Jozee Johnson learns something every time she gets in the saddle.
"The horses have taught me patience,'' said the Hurricane Middle School seventh-grader. "You have to learn what the horse does and doesn't like. Every horse is different.''
Johnson, 12, is quickly mastering the skills necessary to become an elite rider in American Saddlebred, finishing reserve national champion in the 13-and-under age group on her steed Varsity Blues at the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo., the week before Thanksgiving.
The American Royal is considered the U.S. national championships with riders competing from all over the country in the third leg of the triple crown for American Saddlebred. Johnson also finished third in the nation in the point standings for the 17-and-under age group out of 106 competitors.
"It was a great experience,'' said Johnson. "I worked really hard throughout the season and hard work paid off. There are some really nice horses in that class. Throughout the season I learned determination through the ups and downs. I just learned so many things.''
During American Saddlebred competitions, riders must show control of their horse by exhibiting five distinctive gaits (walk, trot, canter, flow gate and rack). In the horse show world, American Saddlebreds are used in saddle-seat-style riding, driving and fine harness competition and occasionally in equestrian.
Johnson was on the cover of Horse World Magazine's June 2012 edition, which was dedicated to junior exhibitors. She also won her age group in the All-American Championship, Indianapolis Charity and Blue Ribbon Fall Classic in the just concluded competition season and was reserve champion at the Lexington Junior League. She finished fifth at the world championships.
"If you go to a competition and don't do something right, you learn to achieve that goal and do better next time and never give up,'' she said. "It teaches you things about life by being with your horse in competition. People just don't understand how hard it is to go through all the lessons and all the training to be able to go to national championships and ride. It takes months and years to be able to go to a national horse show and compete.''
Johnson trains under American Saddlebred world champion Clark Clouse at Clouse Stables in Versailles, Ky., and makes the five-hour round journey every Saturday to work out four different horses for about three hours. During the summer before competitions, she stays for a week at a time to practice. Johnson also works out at Tyler Mountain Stables and Fiesta Farms in Charleston.
"It's a huge accomplishment,'' said Clouse of Jozee finishing reserve national champion at the American Royal. "Her riding skill for her age is very advanced. She's really, really good. I've had her a little over two years. From where she's come from when I got her, it's unbelievable what she's accomplished.