Josie has a way with horses

Josie Eckert stands with some of her numerous awards won at different competitions through the years.
Josie Eckert stands with some of her numerous awards won at different competitions through the years. Photo by Lori Overmyer.

Huntington North High School junior Josie Eckert had the best horse in Malcolm, a Paint showman.

“We had wanted a family horse for Josie,” Heather Eckert, Josie’s mother, said. “We bought him sight unseen when he was two weeks old. He came to us weaned and was immediately all over us. He loved being a horse, riding the trails and eating his favorite snacks, carrots.”

Josie added, “He was bratty. He could open doors. His personality was big. By the time he was two, he was a fancy horse.”

And as Josie showed Malcolm in American Paint Horse Association (APHA) shows around the country, “everyone in the Paint class knew him,” she said.

“Malcolm was sort of a wonder horse,” Josie added.

Josie began showing Malcolm when she was 13, and Malcolm was three. The APHA was her first showing at the more competitive breed show.

The first class was Hunter Under Saddle. This competition judges how smooth and quiet the horse is as it takes its cues from the rider.

Josie said, “I had no idea what to expect, and we won.”

Next was the Equitation class. This class judges how the rider and horse work together to complete a series of patterns, maneuvers.

As she entered the ring, Josie said she realized, “Malcolm floats. His movements were just natural. He owned the class, and I was along for the ride.”

Josie and Malcolm moved on to the APHA Youth World Show. It was Josie’s first time at a big show.

“I didn’t have enough experience to have expectations,” she said. Josie competed in two levels: the Novice 13 and under and the Regular 13 and under, which is a little more challenging. The results were exciting. She and Malcolm became the World Champions in both classes in the Hunter Under Saddle.

For Equitation, which Josie admitted wasn’t their strong suit, she earned the Novice World Champion and placed fifth in the regular class.

After taking 2018 as a work year, Josie and Malcolm roared back to their winning ways, and Josie qualified to compete in two world shows in 2020.

“It was exciting to see what the future would bring,” Josie said.

Then disaster and sadness.

In a freak twist of nature, Malcolm, Josie’s “once in a lifetime horse” got colic and died in February.

With COVID and the changes, new horse Jake became a project horse.

“I had my whole career planned out with Malcolm, but I didn’t have a plan with Jake,” Josie said.

Jake is a Quarter Horse, so Josie had to adjust to a larger horse, but showmanship and hard work carried her and Jake to championships and a trainer that pushes her to grow.

The new trainer has high standards and only works with riders that have a strong work ethic. Josie qualified. After she worked out for him, he invited her to a show in Georgia.

“He (the new trainer) pushed us to do well. His workouts were more grueling with a ‘can’t waste time’ attitude,” Josie said.

Once in Georgia for the show, Josie, Jake and the trainer worked out round the clock. They would take short naps and hit the arena for practices when no one else was around.

“Josie did anything the trainer asked. She just kept working,” Josie’s mom said.

The work paid off, and Josie won a horsemanship class.

“It was a confidence booster, but it’s different with Jake. I’m still a little unsure. Jake has a lot to learn about his cues,” Josie said.

With Georgia Stars and Stripes under their belt, Josie and Jake headed to Oklahoma City for the American Quarter Horse World Show. Usually, riders must qualify for this show, but COVID changed that up for 2020.

Over two weeks, Josie and Jake were riding three or four times a day.

In the Showmanship class, they demonstrated set patterns, behavior control, and horse handling. “They (judges) look for a pretty picture,” said Josie.

They made the finals for the class and placed 12 out of 134 riders.

“I was happy with that. It’s definitely fun to do well in a class we struggle in,” Josie said.

In Equitation, Josie and Jake were called back to the finals.

“For me, Equitation is much like a dance. My mantra is ‘rise and fall with leg on the wall,’” Josie said.

Horsemanship is Josie’s favorite thing to do with Jake even though the first class pattern didn’t go well.

Then, they showed again in a different class.

“It was so much fun. I was just lost in it,” she said.

They made it to the semifinals in the biggest youth Quarter Horse Show in 50 years. There were more than 150 competitors.

Josie’s hard work has paid off in other ways as well. She has qualified to represent the APHS Youth Organization at the world championships in Germany. The show was to be this past summer but has been rescheduled to 2021. To qualify, she had submitted essays, letters of recommendation and three horsemanship videos. Only five teens from the US are selected.

At this show, Josie’s horsemanship will be tested. Competitors are provided with a horse for competition. Josie will also have an opportunity to qualify with the Quarter Horse Association. Josie has shown horses in 15 states. Through the competitions, she has made friendships and connections all over the country.

“I’ve met really cool people,” she said. With Josie’s work ethic and determination, she has overcome the loss of her “soulmate” horse and developed a second horse. While she credits her horses with the successes,

Josie is the common denominator that shows the majestic animals.