For 13-year-old Savannah Ward, her performance in the Wyandot County Junior Fair freestyle riding competition on Friday afternoon was a special occasion.
Savannah chose a patriotic theme for her showcase in honor of her bother, Sgt. Joshua Johnson, who returned home to Upper Sandusky on Wednesday evening following a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. Johnson is a member of the Army National Guard.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Holly Johnson, Savannah’s mother. “… We were in the (Wyandot County Fair) parade (on Tuesday) and she decorated her horse with yellow ribbons in honor of her brother and I carried a flag. The front of her (horse) stall also is decorated with yellow ribbons and American flags for her brother.”
For her patriotic-themed performance Friday, Savannah wore a blue shirt with stars. Her horse, a Tennessee walker named Oppy, was decked out with red, white and blue ribbons in his mane and tail and a cloth with an American flag design on his back.
“I’m a little nervous because it’s only my second show,” said the Union School seventh-grade student, just before she saddled up for her big moment.
The audience stood and sang along as Savannah rode Oppy around the Junior Fair Horse Arena with the sounds of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A” ringing out from the loud speakers.
“I thought it was pretty cool, especially the song she picked — that’s definitely an American classic,” said Sgt. Johnson, who also served in Afghanistan from 2008-09.
“I just love that song and I was glad that my brother was coming home,” Savannah added, explaining why she chose the song. “I wanted to do something to represent him.”
At the end of her ride, Savannah climbed off her horse and met her brother, who was dressed in full military uniform, and the two walked out of the arena together.
“It was a surprise for the crowd to see Josh because a lot of them didn’t know he was back,” Holly Johnson said.
“I’m very proud of both of them,” she added. “They have a younger brother who is 12 (Troy Ward) and he wants to follow in his older brother’s footsteps; so, it looks like I’m going to be a military mom for a long time.”
Although Savannah did not place in the freestyle riding competition, she is a winner in the hearts of her family, especially her brother.
“I loved it,” Sgt. Johnson said after watching his sister’s performance. “It’s nice that everyone still accepts us soldiers and what we do.”
By CHANDA NEELY