TAILS FROM THE TRAILS
About two years ago, Jamie Wilson and a few friends found themselves riding their horses out on the trails in their Jupiter Farms neighborhood two or three times a week. Soon, others were asking if they could join them, and they started talking about forming an actual group. That’s exactly what happened in September 2011, and the Gaited Trail Riders of South Florida was formed.
But you don’t need a gaited horse to join.
“We called it Gaited Horses because it seemed like a lot of our original members had gaited horses,” Wilson explained. “Del Van Dorn, who became president, and Judy Spillman, the vice president, have Missouri Fox Trotters. I have a Tennessee Walker. We love the way these horses go, and our rides let them show off their paces a little. We don’t just walk, we like to move out at a fox trot or a flat walk. A normal horse would have to trot to keep up with us.”
The group now has about a hundred members from all over — Lake Park, Lake Worth, Wellington, Palm Beach Gardens, Loxahatchee, West Palm Beach, even as far away as Cocoa Beach and Ocala. Annual membership is nominal: $20 per person or $35 for a family. They meet up twice a month and go out on trail rides in different spots, including DuPuis, Riverbend, Nine Gems, Hungryland, Cypress Reserve, Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Lucky Buck, Old Indian Town Grade, Blue Field Ranch and Atlantic Ridge in Stuart.
They also hold other events, such as training clinics, moonlight rides, campouts, poker runs and an equine chiropractic demonstration. There are also purely social (read: unmounted) gatherings.
“We held a Kentucky Derby party in May,” Wilson said. “We all wore big, silly hats, and, of course, we drank mint juleps as we watched the race. We also like holding old-fashioned picnics at Riverbend Park in Jupiter.”
Having fun with horses is what it’s all about.
“I think the most fun event we ever held was an obstacle course practice back in April,” Wilson said. “We met at Dr. Lester’s ranch in Okeechobee. He has a big field with some really wild permanent obstacles, and we had a lot of fun going through them. He’s got some common ones, like jumps of different heights, pole bending, a tarp on the ground for the horses to walk over, and a gate to open, go through and then close. But he’s got some different ones as well. There was a narrow bridge the horses had to walk over, then turn in a circle and come back over, either frontward or backing. He’s got a car wash, with the dangling streamers for the horse to walk through, two ponds — one for wading the horses in and one they can swim in, and there was a huge beach ball to bat around in the water.”
The attendees really enjoyed the different obstacles.
“He had poles with balloons on top of them. You took a lance with a tack at the end of it, and you had to ride down the line of poles and burst as many balloons as you could,” Wilson continued. “He also had a cannon booming loudly every few minutes. And then there was the trench. The trench is this huge hole in the ground, about 5 yards wide and maybe 10 feet deep. There’s a jump at the start of it, so the horse jumps the jump heading down this earth ramp into the trench, then you go along the bottom and up the ramp on the other side, and there’s another jump you have to jump to get back out. That was a real challenge. It took a while to acclimate some of the horses to the trench.”
Wilson said that the group’s trail rides usually last around two hours. They ride on actual trails and travel for miles. They alternate going out on Saturdays and on Sundays, to accommodate everyone’s schedule. They also usually pack along a picnic lunch to sit around, back at the trailers afterward, and socialize.
“That’s what our club’s all about,” she explained. “Riding on trails, socializing and having fun.”
Linda Klimeika is one member.
“Their rides are a lot of fun,” Klimeika said. “I enjoy bringing my Appaloosa along and joining in. I’d say this would be a great way for someone who’s kind of isolated, has a horse at home, to meet up with other riders. This is a nice way to have a social life with your horse a couple of times a month, or if you board at a show barn and no one else goes out on trails very much. Horses love going out on trails, seeing different things, being with other horses. If you’re not sure if the club’s right for you, come and ride once or twice for free to try it out.”
Wilson said that riders should be at least intermediates, because they do move out. Sometimes, however, they’ll split into a faster and slower group, if there are enough people who’d prefer to mainly walk. Also, riders younger than 18 must wear a helmet.
“Other than that, you can ride any sort of horse in any sort of tack, even bareback, if that’s what you’re used to,” she said. “We’re very casual. Our main goals are to go trail riding, camping, enjoy social events and mostly to have fun with our horses.”
For more information, visit www.gaitedtrailriders.com.