GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – It’s good to have an old friend you can count on when problems occur, even if you and that friend have not spent a lot of time together recently.

For Ashley Leigh of Grand Junction, that friend is Joe, a 24-year-old paint gelding. He came to Ashley’s rescue in August at the Colorado State Fair, when Ashley’s regular show horse got spooked by the noise of a helicopter ride nearby and was so wound up that Ashley’s mother, Jesse, decided it was not safe for Ashley to ride him.

They asked permission of officials at the 4-H horse show for Ashley to switch horses to Joe, whom she’d brought along to compete in a few gymkhana events. The officials gave the OK, and Jesse told a distraught Ashley to just try to have fun and enjoy her ride, not to worry about winning.

“The moment she got on she was all smiles,” Jesse said. “They did a lot better than any of us expected.”

That’s a bit of an understatement. Ashley and Joe came home with the state championship in the upper division Western category for riders age 14 and 15. They were reserve champions in English division for the same age level. And they were third in the ranch horse category at that age level.

Joe and Ashley go back a long time. He was one of the first horses she rode, when she was just 2, in a special basket saddle imported from England. She also competed in horse shows on him before she was 5, with her mother holding the halter.

And it’s not as if Joe was unfamiliar with the show ring. He won the working hunter category at the Paint Horse World Show in 1999 for Deb Scott of Grand Junction, Ashley’s grandmother.

But not long after that, Joe and Ashley parted ways. He was sold to a family in Olathe, with three youngsters who won a variety of competitions with him over the next decade. However, a little more than a year ago, the family decided Joe was getting too old to continue competing. They gave him back to Jesse, and he returned to their farm north of Grand Junction, although not initially to compete.

“The main reason we brought him out of retirement was that he was limping and just looking bad,” Jesse said. “We wanted to get him back in shape and we thought it might help his leg if he started working.”

And, old campaigner that he is, “He just lit up when he went into the arena,” she added.

Even so, Ashley and Joe didn’t spend a lot of time competing together. “The first time I competed with him was at the Mesa County Fair” in July, she said. And then it was only in some gymkhana events.

But they did well enough in those events for Joe to accompany Ashley and her other horse. Jackson, to the state fair in Pueblo. And he was there waiting to help when she needed him.

Now Jackson has been sold, and Ashley and her family are looking for a new show horse. In the meantime, Jesse said, “She has good old Joe and he needs regular exercise. He has a forever home here.”

Said Ashley, “I really like him and I’m glad we got him back. I hope I can keep riding him a long time.”

– By BOB SILBERNAGEL, The Daily Sentinel

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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