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, read about the exploits of Saddlebred cross JAG Kalico Kid, a great ambassador for his breed, from the perspectives of some of the people who know him best.
By Jessica Gilker Ho, Kathy Gilker, and Megan Gilker Thomas
JAG Kalico Kid is the third generation of Kathy Gilker’s careful breeding. He is kind, intelligent, fun to be around, forgiving, well-behaved, polite, versatile, and loves attention. “He has done everything I have asked of him willingly. Kid showed in western and sidesaddle, hunter and over fences, dressage, and combined training,” Kathy recalls. “Once at a combined training show, Kid took me around a jump course even when I lost a stirrup at one jump and a rein at another.”
Not only has Kid earned two National Championship titles in dressage, multiple national top tens, regional champion and reserve champion titles, and a Reserve National Champion USEF Horse of the Year title, but he has also taught so many inexperienced riders the ropes, given countless first time riders the chance to be on a horse, and introduced so many non-equestrians to the Saddlebred breed. Throughout his life, he has had over 40 different riders, with the majority being first-ever experiences with a Saddlebred.
Kid has been used in clinics, photoshoots, and open houses, as well as a video by a saddle fitter. He has been borrowed by youth riders that did not own horses. Sweet Fresno Equestrian Photography’s owner Erin Wheeler complimented Kid, “I recently used Kid as a model for a client’s photo shoot, and he was a dream to work with. He was so still and calm, allowing us to get the shots my client wanted for her birthday shoot. My client had only been around horses a handful of times and was a little nervous about his size. He would gently reach his nose out to her, almost as if he was reassuring her. By the end of the shoot, the client talked about how much fun she had and how much she learned about horses, just in the hour she spent at her shoot. Not only was he a great ambassador for the breed, but for horses as a whole.”
JAG Kalico Kid is the epitome of a hard-working and willing teammate, characteristic of the Saddlebred breed. He competed up to 2’9″ in hunters, dressage, hunter pleasure, halter, sport horse classes, combined training, and is wonderful on the trails and at hunter paces, and also enjoys when his riders hop on bareback and play around bridle-less. Kid has helped two of his riders earn their Second Level scores towards their USDF Bronze Medals, and at the age of 19 and 20, was schooling Third and Fourth Level dressage.
Kid has a very sweet, loving personality, always enjoys attention, is incredibly eager to work, athletic, and highly forgiving – so many of those important traits recognized in the American Saddlebred. He’s basically an adorable puppy in a horse’s body and a wonderful partner for all disciplines, ages, and experience levels.
Jessica Nguyen, one of the Berry College Intercollegiate Equestrian Team members, also had plenty of compliments for Kid: “I had the pleasure of meeting Kid about ten years ago, when his owners brought him to our college. Kid is an absolute joy to be around and to ride. He’s got amazing skill levels and has won many awards over his lifetime, but can also be trusted to tote around beginner riders. He’s also one of the first to greet you at the gate and can easily be hacked around the farm bareback, when he’s not performing in the ring. Kid has an easy-going, lovable personality. In between my time with him, he carried riders young and old around the arena and down the trail. He has had so many people fall in love with him and he is such a confidence builder for all ages.”
Jessica recalls, “Kid started his ambassadorship with me as a junior rider. Kid, at four years old, took me from western pleasure and western sidesaddle to a 16 year old schooling 2’6″ over fences, competing in dressage and sport horse classes, and finally to a young adult riding at hunter paces, trail riding, showing open shows in working hunter, showing Second Level dressage, and schooling Third Level dressage. He showed many audiences, friends, acquaintances, and passersby his versatility, kindness, willingness, and devotion to any task at hand, and took it all in stride.”
She continued, “I had the opportunity to take Kid to Berry College with me, in Rome, GA. Everyone enjoyed his wonderful personality! He was selected to be used in the southeast regional championship for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). The rider that drew him for the regional show, in the Intermediate Hunt Seat Equitation class, won with him. She had never ridden a Saddlebred before and neither she, nor Kid, were permitted a warmup – per IHSA class rules.”
Emma Jarrell, who had many years off from riding, had the opportunity to ride Kid in a lesson with a local, top dressage trainer, to help get back into the swing of riding. Emma says, “I met JAG Kalico Kid five years after my last horseback riding lesson, before moving into the heart of Atlanta for university. After telling myself I’d never be one of the girls that stops riding in college, life and finances got in the way and, before I knew it, I hadn’t so much as touched a horse in years. Still very broke, I got the chance to ride Kid through his owners that allowed me some time on their horses in exchange for a few chores around the farm. Kid absolutely stole my heart with his approachable, in-your-lap personality and his incredible rideability. I got my first real introduction to dressage on his back and really got the chance to learn what connection through the seat and bridle felt like. He does not have a mean bone in his body, practically bridles himself, and is a true schoolmaster. I know Kid has touched hearts across all ages and disciplines.”
Alex Haugan, a young woman who had the opportunity to ride Kid several times, says, “I have come to know and love Kid over the past three years. He is such a sweet, kind horse both when you are riding and handling him. He is an incredibly versatile horse. I have seen him ridden western, dressage, hunter jumper, and on trails. During the various disciplines, he is able to mold and adapt to the various frame, gaits, and overall standards required.”
Alex added, “Kid is incredibly smart and, as mentioned above, that is evident by his ability to not only perform, but succeed in a variety of disciples. He is incredibly loyal and respectful to his human family and, because of that, Kid is a great horse.”
Susan Shupak, who had the opportunity to ride Kid when her horse was retired, stated, “I rode Kid in dressage several times a few years ago and really enjoyed him. He was very responsive to the aids. I also went on a couple of trail rides with his owner Kathy and felt very safe on him. He is such a versatile, all-around horse with lots of personality and good looks!”
In 2015, a local trainer’s school horse went lame and her two hard working youth students were without a horse to ride and compete for the rest of the season. Kid’s owner, Kathy, generously offered the use of Kid for the next several months. Kid had had a break but jumped right back into the swing of things, allowing the young ladies the opportunity to lesson, ride, and show, even allowing one to qualify for a state competition and another her first competition in cross rails. Kid was such a willing partner that tried his heart out in both these last minute and new partnerships.
JAG Kalico Kid has also been a shining star in several non-profit meet-and-greet and demonstrations. Kid was used in a practice halter and hunter pleasure class for the Forsyth County 4-H organization. In the in-hand portion, he was presented by Shelby, a young lady who had just gotten back into horses after a several-year hiatus. Kid was a favorite among the 4-H youth, parents, and organizers. The Forsyth MentorMe group also enjoyed meeting and grooming him. It was most of the group’s first time meeting horses in person.
In April 2021, Kid got to meet hundreds at the Georgia Horse Fair while also introducing the Half Saddlebred/National Show Horse to attendees. He was so loved and enjoyed, meeting everyone who came to greet him, relishing in human attention.
“Personally, in our family Kid has been the horse for visiting cousins and significant others for their first rides ever on a horse,” Jessica says. “My fiancé, Ken Ho, had his first two experiences and rides on a horse with Kid, where he learned to guide, turn, and communicate with a horse. I trusted Kid with his safety and to give him a wonderful first experience.”
Kid was the trusty mount for an 11-year-old rider’s first horse show over fences in cross rails; it was only her second show ever. The pair earned two seconds and a third, out of eight, in the cross rails division at the Elite Show Jumping Fall October 2015. The sweet mother of this dedicated young rider had this to say following the show, “Lauren was lucky enough to show this beauty, Kid, who was an absolute angel for her. They won lots of ribbons, which is great, but the best part was watching the sweet encouragement that Lauren received from so many people. I would also like to thank Megan and Jessica Gilker (and Kathy, of course) for allowing Lauren to show their sweet Kid. He is truly one of a kind.”
JAG Kalico Kid also showed his willingness and work ethic when he was pulled out of pasture to help a 18-year-old youth rider finish reaching her goals of a strong show season and competing in Georgia Hunter Jumper Finals, when her current mount got hurt. At only their second show together, the Falcon Ridge GHJA showjumping team became champions in the Long Stirrup division and Long Stirrup Equitation.
“They did GREAT! Three firsts, one second place, and a third, and Kid was a CHAMPION! He was a good boy! Thank you sooooo much for letting us borrow him!!” the hardworking and talented youth rider’s mother told us. “Thank you! He’s so much fun to ride! Thank you guys so much for letting me borrow him!”
None of these individuals were familiar with Saddlebreds and had never ridden, much less shown, a Saddlebred or Half Saddlebred prior. He has changed all their opinions about Saddlebreds to the positive.
Kathy fondly notes, “At 21-years-old, he is still taking good care of me as a 68-year-old rider. He is everything to everybody and we love him.”
Megan Gilker Thomas adds, “I have been so lucky to know JAG Kalico Kid his entire 21 years of life, so far. Kid is an impeccable example of the noteworthy traits of the American Saddlebred, and over his lifetime, Kid has had the opportunity to display these traits to thousands of individuals from all different backgrounds. Kid makes new friends no matter where he goes – he is such a friendly, attention-seeking individual, who is also so polite, patient, and gentlemanly for the youngest of babies or most timid of adults. Kid even packed a young rider who was legally blind over 2’3” jumps in July 2016, as well as took an 11-year-old to her first show over fences (hunters) in 2015.”
He has proven himself the ultimate versatile Saddlebred and horse, by winning titles in western sidesaddle and dressage, as well as competing successfully against all breeds at open shows, in dressage and hunters. Megan couldn’t help but brag about what Kid has meant to her. “A big accomplishment that Kid helped me achieve is earning my USDF Bronze Medal. Kid exudes a quiet confidence no matter what is asked of him – on hunter paces, trail rides, over fences, bareback, bridle-less, or across water.”
In 2011, Kid and Megan attended a hunter/equitation clinic at a strictly hunter/jumper farm with renowned USHJA/USEF ‘R’ judge and clinician Anne Kenan, where they exhibited riding with no reins at the walk, trot, and canter – simply being ridden off the seat. “He made such a positive impression on everyone watching!” Megan said. “For years later, those that saw me ride him still comment on how wonderful he was.”
In 2018, Kid was the first ride back in the saddle for a 72-year-old who was recovering, physically and mentally, from a riding accident on her own horse. Kid gave this timid, senior rider the fortitude to go completely off the lunge line for her first time riding, since her accident. Kid quietly jogged around and took care of his rider, yet again. That rider, Judith Sawall, enthused, “It was a couple years ago when I rode Kid. What stands out in my mind is how really safe he is. Now having both hips replaced, I hope to have the honor of riding him again. He is so sweet, gentle and really takes care of the rider!” It is so incredible seeing what a positive influence Kid continues to have in the lives of others!
JAG Kalico Kid’s life has, in summary, been one never ending journey to share the love of the Saddlebred. We have been so lucky to share Kid with so many others, over his lifetime.