“Nautica’l” Adventures

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Photo by Christina Stewart, 2021

Celebrating the American Saddlebred!!  This month on YourDressage, we are celebrating the graceful Saddlebred and Saddlebred crosses of all kinds.

Dressage riders who choose Saddlebreds as their mounts are eligible for Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as the American Saddlebred Horse and Breeders Association is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a Region 3 rider shares about her Saddlebred Nautica, and how their bond and dressage helped him overcome a horrible injury.

By Sheila Palmer

Nautica is every teenage horse girl’s dream; tall, dark, and handsome with a big personality and heart to match. Nautica came into my life in early 2012. I was a young saddleseat rider searching for her first horse, and Nautica was a young equitation horse searching for “his girl.” It was a match made in heaven. We showed all over the southeast, kicking butt and taking names in the junior equitation (saddleseat) division, winning both state and region championship highpoint along the way.

Nautica and me in saddle seat equitation, 2014. Photo by Rachel Kelly.

In the spring of 2015, Nautica fractured his sacrum in a hauling accident. The prognosis for equine sacrum fractures is vague at best, but with our veterinarian’s encouragement and assistance, we decided to see Nautica through the long road to recovery.

Nautica spent a full year in and out of stall rest. It was a rough year, but he was a trooper. By the beginning of the second year post-recovery, we graduated from hand-walking to light lunging. By the end of the second year, we were finally up to light riding. Nautica was one of the lucky ones; he was more or less sound after such a traumatic injury. His gaits had changed significantly and his hind stride, while finally even, was choppy and cautious. His confidence under saddle was shaken.

It soon became clear that while Nautica was sound enough to ride, he was no longer comfortable with the high-intensity level of work that the saddleseat discipline entails. Naturally, Nautica also had some anxiety about hauling since his accident. His days as a “show horse” appeared to be over.

Photo by Christina Stewart, 2021

Coincidentally, it was around this time that I had the opportunity to move Nautica to a barn closer to my home: River Rock Stables, a dressage-focused training facility and lesson barn. I had taken a few lessons at River Rock with my Thoroughbred event horse at the time, and had started to become good friends with the owners, the Foleys, and instructor, Kelly Arnold. While it was difficult to leave my longtime “home” barn, I jumped on the opportunity to have Nautica closer to me, for a more hands-on rehabilitation program. Moving to a dressage barn, the plan was to incorporate some dressage concepts into Nautica’s riding rehab. Little did we know just how beneficial dressage would be for us.

Nautica and me

They say that dressage is physical therapy for the horse. The slow, rhythmic movements along with the focus on lateral flexibility help create a more even, “straight” horse. This, of course, helps in building the proper musculature for the horse to carry a rider more comfortably. These concepts were a major benefit for a rider like me, having a horse suffering from hind end weakness.

Horse shows were not initially the goal for Nautica and me, but as we became more involved in our dressage work, we became more competitive with our goals. Saddlebreds are bred to be natural-born show-offs. They command attention and enjoy having a daily job with goals to work towards with their people. Thanks to dressage, Nautica’s show days were not over yet.

We started small at Intro Level. Nautica absolutely crushed it with 70s at his first-ever “away” show as a dressage mount. Soon, we were hitting the recognized shows with 60s plus in our first season at Training Level.

Photo by Christina Stewart, 2021

I was a bit apprehensive about entering the world of open-breed showing with such an “off-breed” horse as Nautica, but I’ve found that the dressage discipline not only accepts off-breeds, but welcomes them with open arms. Dressage is truly about creating the best version of your horse that you possibly can. When Nautica and I are in the dressage ring, we compete solely against ourselves. Dressage is our physical therapy and horse shows are just extra, fun ways to check our progress.

I believe that dressage helped Nautica overcome the effects of his sacrum injury, and I don’t think that he would be as sound long-term, both physically and mentally, without switching up his discipline and the related lifestyle to fit his needs.

Since making the switch to dressage, Nautica enjoys being a breed ambassador at USEF-USDF dressage competitions. At home, he is quiet and gentle with the kids while still maintaining that big Saddlebred personality I fell in love with years ago.

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