Kymberlie Jones, 15, has an impressive collection of trophies from years of competitive English and Western riding — spurs, horse blankets, belt buckles, and more.
But she knows that the real reward of riding is the bonds she has built with her friends, family — and especially her horses — along the way.
This year, Jones, of Lake Point, won the county 4-H riding competition for the first time.
“I was very proud,” she said. “Last year I got fourth, so it was a big accomplishment!”
Jones’ achievements went even further, as the top eight riders in each county compete at the 4-H English and Western State Horse Shows. In two events in the intermediate age group, she took first in the English competition against five competitors and second in Western against 92 others.
Although Jones missed taking first place in Western riding by a single point, she wasn’t too frustrated about it.
“The person that got first is actually a really good friend of mine … I’m really proud,” Jones said. “Her name is Katie and she did very well with how she rode. She was actually sick the second day, throwing up after every event, and so I was like ‘You know what? She deserves it.’ I know it meant a lot to her.”
Horses are a constant in Jones’ life. Even as an only child in a military family, moving around the country, and rarely staying in one place longer than three years, she always found a place to ride.
Jones has been riding horses since she was 4 years old, and competing since she was nine. She was born in Florida and has lived in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming, and now, Utah.
“We didn’t own our own place — we went to certain barns that owned horses,” she said. “Then we got my first horse and boarded her at a barn, but we didn’t have her in our backyard until I was probably nine.”
Jones first learned how to ride from her mother, Kristine, who also rides competitively and grew up on a Morgan horse farm.
Although Jones’ parents are now divorced, they have been an invaluable source of support for her riding and home life. Both of Jones’ parents will often come to her riding competitions to show support.
“My mom has my horse life, and my dad has my social life,” she said.
When the Jones family moved to Wyoming, she began learning Western riding.
“Since then, I’ve kind of been doing both disciplines,” she said. “And teaching my horse to do both.”
English riding is a discipline focused on elegance — smaller, flatter saddles, and more jumping and agility events such as dressage. Western focuses more on utility, with horned saddles and events like barrel racing.
Although Jones won first at state in English, it’s not her favorite.
“I like Western more because it’s easier!” she said. “It’s not as much pain to your body. English is a lot of strength to your core, straight up, and you can’t move!”
It takes a lot of work and practice to become an award-winning rider — in and out of the arena. And in order to be allowed to compete with 4-H, Jones has to keep her grades up.
“School always comes first,” she said.
As a freshman at Stansbury High School, taking honors classes and playing with the school’s volleyball team, Jones said it can be a challenge to prioritize school work and riding practice.
Even with school taking up her day, Jones still finds time to ride. During the busiest riding season in the summer, almost every weekend is taken up by a tournament, and Jones will even practice twice in one day.
“I practice probably five to six days a week, two hours per horse,” she said.
Jones practices with any number of her family’s eight horses. She’s currently training a foal and a yearling for competitive riding.
Jones spends the most time practicing with her main all-around horse, Bonnie.
“I like learning with my horse, teaching her how to do things.” she said. “For practicing, I’ll do 10 to 20 minutes of each event. I get her warmed up with western pleasure, then I’ll do some reining and some spins and some lead changes, then I’ll go into the fast events. After that I’ll untack and do some showmanship — I just do what I would do for each event.”
Jones has a special relationship with Bonnie. A 13-year-old paint mare, Bonnie came into Jones’ life during a hard time.
In January 2017, her first horse Josie, a 24-year-old mare, suddenly died.
“It was out of the blue … she was fine, she was up, and a couple hours later my mom got home from work and went out to feed, and she was just on the ground,” Jones said.
Although they don’t know the cause of death, they know it wasn’t painful.
“It was a peaceful death,” Jones said. “She was ready to go.”
But after four years of riding and competing with Josie, Jones had a hard time continuing to ride without her.
“I would get on a horse and just bawl,” she said. “I just wanted to go in my room and cry because I missed her so much.”
With the beginning of summer coming up, and Jones still without a horse, Jones’ mother found Bonnie online. She’d nearly been auctioned off, but the sellers decided they wanted to make sure she went to a good home. Jones’ mother contacted them and Jones soon met Bonnie for the first time.
“It was an automatic click,” Jones said. “I just felt very confident on her, very safe.”
Jones said Bonnie is an incredibly smart horse, and although mostly trained in Western riding, she has picked up English skills quickly. Bonnie has a lot of personality, too.
“She’s very … old grandma personality,” Jones said. “Like, ‘Knock it off! I can do this!’”
Bonnie is also a horse that cares deeply about her rider. Jones said the first time she ever fell while riding Bonnie was during English state competition, when Bonnie lost her balance going over a jump.
“I just kind of went to the side and fell off,” Jones said.
Bonnie almost fell on top of her, but regained her balance.
“And she was looking down at me like ‘Are you OK?’ ” Jones said. “… She felt bad, you could tell.”
Jones believes she got a concussion from that fall, and that’s not the only time she’s been injured riding.
“I’ve gotten tons of bruises,” she said. “I’ve sprained my ankle, hurt my wrist, hurt my back … It’s not good. My neck cracks constantly. I go to the chiropractor a lot!”
And all those chiropractor visits may have inspired Jones’s plans for her future.
“I want to be a horse chiropractor,” she said. “It’s a specialty job, and you actually get good money from it. It would be nice to stay with my equine stuff, and it’s something that even I have trouble with — my back.”
Jones’ current plan is to keep riding through high school, and take classes to get her closer to her goals. She’s learned patience, leadership, and stability from her horses, and those qualities will help her going ahead — even though the future can be as scary as a riding competition.
“I’m very nervous,” Jones said. “What does the future have? What’s it like to be an adult?
“But,” she shrugged and smiled, “you’ve kind of just got to go with it.”