Teen Team Profits On Horseback

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A love of horses is the bond that binds the friendship of two Tonto Basin teens.

Jessie Alhandy and Jordynn Runzo, both 14, travel the state competing in gymkhanas and barrel racing wherever the opportunity presents itself.

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Jessie Alhandy and her horse, Okey, participated in a gymkhana April 17 at the Payson Event Center.

"We are currently competing in the Cornville series and Payson Saddle Series," Alhandy said. "We have been to the state fair and to Apache Gold Casino (near Globe) for a Thanksgiving Day barrel race."

Thus far, a pair of the events have proven to be profitable.

"We won $100 each at the state fair and Apache Gold," Alhandy said.

At a gymkhana April 17 at the Payson Event Center, Runzo finished fourth in barrel racing, sixth in pole bending and third in the hour glass. Her showing was commendable in that she was riding her quarterhorse, Willow, for the first time in competition.

"I just started practicing barrels on Willow about three months ago," Runzo said. "She is looking really promising."

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Jordynn Runzo shows the form that has helped her and her horse, Willow, succeed on the gymkhana circuit.

Riding Okey, Alhandy was first in the hour glass and fourth in barrel racing.

When the two are not in the arena competing, they can often be found practicing their equestrian skills at Bill and Lori Brown's Tonto Basin ranch.

The teens said they appreciate the privilege of using the Browns' arena and benefiting from their considerable knowledge.

"They taught us how to ride and they haul Jessie and me to competitions," Runzo said.

For both girls, the Browns are more than just friends.

"They are like our second family," Alhandy said.

Alhandy took up riding when she was 2 years old, and was involved mostly in English-style horsemanship.

"I did hunter jumping until I was 11," she said.

When her family moved to Tonto Basin about two years ago, she tried her hand at gymkhana-style riding.

"I started messing around with barrels and poles and I liked it," she said.

Runzo began riding when she was 10 years old, but it was almost a year later before she eventually tried her skills at barrel racing.

Both teens have their eyes set on professional rodeo.

"Jessie and I would like to travel on the professional barrel racing circuit and end up at the National Finals Rodeo," Runzo said.

If they attain that goal, the two say they know the road to success was paved with help from friends like the Browns and their parents.

"We both are very thankful to our parents for giving us the opportunity to do all that we do," Runzo said.

The teens are eighth-grade students at Rim Country Middle School.

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