A Serendipitous Partnership

Photo by ZZero Gravity Photography

The cool Curly Sporthorse! We are celebrating them as our 2023 June Breed of the Month! We recently asked our social media followers to share a photo of their favorite Curly or cross to be featured in the YourDressage celebration of Curly horses! Did you know that dressage riders who choose Curly Sporthorses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as Curly Sporthorse International is a participating organization?

Here, a Region 2 rider shares the serendipitous partnership with her now forever gaited curly grade gelding, Takoda!

By Lorraine Martin; Photos by ZZero Gravity Photography

I am a 20-year-old dressage rider from the West Michigan area. My family has had horses for as long as I can remember, with my mother being heavily involved with the Icelandic and gaited horse communities. My mom put me on her mare at 18 months old, and I joke that I never really got off horses since. 

After my mother lost her mare, she searched for a young, gaited horse to bring along to be her next trail mount. We ended up finding this adorable Curly colt on the opposite side of the state, after casually searching for a few months. Takoda is a bright red roan Curly horse, which is kind of an anomaly as his dam is a black and white mare. Unfortunately, because his dam was a rescue and his sire unknown, we have no idea about his lineage. When Takoda’s dam was rescued, they had no idea she was pregnant, and by the time they realized that she was in foal, they had no way to contact the previous owners. 

Once we got Takoda home, it became clear he was not particularly fond of my mother, who was supposed to be his person. Instead, he followed me (at the time, I was nine years old) all over. I remember begging my mom to, one day, let me ride him, just once. Little did I know that he would turn out to be my forever partner. Eventually, at three-years-old, we sent Takoda to be started under saddle with the intention of selling him, seeing as he still had a distinct dislike for my mother. I was only 12 at the time, and was nowhere near ready for a three-year-old horse. 

I had been taking riding lessons with the trainer that started Takoda under saddle and, during one of my regular lessons, she brought Takoda out and taught from his back. Toward the end, she asked me if I would like to ride him. Of course, I said yes! This had been the moment I had been looking forward to for years. After that first ride together, a 12-year-old kid on a three year-old horse, we decided not to sell Takoda. We clicked instantly, in a way that I have never experienced with any other horse (and I have ridden so many in my equestrian career). It also helped that Takoda threatened to explode with anyone else sitting on him; to this day, no one else can sit on him without him deciding to try to dump them. Two months later, he became solely my project. 

As a young kid who was into the hunter/jumper scene, I tried to get Takoda to jump – and failed miserably. I think at one point we ended up face planting on a grid (almost being crushed to death kind of scared me from trying to jump him after that). We dabbled in western, trail rode a lot, and just played. I had accepted that because he was gaited, he was going to be nothing more than a big pet, my buddy that packed me around at home – a backyard horse, if you will. This whole time, my mother kept telling me to just be patient, that he would blossom around the time he was an eight-year-old. 

At 16, a reconstructive knee surgery destroyed my hopes of becoming an Upper Level jumper. My body just couldn’t cope with the pressure, so I began to take dressage lessons instead, with my current coach Olivia Knight of Olivia Knight Dressage. After a few months of riding school horses, I began to apply what I was learning to my own horses at home. Slowly I watched my gangly, awkward, gaited horse transform into a beautiful working partner. 

Takoda has always been more likely to trot than to perform a running walk, which is his natural soft gait. A running walk is an even, four-beat, lateral gait; slower than a trot but faster than a flat walk. It is extremely comfortable, and is perfect for trail riding. As he matured, he became stronger and started to gait more. He is not shod, nor do I use anything special to “bring it out” — he does it completely naturally and enjoys it. 

I was told numerous times, by numerous trainers, that if I wanted to trot him, I’d have to give up gaiting him completely because he would become confused. We focused heavily on trotting in our dressage tack, and heavily on gaiting in our western tack. Soon, he understood the difference in the tack meant the difference in his jobs. Sometimes he gets a little excited and gaits in his dressage tack, but we mostly have it under control. 

One day, on a whim, I ran through the Training Level Test One while schooling. Much to my surprise, we managed to do a not-so-terrible job. Excited, I quickly sent entries in for the next local schooling show. I had taken Takoda to a few local open pleasure shows as a four-year-old, but had not done anything since. Long story short, we won our equitation class, and placed third in a competitive Training Level class with a score in the 60s. 

As someone with a gaited, curly horse, who also happens to be a not-so-subtle color, I tend to get a lot of odd looks at shows, and I can guarantee at least a couple of people will ask questions about him. Thankfully, most people at shows are kind in their remarks and questions, and I have had only positive comments when I take my boy out. 

In addition to competing at local dressage shows, I share my experiences on social media, primarily through Instagram. I enjoy offering followers some insight into the dressage community, as well as the gaited horse community. One of my favorite parts of having such a “rare” horse in the dressage community is the opportunity I have to educate others about both Curly horses and gaited horses. The number of kind messages I have received, telling me that my experiences have inspired them to try dressage is extremely uplifting and encouraging. 

Follow Lorraine and Takoda on Instagram!

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