Airman pursues equestrian passion

By Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez on June 23, 2016

A small gathering of spectators watch silently as a horse and its rider slowly round a corner of the course and gracefully go into a new set of movements. The rider is formally dressed and commands the horse with ease as they transition from each movement.

An airman and competitor, Maj. Jennifer Jones, 627th Communications Squadron director of operations, competes regularly in equestrian sporting events like this called dressage competitions.

Jones said she always loved horses as a kid, but was encouraged to pursue sports by her parents. In her teen years, she played soccer and later rugby at the U.S. Air Force Academy, in Colorado. Upon graduation from the academy, she followed her passion and began taking riding lessons and bought her first horse named Monaco.

"He was a great horse and he taught me a lot about riding," said Jones. "He wasn't the bravest horse, but he helped me grow as a rider."

After buying Monaco, Jones began competing in equestrian competitions such as Western Pleasure, Hunt Seat, Show Hunter, Eventing and cross-country equestrian. While working an Air Force assignment in Florida, her horse Monaco suffered an injury tearing one of his ligaments in his left front leg which led to very long recovery period and ultimately ended in Jones having to retire him as a competition horse.  

"Though it seemed to be fully recovered, he kept tearing the ligament whenever we began training," said Jones. "He kept getting hurt so we decided to let him just be a horse."

The loss of her horse and a friend in a sense was hard on Jones. She lost touch with riding for more than three years.

After being assigned to JBLM, Jones decided to start taking riding lessons again and reignited her passion for riding.

"That's when I realized I really needed another horse," said Jones. "I couldn't learn as fast training on other horses as I could on my own."

Jones then began her search for another horse. This led her to travel to a number of states looking for the perfect fit. Six months into her search, she found the right one. She found Campari, also known as Cam.

"We just hit it off. The owner was surprised at how well he responded to me riding him," said Jones. "He was just a little bit temperamental."

Over the last two years, Jones and Cam have been training and competing in dressage events nationally.

"He's calmed down a lot with me," said Jones. "I want to get him out to Prix Saint George this year, which is the next level of competition."   

Jones and Cam completed their first dressage competition June 4-5 at the Summervale Premier Dressage show in Roy, Washington. Jones placed third in the show and will compete again July 22-24 at the DevonWood Equestrian Centre's dressage show in Sherwood, Oregon.

"We are off to a rough start this year," said Jones. "He can do better than me at this point, so it's frustrating. The only thing he does incorrect is that he wants to do things in his own time."

Jones trains three-to-five times a week with her coach and is part of a dressage team called SKM Dressage.

"Cam gives me a really good outlet to do something entirely my own," said Jones. "I work really hard at this and he will work as hard as I ask of him. He gives me as much fun as I can handle."

Dressage is one of the highest levels of equestrian training and requires riders and their horses to be proficient in a variety of technical movements and to perform according to high dressage standards, said Jones.

"Competition judges look at the form of the horse, how he walks, accepts commands, if they are fluid in their movements, and the overall harmony between the rider and the horse," said Jones. "They look at how well you carry out the dressage principles."

Jones plans to eventually compete at the international level and eventually in the Olympics.

Although her training has made her a better rider, Jones says that it has also affected how she handles challenging circumstances in her professional and personal life.  

"Doing this makes me a much more patient person; there is one thing I've learned from riding and that is things don't always have to happen right now; you can always ask again," said Jones. "I think that this makes me a much more balanced person."

Airmen under Jones are in agreement that she is enjoyable to work with.

"I think she is a great communicator and good at setting goals and guidelines for the squadron," said 1st Lt. Bradley Graves, 627th CS client services and networks officer in charge. "She is very clear about letting us know where we are at and how we are doing as a unit."  

Having progressed as a rider, Jones credits many of her accomplishments to the support she receives from her squadron.

"They always make it possible for me to take the time I need to be with Cam," said Jones. "If it wasn't for their support we wouldn't be this far along the road."  

Having reaped the benefits of pursuing her passion from riding, Jones said she encourages others to do the same.

"Get out there and find something that can create a light in yourself," said Jones. "The Air Force needs more people to be bright."

Those that work with Jones feel inspired by her training.

"She embraces the opportunity to risk failing by competing; it encourages airmen to go out and do the same," said Graves. "It is important for airmen to have something other than work."   

Having competed in equestrian events throughout the course of her career, Jones said she is thankful to the Air Force and the support of the airmen she's worked with.

"I've been supported every step of the way," said Jones. "When my horse was injured, they allowed me to take time to get him the care he needed."

"I've never been in a place that didn't support my interest and that didn't allow me to do the things I loved."