Suzanne Jones with a portrait of her younger self painted by Henriette Wyeth. Ilissa Gilmore Photo
Suzanne Norton Jones definitely has horse sense — in more ways than one. The daughter of U.S. Cavalry officer Lt. Col. Anderson H. Norton, Jones began riding horses at a young age and has gone on to have a steady, successful career as a horse judge, teacher, breeder and trainer.
For her, working with horses isn’t so much about controlling them, but developing a relationship with them.
“I enjoy working with the horses until we are a pair, until we have the same ‘dance,’” she said. “You teach it what you want it to do, but you’re in a sense, ‘dancing,’ with it.
“What is interesting to me is when you can read their eyes and know what they’re going to do before they do it.”
Throughout the years, Jones has racked up numerous awards and accolades from competitions and major shows in North America as well as countries such as Germany and Mexico.
In 2005, Jones was named Horseperson of the Year by the New Mexico Horse Council and in 2009, she was inducted into the New Mexico 4-H Hall of Fame. In August, she and her horse, Freckles on My Mind, were named Nutrena Senior Athletes of the Show at the American Quarter Horse Association’s 2012 Adequan Select World Championship Show.
Several of her trophies and plaques line the walls of the home she shares with her husband, R.C. “Punch” Jones on their 21,000-acre ranch near Tatum. Her husband, an established rancher and horseman in his own right, also has many awards and as a result, their home is filled with memorabilia.
One treasure is a portrait of Suzanne as a young woman that was painted by Henriette Wyeth.
But along with awards, both Joneses also have sustained several injuries for their dedication.
One of the chairs at the kitchen table has been replaced by a stool fitted with a saddle. Punch said that years of riding have taken a toll on his body and his wife suggested the saddle to help loosen his hips. He said it works.
Suzanne herself has broken several bones, including eight vertebrae — one of which was broken twice. Despite the pain, she said her injuries never discouraged her, joking that when she broke her jaw it “didn’t keep me quiet.”
“I just attempted to get smarter and ride better,” she said.
When Suzanne qualified for the 1954 Pan-American Games in Mexico City, she was pregnant with her first daughter Deborah. Although the United States eventually protested the games and prohibited athletes from competing, Suzanne said she had been cleared by her doctor to compete.
“Debbie was (horse) jumping before she was born,” Suzanne said.
Suzanne and Punch have four children, two of whom live on and help their parents operate their ranch of debouillet sheep, commercial cattle and horses. The ranch also has a good collection of cats, peacocks and dogs.
Suzanne is the author of several books related to horses and horsemanship. “I knew too much,” she said. “I had been taught too much by masters to go to the grave with me.”
In one of her books, she shares the story of Nautical, a Roswell-bred horse she helped train. Nicknamed “The Horse with the Flying Tail,” it later became the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary of the same name produced by Walt Disney.
But as wise as Suzanne is, she’s more humble, according to Pecos Valley Horseman board members Jeanine Best and Paul Castelo.
Suzanne and her parents were among the founding members of the organization in 1948, which has since become one of the largest horse show clubs in southeast New Mexico.
Best said that Suzanne is always willing and available to teach children the ways of horsemanship. “She’s always for kids; she fights for the kids,” Best said.
Jones also is the namesake of a New Mexico State University 4-H program in Albuquerque for youth 18 and under.
“When I think of Suzanne, I think she’s led a full life, full of incredible things,” she said. “The fact that she’s still at it is a testament in itself.”
Castelo said he admires Suzanne’s good humor and tenacity. “When she quits coming to horse shows, it’ll be a big hole,” he said. “She’ll go ’til she can’t go anymore and will probably have no regrets. … I want to be able to do what I want to do at her age.”
In her spare time, Suzanne crafts ornaments, kitchenware and jewelry from gourds. Using a toothpick to do most of the detailing, Suzanne draws intricate drawings and writes inspirational phrases “from the heart and from the truth.”
One ornament reads, “Your world is as you make it,” which Suzanne said means a person’s attitude determines their life. “If you want things to be happy, you have to be happy,” she said.
Her work with horses frees her from negativity, she said. While it can be sometimes difficult, “you get smart and can do something that appears impossible.”
“My father essentially said, ‘Shoot for the stars and go for broke,’” she said. “The sky is the limit.”