classes that I would say have prepared me for business and community services. It was much more of a learn-as-I-go type thing. I like watching others and looking up things on my own to figure it out. I am very much a hands-on type person. I am still working on finishing at Ole Miss, but between managing the restaurant, the mounted patrol horses and starting back teaching riding lessons, it makes for slow going. But I do plan to finish and get my degree with Ole Miss.
HottyToddy.com: The equestrian community in Lafayette County is quite prominent. Do you see it expanding?
Billups: I definitely see the equestrian community expanding. In fact, I know of a project in the works that will hopefully really expand and bring in more equestrian enthusiasts. And I would very much like to be a part of the expansion of the equestrian community in this area and the surrounding areas and will do what I can to help it.
HottyToddy.com: What are some of the advantages of having mounted police officers?
Billups: Well, one of the advantages of having a mounted officer is just having a higher level of sight above the crowd. Also, the horses kind of provide a calming effect on the crowds. Oftentimes, people are less willing to bow up to a 1,000-pound animal in their face than they are against officers on the ground.
HottyToddy.com: How do you find enough hours in the day to balance your growing responsibilities?
Billups: It takes some doing and very meticulous scheduling for sure. It makes it difficult when you are dealing with two business that both A) require lots of hours to do, and B) anything could happen and throw a wrench in the whole day. I mean, a horse will be a horse and get into things it shouldn’t, and there is always something coming up last minute in the restaurant business.

Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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