Spotted and special! February is Appaloosa Month on YourDressage! Easily recognizable for their colorful, spotted coat pattern, this American breed finds its origins with the Nez Perce Native American people. Join us as we celebrate these beautifully marked horses as our Breed of the Month, where we will share stories and photo galleries from Appaloosa enthusiasts across the country.
We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special. Here, a Region 4 rider shares about her Little Appy That Could who became an ambassador for dressage and helped grow the dressage community in Minnesota.
By Rachel Quale
I was feeling defeated only three months after graduating from college. My post-graduate plans promptly went down the drain, I had nowhere to go, nowhere to board, and I surely wasn’t looking to add a second horse to my life…but hey, why not? When one door shuts, another opens, right? And nothing ever goes as planned anyway. I always begin telling our story by saying she fell into my lap when I wasn’t looking, and she turned into everything I never knew I needed – my Little Appy That Could.
An informal lease agreement with someone I barely knew at that time set the stage for our humble beginnings. Lucky for me, Jetta came into my life as a green-broke two-year-old, just exiting the world of western pleasure, and was essentially a blank slate with a good training foundation. You could say she wasn’t satisfied with her current situation either. The chestnut filly with a candle-and-flame-shaped blaze had no problem expressing her disdain toward the western pleasure classes she competed in at the show where I picked her up. She swished her tail through a western pleasure class and literally stomped her way through a Trail Class. She then won High Point in typical fiery red mare style, just to give us all a taste of how much talent she had to offer – if only she applied herself willingly! She wanted to live up to her registered name, “Watch Me Play Dirty,” and that’s exactly what she did!
In the beginning, we had no arena, and we always rode alone. We didn’t have a choice, so we made it work. We rode in a rolling hay field, down gravel roads, and through wooded trails. We rode in all weather, rain or shine…or snow. We rode until dark, and sometimes well after dark, because I worked during the day, and we rode on the weekends to utilize daylight when possible. We worked on the basics when the weather and footing would allow it and routinely went for hacks on a long rein, just the two of us. She was so brave and level-headed for a young horse. I was thankful for that. Her steadiness really allowed me to develop my sense of ‘feel’ to a higher level.
Fast forward about one year – I was working full time in the equine industry again, and Jetta was already hard at work inspiring local riders to give dressage a try with a wide variety of breeds and riding backgrounds. She won the hearts of everyone that knew her – she still does. I brought Jetta to her first dressage clinic in late summer 2015. Having only audited clinics previously, and always leaving them feeling inspired, I was incredibly excited to finally have the opportunity to ride in one with Jetta. I wanted an honest, professional opinion of her dressage potential and to ensure correct training for her every step of the way. The first clinic was pretty low key. Jetta was still pretty young, so her workload consisted of walk-trot transitions, stretchy circles, and many walk breaks filled with the discussion of theory. I remember she was pretty tired after that clinic ride, as any young horse would be…but at the same time, she had a virtuous air about her and a definite pep to her step. She was the Little Appy That Could! And she would. Every clinician we rode with genuinely liked her and thought she was doing well in dressage, despite her downhill build. Jetta seemed to enjoy being allowed to move forward, along with all of the individual attention. She soaked up every bit of it. Sometimes she even demanded it, which, alongside her virtuous presence and larger-than-life personality, led to everyone calling her by the nickname, “the Princess.”
After that first clinic, I knew I had to find a way to keep training. I couldn’t afford lessons and there wasn’t anyone in the area to teach dressage anyway, but an idea to organize clinics myself struck me. If I didn’t do it, I figured no one would, and if there were no local clinics, there would’ve been no way for me to obtain the education we needed. I worked hard to coordinate clinics in my free time. A couple of generous friends offered to host the clinics at their indoor arenas at no cost, and they continue to do so in support of our small dressage community. That cut the costs per ride considerably enough to rally up enough riders to fill the clinics consistently. In coordinating, scheduling, and organizing the clinics, I was able to at least cover part, if not all of the costs of my own clinic rides with “the Princess.” Back then we trained with USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medalist Heather Salden Kurtz and Natalie Hinnemann. They continue to make the trip “up north” when possible during these COVID times. Eventually our little dressage community added USDF ‘S’ judge Anne Cazadlo to our busy summer clinics schedules. We are so lucky to have their regular instruction!
Jetta’s and my skills sky-rocketed with the variety of trainers and constant flow of clinics. Everywhere we went, Jetta’s presence, demeanor, and capabilities captivated riders from all kinds of backgrounds to not only ask about her, but also ask if they could accomplish the same with their own non-traditional breeds. Jetta essentially became the local ambassador for non-traditional breeds in dressage and for dressage itself.
Our confidence grew enough to attend our first recognized show in 2016 and our second one the following year. One weekend of showing per year was all I could afford, and the closest rated shows to us were over 200 miles away, via winding and hilly county roads, so we had to make the trip count! We scored in the mid to upper sixties at First Level and dipped our toes in the water at Second Level those first two years. Jetta’s very real success at recognized shows was not only surreal, but it also inspired me to see how far we could actually go because I never expected she would take me that far. My trainers assisted us through the challenges of Second Level, and it was so worth it. We scored a 9 on a halt once, and the judges were always pleasantly surprised by Jetta’s medium and extended trot. I sent myself to dressage boot camp in California the following winter, to sharpen my skills with Natalie. I returned home mid-winter to work on the basics again, continue building Jetta’s strength, and push through “flying change hell.” We came out on the other side ready for Third Level and more.
That summer, we had one chance to show and I had enough saved up to afford one class per day. By this point, Jetta knew exactly what was going on when we would arrive at the showgrounds, and she would literally light up every time we entered at A. She loves being a show off, as some horses do. I’m an introvert myself, but it was so much fun to ride a horse like that down centerline – I can’t wait to do it again! She warmed up perfectly both days, gaining compliments from our show friends who hadn’t seen her in over a year. Both days, we contentedly trotted down centerline, focusing on perfecting the geometry and transitions required for Third Level Test 1. We had some minor mistakes here and there, but overall they were solid tests. I excitedly awaited my score sheets for what seemed like hours and was overwhelmed with appreciation for that pretty red mare, when all of our hard work over the years just to get to that point finally paid off with the two final scores I needed for my USDF Bronze Medal.
Something I was not expecting, especially knowing myself that we’ve always been capable of anything we apply ourselves to, was that earning my Bronze Medal opened the floodgates of interest. Suddenly everyone who had been following our journey on the sidelines realized it was possible for their non-traditional horses to be successful in dressage, too. Jetta was the proof! Currently, and all thanks to Jetta and the wonderful supporters we’ve had along the way, we have a healthy and positive dressage community in northern Minnesota that continues to grow. Before the arrival of COVID postponed clinics for a while, Jetta was schooling baby zig zags, half steps, tempi changes, and more, and I was so excited to work toward a Silver Medal with my Little Appy That Could. Unexpected and difficult life changes have postponed my showing goals with Jetta, for now. I know she misses it and wonders why the sudden change of pace, but through the generosity of many who want to see us continue our work and inspire other riders of non-traditional breeds, Jetta and I were thankfully able to ride in a couple of clinics last summer with our trainers – a much needed break. Someday, when I am able again, we will canter together down centerline for the first time. I’m wishing I could tell our whole story in detail. I left out so many parts, and including them would’ve resulted in a novel. Jetta means so much to me – she’s my partner, my friend, my teacher, and literally everything I never knew I needed. She expects the best of me and holds me accountable, yet she literally wraps her neck around me and uses her chin to pull me in for hugs. I don’t know what I would do without her, especially while I’m dealing with my current challenges. I’m thankful to have shared the highlights of dressage with her up to this point and hope to continue riding through. She has done so much for so many riders, I wish I could put it all into words. For now though, we will enjoy each other’s company and ride, clinic when we can, and enjoy all the little things along the way. I couldn’t be more thankful for my Little Appy That Could!