Ring steward hangs 'em up after 30 years

Ring steward Bob Jones sends a signal to the announcer to ask riders to change their pace during the Huntington County 4-H Horse and Pony Show Sunday, July 19, at the Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club.
Ring steward Bob Jones sends a signal to the announcer to ask riders to change their pace during the Huntington County 4-H Horse and Pony Show Sunday, July 19, at the Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Bob Jones has been felled by horses, and he's been felled by a heart attack.

But for 30 years, he's kept coming back, assuming his place as ring steward for the annual Huntington County 4-H Horse and Pony Show.

Not any more, he says. This year's show was his last.

"Yesterday told me it was time to quit," Jones said as he waited for the 4-Hers and their horses to enter the ring at the Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club on Sunday, July 19. "It was all I could do to get up and down, my legs hurt so bad."

As ring steward, Jones is part traffic cop, directing the youth and their horses in and out of the ring, and part security guard, standing between the horses and the judge, ready to block a rushing horse with his body to save the judge.

"I'm kind of the Secret Service for the judge," Jones says.

He's been knocked down by horses more than once.

"And I had a heart attack out there one year," he says. "Two months later, I had the really big one."

"He's one of those tried and true volunteers," says Linda Aldridge, the Purdue Extension educator in charge of coordinating the 4-H fair. This is her 28th fair, so Jones' service predates hers.

Jones, who works the horse show without pay, retired from his paying job 17 years ago.

Jones, 65, actually lives in Grant County but became involved in the Huntington County horse and pony program when his three children participated in 4-H. They were part of the 4-H horse program in Grant County for a couple of years, but Jones was looking for more of a challenge for his kids. Huntington County, he says, had a larger program and offered more opportunities.

"Huntington County, at that time, had one of the best - if not the best - programs in the state," Jones says. "The quality of horse here was very, very good."
So, they made the switch.

A common misconception, Aldridge says, is that youth must participate in the 4-H program offered by their home counties. That's not true, she explains, noting that the Huntington County 4-H program includes youth from almost a half-dozen counties.

Jones' son, Chris Jones, is now in the horse training business, along with his wife. His father credits the younger Jones' experience in 4-H with helping him toward that career. He not only found a career, Jones says, he also had a good time.

"The fun they had here was something they'll remember all their lives," he says.

"This is just paying back the county that helped my family," Jones says of his 30 years in the Huntington County ring. "It's just paying a debt."