Except for the fictional Mr. Ed, horses don't talk. So one-time Utahn R. Richards Rolapp does the talking for them in Washington, D.C.

He's the president of the American Horse Council, a group that lobbies government on behalf of horse owners.In other words, he's the horse'smouth - so to speak.

But - straight from the horse's mouth - Rolapp said, "Really, we don't represent horses. We represent people who own horses." His council has 2,500 members, including numerous state and regional organizations representing 750,000 owners of the nation's 5.25 million horses.

Rolapp didn't really envision his current job when he grew up far from horse ranches in posh Beverly Hills, Calif., attended Brigham Young University (becoming the student body president and marrying a homecoming queen, Marilyn Johnson) and earned a law degree from Harvard.

But he started riding down the trail that would corral him into such work just as he was graduating from law school.

"I got a call from (former BYU President) Ernest Wilkinson asking if I would be interested in working for his law firm here," he said. "I had gotten to know him fairly well when I was student body president at BYU. I told him I was interested."

Rolapp said he wanted to gain some experience in Washington, but didn't plan to live in the city for more than a few years. Twenty years later, he's still here.

After a few years with Wilkinson's firm, Rolapp worked for the Department of Justice for a time, then moved to another private law firm. One of the clients he began to work for was the then-newly established American Horse Council.

About that same time, he first began raising horses for investment with some partners - which added to his interest in horses.

As the horse council grew and needed more legal work, they offered Rolapp a full-time position. He accepted.

"I was called the associate director then, but my duties have always been about the same," he said. "I am part public relations man, part fund raiser, part accountant, part lawyer and part speech writer."

Rolapp said much of his council's activities now are geared to convince the government to consider horse raising as a serious industry - not just merely horsing around with recreation.

"Our trouble is that because we don't produce an agricultural product like food, we are given a lower priority," he said. So, for example, tax benefits that are available for raising other types of animals aren't always given to horses.

But Rolapp said the horse industry contributes $15 billion annually to the economy through buying and selling horses, parimutuel betting, rodeos and horse shows.

Also, he said, "American horses are the best in the world. We export more horses than we import."

Such horse industry activities and concerns have his council working with Congress and federal agencies on federal tax policy about horses, export-import regulations, disease control and access for horses to public lands.

His council also serves as a clearing house of information for horse owners, helping them, for example, to find out where hay is available in drought-stricken areas or keeping them up to date on changes in the price of oats.

"I like what I'm doing," he said. "I don't really imagine doing anything else anymore."