For the Love of the Horse: Amateur Competitor Lin Johnson’s Story
When it comes to building a bond with her horses, Lin Johnson has a recipe for success. The Wisconsin native currently lives in Arizona with her husband Ken, or as he is better known – “KJ”, their herd of horses and “Border Doodle” agility show dogs, and has fallen in love with a very special line of quarter horses. Her “perfect horses” have come from the Deck Of Stars line, bred by Judy Pryor of Pryor Ranch, and Lin has had quite the experience with them.
“I’ve got three Deck horses,” Lin shares, obviously in love with her animals. “My first one was Deck N Go (out of Sandy Bar Seeker), who my husband bought for me as a surprise Christmas present.” Although Ken doesn’t ride, Lin says he is her biggest supporter and fan. “I was going to give up showing after I had been showing paints, and Ken just bought ‘Dexter’ without knowing anything. He turned out to be a truly amazing horse. I can take him out on trails bareback and bridleless, and he will do anything for me. I just love Judy’s horses!”
Lin and Judy connected when Lin first got Dexter, and Judy likes to keep up on her babies. “We would chat over the phone and email, and Judy was just thrilled about how Dexter was doing, and how we were winning.” Lin and Dexter ended up winning the 2002 APHA Novice Hunter Under Saddle World Championship, the 2004 AQHA Select Hunt Seat Equitation World Championship, and the 2005 APHA Hunt Seat Equitation World Championship.
“It wasn’t until I decided that I wanted a weanling that I actually met Judy. I flew down to her farm with my sister and stayed there for a few days, looking at babies,” said Lin. “That’s how horse buying should be done!” says Judy Pryor. “Lin and I spent a few days talking together, cooking together, eating together, looking at horses together. I’ve been doing this my whole life, and I learned things from Lin looking at all of my horses. She really puts her whole heart and soul into it.”
Lin picked out weanling PR The Green Bay, nicknamed “Vinnie” after Vince Lombardi. “He’s seven now, and for the first four years of his life I did extensive ground work with him,” explains Lin. “Whatever I could think of, I got Vinnie used to it: plastic bags, gunfire, water, bridges, jumps…even ice in a cup…after I had a horse spook in a show pen when someone shook their ice down to get at their drink. I ponied him with my horse Dexter EVERYWHERE. Big construction zones, trails, water, river, everything I could think of.” Lin uses a lot of vocal cues and body movement in training her horses. “I’ve watched her direct a horse to pick up a cone and go drop it anywhere she wanted,” said Judy. “She’s just phenomenal.”
Lin had ridden Vinnie some and taught him how to pull a cart before she decided to take him to a trainer. “I wanted someone to help me finish him, especially for the pleasure driving,” she explains. “I’ve always had ‘pattern’ horses, but never one that was a good enough mover for the driving. I found that in Vinnie!” Lin asked Kevin Dukes, of Dukes Performance Horses in Texas, to evaluate Vinnie at a show. “I really liked how Kevin treated his horses, and how he trains. He wants the horse to want to do his job, not to force it. I left Vinnie [at Kevin’s in Texas] for a month, and figured I would go bring him home. When I saw Kevin’s facility and the great job he’d done with him, I decided to keep Vinnie there. I’ve never had my horse that far away, but every time I see Vinnie, he looks even better.”
“It’s a good thing I left him with Kevin because I don’t think that I could’ve done what he’s been doing. Kind and patient- won’t push them over the edge- if we have to go back to square one, we do it. Trust and learning. Such a difference.”
Lin says she is really proud of all of the prep work she did with Vinnie to get him ready to show. “I got him to the point where he was show ready two or three months after I put him into training. I would also like to thank Alyse Roberts and Doug and Stacey Huls for all their help.” First year showing, he won the Green Hunter Under Saddle in the state of Arizona. That’s kind of my journey with him… I worked with him for about three and a half years to get him ready. I would work cows and buffalo with him, and at this one show, Kevin was driving Vinnie in a pen that had plastic covered panels that had cows behind it. The horses could just see the movement and smell the cows, but not really see them. The other horses were blowing and snorting, and Vinnie just cruised around like it was nothing. He’s pretty bomb proof!” Lin laughs.
“Last I saw, Vinnie was leading the nation in the Open Pleasure Driving, and he most recently won the Amateur Pleasure driving at the new Arizona Fall Championship. His first year, he won almost every circuit in the Green Hunter Under Saddle. My goal is to win something every year- if we do we do, if we don’t we don’t,” she chuckles. “I’m really looking forward to the World Show! This will be his first one, and my first time at the Amateur World. I’ve won at Select World, but he qualified in Open and in Amateur Pleasure Driving, so I figured we would hit up the show he could do more at.”
“I have never met anyone like Lin,” says Judy, “and that’s the truth! She is truly unbelievable, and a true horsewoman. She does all of her own farrier work, and shows her horses barefoot. She tests her horses’ hair to change their vitamin and mineral supplements. Everywhere she goes, she teaches someone about horses, and horsemanship. She uses all kinds of voice commands- does agility patterns, rearing on command, go to the fence to get on bareback and bridleless… she did that herself!” Lin has competed in the Extreme Cowboy Race with Dexter, where contestants perform a variety of tasks, including going through tunnels, picking up objects, jumping, going over hills, and through water.
“She puts years, and her whole heart and soul [into her horses].” Judy elaborates. “This is the epitome of why we have horses: when they bond, you can do anything. Her body tells them what to do without kicking or jerking or spurring. When she visited, she could halter any one of my horses here and within minutes they would do what she wanted them to. They don’t get worked by me, but she’s amazing.”
“I just love the animal,” Lin comments. “It’s about the horse. Not me. If he’s not just right, I don’t show. And Kevin really appreciates that, because it’s the same way he shows. They are just incredible animals. I feel blessed to be healthy and be able to show my horses and dogs. Thank God for everything. I just have so much fun.”
Thanks to Lin and Judy for sharing their amazing story of horsemanship and the true bond between a horse and its human.