Julie Johnson is winning at the world level with her quarter horse, George

It took plenty of perseverance to get there, but Pipestone County resident Julie Johnson and her quarter horse, George, have been on top of the world this year. That’s because they won the showmanship event at the Championship Show of the Western Saddle Clubs Association (WSCA) in the Twin Cities last summer, and placed third in showmanship at the World Show for the Pinto Horse Association, Solid Registry category, in Tulsa.

Johnson is 75 years old and George is 20. She laughed about the names for her age bracket in these shows: “Select” for the Pinto show, and “Senior++” for the WSCA show. Even in her age group, she was probably one of the older ones, Johnson said, and these were no small groups.

She said she and George had competed in the championship show before, but not placed very high.

“But last year, he won it,” she said. “I get goosebumps thinking about it. It was pretty cool! I never ever dreamed that I would do that. But, he is an awesome showmanship horse. He’s taught me what I know, between taking lessons from Kathy (Johnson) and being able to use him, like I say, it’s made it a lot easier for me to learn how to do it.”

It was 2007 when Johnson first got serious about showing horses. She was just shy of 60 then, but she had been riding horses her whole life since using them to help herd cattle as a child in Montana. She had also helped her daughter, Jennie, get ready for her riding competitions, but felt it wasn’t doable to show at the same time.

So, Julie waited until Jennie was in college and then began to train. Right away, she faced some serious adversity. In 2007, her horse threw her to the ground while at a show, breaking her neck. It took a year to heal completely, but once it did she started to ride again. She says it’s like riding a bicycle, and while she did have some hesitation at first, it didn’t last long. Soon thereafter she found out that the girl who had been training and showing George was ready to sell him, and she felt lucky that she and her husband, Dave, could buy him.

George, whose registered name is “Uptown Scotch,” was 5 then. Though his current age of 20 is advanced, Johnson said horses can live to 35 or so if you take good care of them, and continue showing into their 20s.

“He is in extraordinarily good condition, and still very willing,” she said, then thought for a second. “Well, maybe not… kinda,” she laughed, “But, he’s a fun horse.”

Her coach, Kathy Johnson, lives near Dawson. Julie said Kathy is the one who has encouraged her to stretch her comfort zone and enter some of these bigger competitions. Kathy’s students do very well in competition, Julie said, but the lessons are helpful for anyone who wants to improve their skills and have new things to work on when they ride.

She sees horse competition as a hobby that keeps her active, with both mental and physical benefits from the work of training and caring for her horses (she has two others besides George). Even in the winter time, when she doesn’t have a space to ride, the horses need her to feed them twice a day and clean out their stalls.

“It just gives you an opportunity to keep doing something, you know, a hobby,” she said. “It gets you outdoors, and it’s physical because you’re doing the saddling and stuff like that. Taking care of them is all part of it.”

This year, riding gave her something to look forward to as she endured a bout of shingles and the nerve pain that came with it. A good friend has been keeping George in shape for her until Johnson could get back in the saddle just recently. She looks forward to trail rides and participating in an August wagon train with George. Her dog, a shih-poo named Poppy, tags along and likes to sit in the saddle herself, or ride along with Johnson.

“She loves to ride anything that moves,” Johnson said of Poppy. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Bobcat skid-steer, a ranger, a bicycle — If it moves, she wants to be on it.”