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Youthful Horse Trading

When you’re 17-years old and a horse lover to boot, you’re willing to do just about anything to put a nice horse in your barn, and that’s exactly what Ashley Jonas did.

The junior-to-be from St. Joseph gave up part of her weekends – to do barn chores nonetheless – in exchange for a 14-year-old mare named Gem, who once raced under the name Jean’s Lucky One.

Nice story, right!

Well, the facts are all there, but require a couple of qualifications.

Ashley was changing locations where she rides, from one barn in the area to another, and had been riding Gem for the previous eight months.

She needed another horse to continue dressage, because the one she was riding at the time, and still does, was a quarter horse-mix called Oreo. “I’m almost six feet tall,” Ashley said, “so Oreo (14.2 hands) was a little short for me. I needed a taller horse. At 16 hands, Gem fit the bill.”

Yet, Gem wasn’t Ashley’s first choice.

“It was kind of a pity buy,” she said.”My mom felt sorry for her because no one else at the barn wanted him.”

Ashley originally had her sights set on a horse named Bank President, but had to change plans after that horse was sold.

Gem was originally stabled at a pleasure-riding farm where Ashley rode and had been for sale several months. The other clients at the farm weren’t too interested in a 16-hand former racehorse. “They’re a little bit afraid of thoroughbreds,” said Ashley’s mother, Janet.”The riders there like the slow, short horses.”

Thus began the series of events that led to the purchase of Gem, or Jean’s Lucky One.

Now Ashley considers herself the lucky one after acquiring the mare last January from a former Minnesotan who relocated to Texas. Gem had been a show jumper but is learning an entirely new career under her new owner and tutor.

“I’m using her only for dressage,” Ashley said.”She’s very smart and she’s learning very quickly.”

Jonas had been riding Gem for more than eight months when she struck a deal with her mother to make the purchase, a deal that includes working off the stable costs by cleaning stalls and taking in the farm’s horses for the night and seeing to their feed and water.

“I do Saturday mornings. She does Sunday’s and I make her do the Tuesday and Wednesday nights,” Janet said.

The horse bug bit Ashley when she was five years old. “I gave her a lesson as a birthday present that year,” Janet said.”After that we were going every week.”

Ashley has never looked back. She attends Holdingford Senior High School and was on the track team and played volleyball through her freshman year. There has been no time since for activities outside her passion. She rides both of her horses daily; that fills any spare hours she might have, which can’t be many. She gets As in most of her science and biology courses, a clue to her future plans. “I’d like to become an equine veterinarian,” she said.

Gem has been off the racetrack the last seven years. She was bred in California and is by Paster’s Caper. She won three races in 51 starts and still exhibited some of the behavior associated with her racing days when Ashley acquired her.

Ashley started working her new horse slowly, lunging her, then putting her through walk-trots. “She’s so used to speed that it took a while to get her to slow down. Now she’s really getting it. I probably worked two to three months on her.”

Then Gem began doing slow canters. “I took nearly a month to get her to calm down and get her head set right,” Ashley added.. “She’s a lot better now.”

Enough so that she got second place in her class in a recent exhibition.

“It took her a while to get used to us,” Ashley explained. “She’s in a two-acre paddock and likes to use her speed, likes to run.”

Now they’re fast friends. “She’s really cuddly. She loves people and loves attention,” Ashley said. “She loves being exercised and ridden.”

Janet Jonas describes Gem as an intelligent horse, eager to please. “She learns pretty fast and doesn’t get frustrated,” she said.”She’ll keep trying.”

Not always the case with Oreo. “He’s a little different, kind of like a mule,” Janet said.”He lets you know when he’s done learning for the day.”

Miles apart in some ways, these horses are quite close in others.

Oreo, 15, was born on May 7. Gem, 14, was born on May 8.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.