Going at a gait – Gaited horse show coming to Nevada County next month
As a child I heard my parents tell of what fun it was riding gaited horses. Dad had ridden two beautiful American saddlebred mares as a young horse trainer in St. Paul, Minn., and years later he learned their owner was gangster Al Capone!
The old California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento had an incredible horse show, in which gaited horses were featured. The evening event was a sellout, with stock horses, parade horses in silver trappings and hunters and jumpers concentrating in spite of the fireworks exploding nearby, and intermission events such as the thrilling Victor Adding Machine pony hitch racing their figure eights.
The five-gaited American saddlebreds, with flowing manes and tails, and the elegant Tennessee Walkers were unforgettable. Horse shows have since become so large and numerous that almost all are for only one breed or discipline, and the spectator loses out in being treated to a panorama of different styles of riding and breeds of horses at one venue. Most horse enthusiasts seldom see the best of gaited show horses.
Since early plantation days, the Southern states historically have prized the horses with an ambling, smooth gait. Arriving in the New World with the vikings, Spanish conquistadors, and European colonists, these horses had been known and admired since the Middle Ages.
On our shores, horses of gaited bloodlines crossed with the American Morgan and other breeds, eventually becoming known as the Tennessee walking horse, American saddlebred, Missouri foxtrotter and many other names. These “American Horses” were so prized that an American diplomat in France requested one as a gift to Marie Antoinette.
Horse shows began to draw enthusiastic crowds in the early 19th century, with the largest show of that time being in St. Louis in 1856. As horses became less important for transportation with the advent of the automobile, horse shows became more prominent, with many of the gaited horses attracting an enthusiastic following.
Sadly, what has occurred with many sports when money and fame make winning the “end justifies the means,” injustices sometimes occur. During the past 50 years, some of these competition horses have endured exaggerated artificial enhancements to make them even flashier and higher stepping. Inhumane use of weights on their ankles, long toes, and specially designed shoes to create greater action all have encouraged horses to move in such a way as to thrill spectators.
In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Horse Protection Act to prevent abuses but the administering Department of Food and Agriculture has been without sufficient funding for thorough enforcement. Strict rules, standards and penalties are also set by USEquestrian, the national horse show organization. A nonprofit organization, Friends of the Sound Horse, is becoming a leader in educating and changing the gaited show horse image to a natural and normal gait that is totally humane for breeds such as the Tennessee Walking Horse.
In addition, the gaited horse breeds are rapidly gaining recognition as wonderful trail and pleasure horses. Their rapid rise in popularity is attributed to good dispositions, smooth easy movement, and suitability for all ages of riders. Gaited horses today can participate with mainstream horses in endurance, team penning, driving and dressage. The gaited horse – unlike many breeds, such as the quarter horse, which has three distinct gaits (walk, trot and canter) – has a natural walk, then a smooth running-walk and a rolling comfortable canter. Tennessee walkers, for example, do not trot, as would a quarter horse who uses diagonal legs in a two-beat motion. The gaited horse can cover ground quickly and smoothly, with a running walk at over 10 mph, and is considered ideal for riders with back problems.
Among the many breeds that amble, or are gaited, are the Missouri foxtrotter (used extensively by the Forest Service and Mounted Patrol officers), the Paso Fino, Icelandic horse, Peruvian Paso, Mountain pony, United States mountain horse, Tennessee walking horses, and of course, the many unregistered and grade animals with a gaited parent. There are even gaited mules.
Nevada County, with its ever-expanding horse population and interest, has been selected as a site for the national gaited horse Independent Judges Association (IJA) Clinic. Fran Coles’ Moondance Ranch in Grass Valley will host the three-day event to be held March 11-13. Combining classroom instruction, discussion and live judging, the clinic will be an interesting and educational experience. It will include the Gold Rush Benefit Horse Show on March 12 at the McCourtney Road facility. What is special about this event is that it is a national program supported by FOSH.
This is the first time the IJA clinic is being held in Northern California, and according to Dianne Little, the IJA director of judges, the decision to hold this event in Grass Valley reflects the importance of our area to the fast-growing natural gaited pleasure horse industry.
The clinic at Moondance Ranch will train judges and educate exhibitors as to the highest standards of humane treatment for all gaited horses. This includes the need to take time and patience in the conditioning and training of the pleasure and trail horse in order to achieve a safe and sane mount.
“IJA judges from throughout the country will discuss gait ideals for the Tennessee walking horse, Missouri fox trotter and other gaited breeds,” explains hostess Cole. Several gaited horse clubs, such as the Gold Country Gaited Horse Club and the Wine Country Walkers, are active locally in promoting the gaited horse for trail riding, pleasure and exhibitions.
Cole has already been doing her part with the horse demonstrations given at the Nevada County Fair and the Horse Expo held in Sacramento. She breeds Tennessee walkers and has traveled throughout the nation to show them as sound, naturally gaited horses. They wear flat shoes and have no gimmicks or enhancements added to their natural movement.
All those interested in participating in the clinic, including auditors, should contact Dianne Little at (403) 271-7391 or email@example.com. You may also reach Moondance Ranch at 477-0400. FOSH’s Web site is http://www.friendsofsoundhorses.org
Felicia Schaps Tracy is the owner of Emigrant Springs Horsemanship, co-founding instructor of Northern Mines Pony Club, member of Certified Horsemanship Association and the American Riding Instructors Association. Write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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