Tuesday September 21 2010
What - me on a Gaiter!?
Before today, I'd never heard of a Spotted Saddle Horse. Today, I rode one.
I'm visiting photographer Genie Stewart-Spears in Illinois (we are going to Lexington for the World Equestrian Games on Friday). She and her friend Chris took me out for a ride on Chris' gaited horses: Chris and I rode Spotted Saddle horses, and Genie rode a Racking horse. They wanted to show off their riding grounds: the hidden gem of the Shawnee National Forest.
The Shawnee National Forest might look flat and boring from above (like from a Cessna 402 flying 5000' above the ground) but hiding beneath the canopy are winding canyons in some challenging terrain, with hidden caves, limestone bluffs and cliffs, mazes of boulders.
We rode in the Rusk Creek Wilderness, dominated by oak-hickory and maple trees.
Native Americans activity dates back 15,000 years in this area. The 160 mile River to River Trail, completed in 1996, passes through here, connecting the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. The Forest Service keeps up numerous horse camps and places to highline your horses for a picnic or to hike to scenic overlooks.
And what better way to see the rugged trails but from the back of a ground-covering, sure-footed Spotted Saddle Horse. Chris said that during the second world war, spotted ponies were bred to Tennessee Walkers to get colored horses that were gaited. Once the color was established, breeders started breeding for a bigger sized horse, introducing other gaited breeds - Missouri Fox Trotters, Racking horses, Peruvian Pasos, Paso Finos. There are two breed registries now for the Spotted Saddle horse, established in 1979 and 1985.
My horse Kate hadn't been out on the trails a whole lot yet, but she was very sure footed, sensible, very forward and willing, and a blast to ride. She paced (as opposed to a trot, both legs on the same side move at the same time) which produces a side to side rocking motion. It wasn't uncomfortable until she got going real fast - then neither she nor I were quite sure exactly what her legs were doing down there. But she still glided right along - a "glide ride" as Genie called it.
It was such a treat riding a gaited horse like this - could I become a gaiter one of these days...?
(The top photo:
"You have to stand your horse's front feet on this rock and pose!"
"Because everybody in Tennessee on Gaited horses does this!"
"But we're not in Tennessee!"
"But we're riding Gaited horses!"
Photos of me by Genie Stewart-Spears!