Senior Connections Senior Connections Mar 2019 - Page 7

A lifetime of equestrian excellence Delano woman receives United Professional Horsemen’s Association award GABE LICHT Editor Judy Balfanz Jensen, of Delano, has never consid- ered herself a prominent fi gure in the horse industry at the national level, but her peers throughout the country don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. The United Professional Horsemen’s Association presented the Shirley Parkinson Professional Achieve- ment Award to Jensen during its national conference Jan. 15-19. “The award meant a lot because it’s from my peer group, nationally, not just in Minnesota,” Jensen said. “I’ve been awarded way beyond expectations. Some of the people who have congratulated me are movers and shakers in the horse world.” Brendan Heintz believes Jensen, herself, is more of a mover and shaker than she gives herself credit for. “She had made peace with the fact that she wouldn’t be a big wig at the national level,” Heintz said. “That’s changed now. I think it was important to be called be- fore UPHA and be given this award to show she has made a difference, not just at the local scene, but at the national level. People know who she is. If they didn’t before then, they certainly were awakened to Judy.” Parkinson presented the award to Jensen, along with special presenter Mike Smith, the jockey who rode Jus- tify to a Triple Crown in 2018. That held a lot of signifi cance for Jensen. “Shirley Parkinson is defi nitely my hero,” Jensen said. “She is 90 years old and doesn’t look like it. She doesn’t act like it. She’s tougher than nails . . . She has worked her whole life. She is still working.” Jensen said she is also a fan of Smith, who served his apprenticeship at Canterbury Downs in Shakopee. This was not the fi rst award for Jensen. She was pre- viously voted as the UPHA Chapter 3 and 4 Horsep- erson of the Year in 2002, and received the Tri State Horsemen’s Association lifetime achievement award in 2004. Before that, she was named the 1985 Minnesota Horse Council’s Horseman of the Year, an award that was near and dear to her because her father, Verlin Bal- fanz, received it in 1977. A lifelong love of horses preceded all of these awards. Her parents once loaded two Shetland ponies into the back of their car and took them home to Jensen, 4, and her 2-year-old brother. “We would be on them all day,” Jensen said. “They were babysitters.” She went on to graduate to a white pony named Sil- ver. “It was so awful,” Jensen said. “It threw me off every night. Dad said, ‘Get back on, or he’ll be gone.’ That would have been the best thing in the world.” Thanks to a new trainer, Chat Nichols, Jensen got her wish. “He told my dad, ‘You have to get your kid a new horse,’” Jensen said. “ . . . I remember my parents laying across the bed counting silver dollars and certifi cates until they had enough to buy her for $400. I was 9. It started me on the world of American Sadd- lebreds.” She started giving lessons when she was 14, but said she didn’t get paid for doing so until she was 18. It was at that age that she and her fi rst husband, Bob Jensen, went into business with her father and her moth- er, Lil, at Kantell Stables in Hamel. She recalls the quality of horses she worked with at the beginning. “There were sows’ ears I tried to turn into silk purses,” Jensen said. “I got all the junk. You sure learn a lot. After time, you get better, and get better horses. You start getting more horses and winning . . . Everything I learned was the Nichols’ way, with a few cowboy tricks thrown in.” She then began a 22-year partner- ship with a rodeo cowboy at Cotton- wood Training Stable in Buffalo. Now, she operates Centre Pointe Stables with Todd Perkins. She remembers the fi rst time she met him at Cottonwood. “He had blue hair, black lipstick, and black fi ngernail polish,” Jensen said. “It was him and two girls, and the girls wanted jobs. He said his dad Judy Jensen, center, receives the United Professional Horsemen’s told him he didn’t have to have a job Association Shirley Parkinson Professional Achievement Award from while in high school. The next day, the Parkinson and Triple Crown-winning jockey Mike Smith. three of them got off the bus again. He PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWARD SCHATZBERG PHOTOGRAPHY said his dad told him he could work a little bit. Two weeks later, the girls quit. Todd’s still here. thinks well, and always supports the little guy,” Nitti He’s defi nitely a full partner in owning the stable. He’s said. “In this business, there are a lot of people with a lot of money. She might have started those people who very talented. He could go anywhere and get a job.” They are ably assisted by Amy Hutchison, Anna Kit- went on to national fame, but is still here supporting the local community . . . She’s kind of a mentor and friend tok, and Julie Gamber. They are all members of an equine and equestrian to everyone.” She is proud of everyone she has worked with, wheth- community that gets along well with each other. er they be human or horse. “Besides the horses, I love the people,” Jensen said. “I’ve worked with many, many, many horses; and “Every day is a new day. Most people who make up the many, many, many riders,” Jensen said. “I’ve worked horse business, amateurs or professionals, have won- with hundreds of horses and probably thousands of derful personalities and senses of humor. It’s is a very kids. Sometimes, I get the grandkids of kids I taught; close-knit community. That’s not just our barn, but all even some great-grandkids. They all lament that I’m not of Minnesota.” as ornery and mean as I was.” Sherri Nitti speaks fondly of Jensen and her role within that community. “She has a lot of really good common sense, and Senior Connections HJ.COM Senior Connections March 2019 7