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Woman’s ‘Dirty Little Secret’ is a winner

Ashley Frones' "Dirty Little Secret" waited impatiently in the barn at the Hobby Horse Farm, wanting only to be set free to join his friends outside.

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Ashley Frones holds Frank the farm cat as she stands near her award-winning Tennessee Walking Horse, Elliott this spring. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com

Ashley Frones’ “Dirty Little Secret” waited impatiently in the barn at the Hobby Horse Farm, wanting only to be set free to join his friends outside.

“Dirty Little Secret,” whose barn name is Elliott, is a beautiful 14-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse with attitude, who helped his owner achieve the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) Adult Supreme Champion in 2014.

The 36-year-old Frones won her first two TWHBEA championships as a youth with two different horses. This is a cumulative award where the points are gathered in many events over multiple years.

Frones began collecting points in 2010 which garnered her latest championship in 2014 as the adult supreme champion.

Some of Frones’ other recent accomplishments include 2010 Minnesota Walking Horse Association Horse of the year, 2010 FOSH Horse of the year - both won with Elliott - and the 2014 Minnesota Walking Horse Association’s Horse Person of the Year award.

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Frones is the current president of the Minnesota Walking Horse Association and secretary of the Carlton County Mounted Posse.

Frones was born into a horse-loving family and began competing on horses at the tender age of 2.

Her first horse was a Shetland pony named Beau.

“Beau was a naughty pony,” Frones said, adding that he would take off running with her on his back.

Eventually her parents bought Ashley her first Tennessee Walking Pony.

The Tennessee Walking Horse has been Frones’ breed of choice ever since, helping the competitive young woman win hundreds of ribbons over the years.

While Frones enjoys winning the ribbons and trophies, she said it’s more about the competing and riding, as well as the friends she’s made along the way over the years.

Frones donates many of the ribbons back to the organization after she wins them to help the organization defray costs at future events.

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Frones graduated from being led in on a line at her first competition as a 2-year-old, to fun events like barrel racing and the water glass class. (The water glass class is Frones’ favorite and she has won often over the years. The rider holds a glass of water during the class and the rider with the most water left in the glass at the end of the class wins.)

Frones manages to travels all over the Midwest to compete, even though she works full time.

“Its been amazing,” said Frones. She enjoys the friends she’s made from all over the United States whom she met through the horse world.

“Facebook is a great thing,” Frones said.

When Frones was 800 miles from home competing, Elliott fell ill.

“Three different people offered to help me and within 45 minutes we had the emergency vet on site,” said Frones. Elliott had a respiratory illness and needed to be outside. A person from the horse competition offered Frones the use of their pasture so Elliott could rest.

“Someone is always willing to go above and beyond, which is wonderful about the horse world,” Frones said.

She said Elliott has been her most challenging horse to date.

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While attending his first competition, Frones heard a large commotion coming from the stables. When she got there she discovered that Elliott did not like the horse in the next stall and he’d managed to knock down a wall and got entangled in it. It took time and a pair of giant bolt cutters, but they finally freed Elliott.

“Everyone knows Elliott,” acknowledged Frones, who describes the horse as “quirky and goofy.”

At home Frones has an indoor training arena. When the horses misbehave, they get put on the “naughty wall/patience wall” which is essentially a time out for horses. Elliott has spent his share of time at the wall.

The Tennessee Walking Horse originated in the southern states. The Tennessee Walker has a smoother gait, while other breeds have more bounce in their step. The signature gaits of the Tennessee Walker are the flat walk and the running walk. The horses perform these gaits while nodding their head in rhythm to the walk.

Frones also prefers them, she said, because they are a unique horse with great personalities.

The breed’s disposition make it an ideal horse for all ages and levels of experience.

The breed is not as popular in the northern states, including Minnesota. This is what makes success in the versatility program such an accomplishment.

The rarity of the Tennessee Walking Horse also make finding knowledgeable horse trainers to work with the breed a challenge.

“In order to be successful in the TWHBEA Versatility Program you need to seek instructors with many different backgrounds,” Frones said.

She found trainers around the area who specialize in other breeds, but were willing to also train with her.

While Tennessee Walking Horse may be a unique breed, all breeds need to learn how to communicate and work well with their riders.

Frones’ mom, Sally, called around for a trainer when Frones was a youngster and discovered Bonnie Peterson, who even lived nearby.

Peterson, who owns the Lonesome Pine Farm in Barnum, has been Frones’ main instructor since Ashley was 5. Peterson has a well-rounded education in horses. Besides giving lessons, Peterson also hosts clinics and judges horse competitions.

“I have known Ashley since she was knee high to a grasshopper,” Peterson said.

She remembers her working with her first pony, Beau.

“He was a fat, shaggy little pony … he taught her a lot,” Peterson said, adding that even though he may have misbehaved once in a while, he could be patient at times with the 5-year-old girl.

Peterson credits the Frones family for helping teach her about the uniqueness of the Tennessee Walker breed, a blending of two worlds, she said.

While the Froneses educated Peterson on the Tennessee Walking Horse breed, she taught them how to properly ride their horses.

“When you have horses in your blood, it doesn't go away,” Peterson said.

Frones is adamant that Peterson is a large part of the reason she has had success with the horses.

“She has instilled a confidence in me that allows me to follow my instinct to trust the horse and depend on my feel to get the horse to give me its best performance,” Frones said.

Peterson mainly works with stock horses like quarter horses and Paint horses, but can help with whatever riding issues Frones is having with her horse at the time.

“A good horse is a good horse,” Peterson said. “You train the horse to be an athlete.”

Frones’ latest problem with Elliott was communication issues when asking for advanced moves.

“[Bonnie] took me back to elementary-type work, focused on my relaxation and reminded me that my horse needs to focus and listen to me, as he sometimes likes to choose his own path!” Frones said.

Peterson is proud of what Frones has accomplished, and stressed that Frones is a product of her own hard work.

“It tickles me to no end to see what she has done with her horse talent,” Peterson said.

“It doesn’t matter what breed it is, it’s what you can do with them,” said Frones.

When she was growing up, the hard-working Frones spent every spare minute she had practicing with her horse, or working with a trainer.

The 4-H horse program provide Frones with plenty of opportunity to learn and perfect her horsemanship.

Frones was surprisingly successful with a breed that is unique to this area.

Vacation-time was just more time to perfect her passion and prepare for the next competition.

Frones and her parents, Sally and Dale, have been breeding, raising and training their flat shod Tennessee Walkers for over 40 years. Elliott was born on the family farm, as was his mother.

They have 16 horses that live permanently at the family farm in Carlton, with one foal due in May. At this time Frones owns five horses of her own.

They have two horses that are being trained until the end of April, at which time they go back home to their owners.

Frones also gives riding lessons for all breeds and she breeds, trains and boards horses.

In the family’s spare time, they travel all over the Midwest to compete in horse shows.

To own a horse is not cheap. Just to board a horse is $225 a month. Of course there are also other costs to consider, such as veterinary bills and feet trimming.

To have shoes put on a horse, it costs $100 every eight weeks.  

“The horse’s shoes are more expensive than mine,” Frones said, laughing.

If a person is so inclined, they can hire a trainer to do everything for them at anywhere from $600 to $1,500 a month.

The talented Elliott is not only an award-winning horse, but is also a certified posse horse for the Carlton County Mounted Posse.

Frones has been a participant since 2009.

“I trust him (Elliott) 110 percent,” said Frones.

Her parents were founding members of the posse.

Before the horses become certified they need to pass a sensory course which includes sirens, gunshots, smoke and walking over obstacles.  

Not only does the posse work with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Department, they also work and train with the St Louis County Rescue Squad.

Frones is looking forward to attending the TWHBEA world versatility show in July in Tennessee, and added that she plans to compete until she can’t ride any more.

To see the Tennessee Walking Horse in action, mark your calendar for July 17-19 at the Double F Arena in Hinckley .

The horse show will feature many gaited breeds, including the Tennessee Walking Horse and Icelandics.

More information about the Minnesota Walking Horse Association can be found at www.mnwha.com .

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