The bond between horse and rider can be close, but when it encompasses a hundred years it is something special. One Huntington County resident, Janet Kirkpatrick and her Arabian steed, HA HI Fire, have made the century mark together in age.
Kirkpatrick, of Andrews, turned 80 years old on April 11, and her horse, known as Booker, is now 20. That’s a combination that few horses and riders have reached in the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), of which Kirkpatrick is a member. The organization, which boasts about 5,000 members, honors rider and equine teams who earn national recognition when they complete a ride once their ages total 100 or more. It’s a pretty big honor, says Kyra DeMartini, of AERC.
“We only have nine Century Club members that we’re aware of,” DeMartini says. “It’s very prestigious, because it demonstrates the longevity of their equine and their partnership with their equine.”
Kirkpatrick and Booker will be featured in the AERC’s monthly news publication in September, and she will receive a certificate recognizing the team as part of the Century Club.
Booker is Kirkpatrick’s fifth horse, and the fourth one that she has ridden in the competitive trail rides. Her previous horse, Butch, died suddenly, leaving her devastated. But a friend from Wabash called her and said he had a horse she might want.
“He’d never been out of the field he was born in. He was 4 years old and unbroken,” she recalls. “I rode him on his very first ride on my 65th birthday down in southern Indiana at Clark State Forest.”
She says Booker has a wonderful temperament, and it’s evident how much she loves her horse when she describes him to others.
“He thinks he’s a dog,” she adds with a giggle. “You go out to get him and call him and he’s right there.”
Booker was born in 1998 and since she acquired him, he and Kirkpatrick have gone more than 800 miles in AERC 50-mile events.
In 2003 they won the “Horse of the Year” and the “Challenge Trophy” from the Ohio Arabian and All-Breed Trail Riding Society. That same year they also took the Top Arabian in Region 14, which includes the northeast United States.
The team has logged 3,665 competitive trail rides of 25 to 50 miles and more than 1,700 limited distance (25-30 mile) rides. Some of the rides are held over the course of two days. Together, they have earned 5,453 lifetime miles in competition, finishing first place in several of the rides.
Booker is also a Decade horse, meaning he has competed for 10 consecutive years – and in fact, has competed for 15 years total.
In most of the events she participates in, Kirkpatrick’s goal is to simply finish the race. Some horse and rider teams don’t, she adds. In 2008, when she was 70, they rode in the AERC Nationals, which is a 50-mile race. She and Booker hadn’t ridden 50-mile races for several years, and she just wanted to finish. There were 121 horses that started and only 98 finished. Kirkpatrick and Booker came in at 98th place.
“AERC’s mottos is, ‘To finish is to win,’ and mine is, ‘Ride your horse to ride him another day,’” she says.
Kirkpatrick also says she requires her horses to be tough to keep up with her. She’s participated in rodeos, three-day equine eventing and open jumping. But she’s also been through personal trials including an auto accident and lung cancer – and is undaunted in pursuing her passion for horseback riding.
“These are happy moments, very happy moments,” she says. “I don’t want anybody feeling sorry for me. No, no, no.”
Kirkpatrick and Booker are still competing in endurance racing, with their next race coming up at Salamonie State Park on Sept. 21 and 22. She’ll be actively involved in the event.
“I mark the trail from Lost Bridge Campground to the dam, and we get a 20-mile loop in there, which means some of them have to ride twice and three times to get their 50 miles in,” she says, adding she and Booker will do the 25-mile run.
When she does compete, she will be one of only nine equine teams ever in the AERC to do so with a combined age of 100 years. Booker may not care, but the momentous occasion won’t be lost to Kirkpatrick.
“I still get emotional, because it’s really a big deal,” she says. “Not everybody falls in love with their horses like I do … This is a big thing for a little ol’ country girl … It’s just a great honor to know you’ve done this, on an older horse and an older person.”