A paint horse with a story at the Virginia Horse Center

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ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY (WDBJ7) -- “This is the inaugural Eastern National Championship for the American Paint Horse Association,” Billy Smith, Executive Director of American Paint Horse Association, said as he stood in the Virginia Horse Center arena.

It's where riders compete to show who’s the best.

“These are really dedicated people," Smith explained. "They spend a lot of time trying to refine their craft. And it’s a team competition in the sense that the horse and rider are a team.”

Like Phantom and her owner, Karen Fleetwood.

“She is my partner," Fleetwood said. "She’s not just my horse, she’s my partner. She’s my best friend.”

And that partnership brought them some wins here -- three championship trophies -- which was a surprise.

“We never thought that this day, nor winning three national titles today would ever be possible for her,” said Phantom's trainer, Tera Fauver.

Because this is Phantom’s first show back, just three months after recovering from a series of life threatening illnesses.

“There were many times that , you know, we all had to stop and evaluate how much more could her body take and how many more doses of these meds is she going to be able to handle,” Fleetwood said.

But she pulled through -- and then some.

"She’s been an amazing horse," said Fauver: “She’s special, she’s definitely one of those special horses.”

Showing them the way back into the ring, and how to be a champion.

“She hasn’t told us she’s done yet," Fauver explained. "So we’ll keep on trekking with her until she’s done.”