Jim Penuel and Rio

Rio (left) and Jim Penuel as they took a time out from running through town — well Rio was ahead of Penuel. That’s not unusual, said Penuel.

Sometimes you giddy up.

Sometimes you giddy off.

Either way — there’s something special about a man and his horse.

Especially if they’re going to ride 4,000 miles for good cause.

So Jim Penuel didn’t let it throw him when he got, well, thrown.

He says Rio was just having a bad day.

Jim Penuel and Rio

Rio, running down the road with Jim Penuel in pursuit. Penuel is preparing for a 4,000-mile ride to raise funds for veterans and children with cerebral palsy.

Penuel had only ridden Rio about 35 times when his beloved quarter horse spooked in the Payson Walmart parking lot. For reasons known only to Rio, the normally gentle horse reared backward and sat abruptly on his haunches. Then he jumped up and sat back down again.

This is where Penuel and Rio parted company and Penuel went sliding across the parking lot.

Freaked about something that makes sense only to quarter horses, Rio took off down Highway 87 toward Back to Basics.

Penuel hobbled along behind, scraped bloody by his close encounter with the asphalt, but determined to grab Rio before something really bad happened.

At Forest Drive, some brave bystander got a hold of Rio’s head — slowing the chase to a dignified walk. Penuel came gently up, speaking soothingly to his skittish friend. Then he walked Rio down a quiet street to calm him.

Sitting under the shade of a tree, Penuel looked sheepish and Rio looked nonchalant — like he did not understand what all the fuss was about. Rio relaxed with a back hoof tipped up, the picture of calm — except for when he shied when a car parked in the lot.

“He’s just having a bad day,” said Penuel, “Normally he’s really calm.”

Rio just gave him a half-lidded look.

Penuel has been taking Rio out on the roads to prepare him for a 4,000-mile trek across country starting in Coos Bay, Ore. and ending on the East Coast. Penuel hopes to raise money for veterans and kids suffering from cerebral palsy.

“We ride for 10, 15 or 20 miles in a day to train,” said Penuel. “He has to be in shape to do this ride.”

Penuel recently moved to Payson to be near family. He’s retired and itching for a long ride.

His friend, Wyman Kimbol, at first wanted to ride the Arizona Trail, but Penuel pitched riding across the country to raise funds.

“I said, ‘We’ve got nothing else to do, we’re retired — we can do what we want,’” said Penuel.

Penuel decided to support vets because he’s one himself. He served in the Army in 1972.

“I’m always hearing about people (complaining) and moaning about vets needing money (and) I hate to see vets on the corner begging, so I thought we’d help,” he said.

The desire to help those with cerebral palsy hits a little closer to home.

“I have a son with cerebral palsy,” he said.

Penuel and his buddy plan to start their trip in April. Already, John Landino from the Pro-Rodeo Committee is helping the two find sponsorships. The two men have connections with Elk and Moose clubs and the American Legion. They will reach out to these organizations on their route for support and marketing.

Already, a man in Coos Bay has offered Penuel a gaited mule to help haul gear, Penuel just needs help getting the mule to Rim Country so he can get him in shape.

“He said (the Oregon man has) property in Buckeye and will visit in November,” said Penuel. “I hope he brings that mule.”

As Penuel talked, Rio calmed down. Penuel said that’s his normal nature.

“I ride him through town and not even garbage trucks bother him,” he said.

But since Rio is only “green-broke,” the two have some more miles to ride before they work out all the kinks in their relationship.

So despite his spill, Penuel patted Rio on the nose and talked nice.

You could say a 4,000-mile-ride’s kind of like a long marriage.

Kiss and make up — and don’t go to bed mad.

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

I cover the Town of Payson, courts, wildfire, business, families, non-profits, the environment and investigative reporting

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