Ashlynn Jones and her horse Peekaboo dash down a dirt road near her home.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

Cowgirl makes the big show without a practice arena

Socorro cowgirl Ashlynn Jones is headed to the National High School Finals in Gillette, Wyoming, this month, and how she got there is a story of dedication and perseverance.

Jones is pulling out of Socorro for a 1,700-mile round road trip to fulfill a dream that began farther back than the budding horse trainer and hopeful future veterinarian can clearly remember.

The 2023 high school graduate finished fourth in New Mexico High School Rodeo Association standings to qualify for this year’s National High School Finals. It’s a huge feat considering the 18-year-old has no arena for training.

Last week, Jones shared a little information about her training methods on the single-vehicle-wide lanes that run alongside a network of irrigation ditches alongside her home.

“We usually just come right here on this ditch bank, and we trot up and down, and then there’s this little spot up here that we do some figure eights, and it’s not really practice, but it works,” Jones said.

The teenager is working with Peekaboo, a 10-year-old horse borrowed from her older sister, Kyleigh; she’s equine-jampacked with personality, a trait her rider shares. It’s just one of the two things that have helped the pair mesh.

“The biggest thing is a connection. You have to develop a bond with a horse because if you guys aren’t bonding, it’s going be very hard to move forward,” Jones said.

Fresh off a snack, Peekaboo looks ready to work out, and Jones is prepared to apply some more generational knowledge.

“I have learned from my family. We have been around horses our whole lives. So, we trained them, and I’ve watched my cousins train horses, and I just picked up on that. Training a barrel horse is challenging. It’s very time-consuming and takes a lot of dedication and patience,” Jones said.

That’s where the slow work comes in, as Jones explains.

“When a horse is young, they still have to learn where to put their feet in the correct spots because that’s a big part. If they don’t do it right, they can injure themselves. It’s a lot of slow work, and some people don’t like to go slow. They want to go fast, and you have to do the slow work to be able to do the fun stuff. I have a good time training horses, but not everybody does. Everybody is different,” Jones said.

After a solid warm-up, Peekaboo’s mood changes a little as stablemates hanging out in the cool shade pitch a few whinnies the mare’s way. The nearby irrigation ditches are running at a fever pitch along the dirt road Jones had chosen for a sprint, and the horse balks at making a run.

Things aren’t about to turn into saddle bronc riding, but horse and rider are firmly locked in a battle of wills.

“I like to tell people if you want to keep a barrel horse calm in the arena, you can’t just ride them in an arena. You’ve got to ride them everywhere outside as well,” Jones said.

After one fidgety start, Peekaboo takes off down the stretch. Jones guides her a good hundred yards or more, and the two swiftly return to their starting point—the mare lopes along, enjoying the work right up to where one irrigation ditch connects with another.

After several minutes of trying to convince Peekaboo to make another run and the horse slowly backing away, Jones resorts to calling in the reserves, and her younger sister Haidynn mounted on D.J., comes over to help.

You can’t lead a horse to water and make it drink, but with the aid of another horse, you can convince one that the irrigation ditch won’t hurt.

The move works, and the pair are off again, disappearing in a cloud of dust along the straightaway. Seconds later, the duo appears again, and Jones has her mount in a series of tight turns simulating crisp rotations around a barrel.

At 10 years old, Peekaboo has been a barrel horse for four years, but two years ago, things started to click, and the mare started showing her enjoyment of the sport.

“She gets excited when she sees the trailer pull up. We go out to catch her. She’s a little amped up,” Jones said.

Jones has something to be excited about after being at a barrel race in Amarillo, Texas, last year and being recruited to rodeo for Oklahoma Panhandle State University this fall.

“One of their coaches approached me and told me to check out Panhandle State and see if I liked it. I just forgot about it. I was set on going to New Mexico State University,” Jones said.

When coaches found out that one of Jones’ cousins was OPSU alumni, Taos Muncy, they reached out to the two-time world champion saddle bronc rider for a way to contact Jones

“He’s my cousin. He’s been to the NFR a couple of times (11). They called him because he went to school there. And they asked him if he knew me, and he gave them my contact. They called me and said we really want you to check us out. Let’s get this rolling. I went and did a college visit, and I just fell in love with the place,” said Jones.

While studying animal science is coming soon in the fall, for now, Jones’ concentration is making some solid runs at the national finals and doing some networking.

“My goal is to make as many friends as possible because everybody from the nation goes to the finals. Maybe make some new friends from different states and hang out with different people,” Jones said.