Area woman joins Century Club

By David Brinson

At 80-years old, Janet Kirkpatrick and her horse, HA HI Fire (better known as Booker), have become just the ninth member of the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC)’s Century Club.

“Ask me about my bucket list,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s empty now.”

The Century Club recognizes any endurance horses and riders whose combined ages total 100 years or more and also compete at either the endurance distances or the long-distance competitions. On the weekend of July 14, Kirkpatrick and Booker finally qualified for the club following their completion of the “Cracked OAATS Crunch (Endurance Ride)” at the Salamonie State Park’s Lost Bridge in Andrews.

They are the first duo in the Midwest region to receive this honor.

These endurance competitions range in distance from 15, to 25, to 50 miles long (some compete in races of 100 miles, but not Kirkpatrick). If normal horse racing was sprinting, then this would be the marathon.

Booker, an Arabian breed, is 20-years-old and is known as a “decade horse,” which means he has been competing for 10 or more consecutive years. In that time, he has ridden over 5,000 logged, competitive miles.  Kirkpatrick, herself, has nearly 15,000 miles officially logged but believes that number could be tripled if conditioning miles were counted.

Riding horses since she was a little girl, it’s always been Kirkpatrick’s first love.

“When we got married, my father told Bill (her husband of 62 years), you marry Janet, you marry her horses,” Kirkpatrick said, laughing.

While she’s been riding her entire life, she began this obsession with long distance endurance competitions 36 years ago.

Self-described as a “mileage freak,” she trains near her farm, down at Lost Bridge in Andrews.

“I ride them beaucoup miles. I tell all my horses you have be tough to live with me!” she said. “But I always ride my horse to ride them another day. Some of these young people don’t think that. So many of these horses are… disposable. Well, we’ll just get another one. Not me. I keep them till death do us part.”

She began endurance racing in 1984 with a horse named Cajun, who racked up a little over 2,500 miles. Then came Butch, who would also become a decade horse. There is still a red sign her husband made her, spelling out “B U T C H,” sitting by her horse barn.

“Butchie died, and I had run him for over 6,100 miles, so I couldn’t hardly talk for a while because I was so emotional,” Kirkpatrick said. “You absolutely form a connection with them.”

It doesn’t take much time with Kirkpatrick to see how much she loves animals. Her small, old dog, Wilson, runs happily around their house. She had been in Florida for an endurance competition when she found him as a puppy. After a quick call to her husband, Wilson was in the camper to go back home with her.

She has scrapbook after scrapbook of pictures and official certificates of her horses’ achievements, which she proudly presents as a parent would. She shows off all of Booker’s strictly red and navy-blue equipment, her custom saddle, and the water heater in the horse barn that allows Booker to have heated baths. She’s quick to point out that he’s not spoiled, as she scoops and concocts his elaborate meal of different oats and vitamins.

“I’ve been really fortunate, to have so many great horses,” she said.

To her, each of them are special, and have a personality of their own. But what’s Booker’s personality?

“He’s a lover. A little fussy, oh, but he’s a lover.”

Currently, Booker is dealing with a growth or cancer on his hind right leg that veterinarians have been “freezing” and treating.

So far, it hasn’t hindered his riding.

In a lot of ways, Booker mirrors his owner.

Kirkpatrick, while in her seventies, survived a “horrific” car crash, had her elbow replaced, and then was diagnosed with lung cancer. The cancer came despite “never having one cigarette or cup of coffee” in her life. Losing left lower lobe of her lung, she has now been cancer free for over three years. It might have slowed her down, but it never stopped her. At 80 years old, she is still riding, competing, and smiling like someone a fraction of her age.

She just keeps going.


Posted on 2018 Aug 07