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Equine Love; Horses close to Staley#039;s heart

Horses have been part of Dee Ann Staley's life for about as long as she can remember. Dee and her husband, Lonnie Best, own about 20 and "these horses are our family," she said.

"Horses are our lives out here," Staley said. "We like a lot of other things, but we can all say our lives revolve around horses."

Along with the horses, the rest of their extended family includes Best's daughter Leslie, 19, and son Erik; family friend Nikki Cosner; three dogs, several cats and dozens of 4-H kids that they feel like are their own.

Recently, Staley was recognized by the American Quarter Horse Association for her participation in the Horseback Riding Program. AQHA recognizes people who spend time working with American Quarter Horses.

Dee has logged more than 5,000 hours during the last four years. For her accomplishments, she was given a commemorative belt buckle. She has only brought herself to wear it once, to the West Virginia State Ride.

Lonnie is catching up with her with 4,500 hours of his own.

"I am only the 49th person in the world to receive this award," she said. "The second person in Ohio and the first woman in the state to be honored."

Most of the hours were logged on their horses, "The Bud Light" and "BobbiSox." Horses names are usually based on the lineage, she said.

American Quarter Horses are native to the United States and are a mix of several breeds. It was recognized as an official breed in 1940.

Staley joined the AQHA in 1976 and the Riding Program in 1992, although she didn't become active until 1998.

As of July 1, there were more than 14,000 members enrolled in the program.

Dee has ridden professional rodeo for the last eight years. In 1997, she was ranked 10th in the nation by the International Professional Rodeo Association.

Staley said her grandfather practically put them on ponies when they were born and gave her first horse to her when she was 11.

Twister, at 32 years old, is the oldest horse in their stable. His longevity may be attributed to his unusual fondness for beer, hot dogs and Pop-Tarts, she said.

"I joked with Lonnie that Twister is the only man who never let me down," she said. "He knows all my secrets."

Working with handicapped children is something for which the family has developed a passion. The whole family helps out at the Mighty Oaks and Little Peanuts Therapeutic Riding School in Franklin Furnace.

She was approached in April, and although she doesn't have much free time, she couldn't say no.

"It had come to the point they would have to close the doors," she said. "How do you say no to these kids? It is wonderful to watch what these kids can do on horses."

Lonnie and Leslie agree that it is great to see how they progress and learn.

"It is good companionship with the horses," said Leslie Best, Staley's step-daughter. "You get to know the horses and they get to know you. They know who is on them."

"They know when you don't feel good or if it is a child that needs them," Staley added.

Staley will take 12-year-old Sarah Johnson of Ironton, to the Challenge Cup in Fairlee, W.Va. Monday, even though Dee will probably miss a rodeo competition.

"I have got years of barrel races to do," she said. "Sarah may not have this chance again."

If Sarah places, she can advance to a competition in Kansas City, Mo., Dee said.

"Maybe this school is what is next for us," Dee said. "Right now, this is where I feel I need to be."

The family goes on AQHA-sponsored rides, show their horses and Dee competes in the rodeo events of pole bending and barrel racing.

A trail ride in Pennsylvania at the Gettysburg battlefield stands out as one of the more memorable moments, they said.

"It was probably our best ride, especially if you like history," Dee said. "I think when you see it like (the soldiers) saw it, it really brings it closer to home."

The AQHA sponsors rides in all 50 states. The proceeds go toward establishing handicapped riding facilities and scholarships for the Quarter Horse foundation, she said. Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune