One for the Ages

With over 100 years of combined barrel-racing experience, Jo Ann Jones and Watch Joe Smoke prove age is just a number.

By Julie Papaj

To be a cowgirl is to be brave, bold, and fearless in the pursuit of your passion—and few women are as tenacious as Jo Ann Jones. The now 80-year-old barrel racer has been relentlessly steadfast in her desire to be a cowgirl since she was first called into the living room to watch The Roy Rogers Show premiere with her parents.

“When I saw Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and the horse Trigger and the dog Bullet, I told my folks, ‘That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want. I want horses, and I want dogs.’ and I never varied from those statements,” Jo Ann said.

True to her word, Jo Ann set out to start her cowgirl career.

“I found a horse that was very lonesome in a pasture, and I went up to the house and asked the gentleman if I could feed or ride or help because I was lonesome [too],” Jo Ann said; her family had recently moved to Iowa. “He said yes, and we just shook hands—I was 11 years old. The horse’s name was Flicka, and she taught me everything. I didn’t have a saddle. I [just] had a halter, and so I’d get on some days, and we would walk around and the next day she’d run away, and I’d fall off—numerous times—but I learned it’s all a balance.”

When her father was promoted and her family had to subsequently move to Illinois, Jo Ann was heartbroken, devastated to have to leave “her” horse behind. Although her parents had initially hoped the young cowgirl would become saddle sore and abandon her Western dreams for more ladylike pursuits, they soon realized Jo Ann’s passion was as stubborn and unrelenting as their daughter. So, two weeks after the family settled into their new home in Illinois, Jo Ann’s parents bought her first horse, a Paint named Victory.

Eager to put herself and her self-taught training to the test, Jo Ann took Victory to her first horse show, riding him four miles to the show because she didn’t have a horse trailer. There, she entered every class, including the one that would change her life: barrel racing

“I didn’t know anything about what I was doing, but I knew I could ride,” she explained.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2023 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.