Riders of gaited horses from throughout Florida gathered at the Spotted Dance Ranch in Brooksville earlier this month for three days of instructional classes presented by nationally recognized horseman and gaited horse welfare advocate Carl Bledsoe. Gaited horses travel forward by moving each leg independently so that one foot is constantly on the ground. These horses are bred to be ridden long distances and have the smooth ride, stamina, and endurance favored by trail riders.
Located on 10 acres near the Withlacoochee State Forest, Spotted Dance Ranch is a destination for equestrians from throughout Florida and beyond who want to ride the nearby Withlacoochee trails. It is also a destination for non-equestrians who stay at the Ranch to take advantage of non-equestrian recreational activities available on the Nature Coast or travel to the area on business.
The Ranch also maintains a breeding program for Spotted Saddle Horses. Bledsoe is a veteran horseman who has trained Tennessee Walking Horses (TWH) and their riders for breed-specific competitions nationwide. In addition, he personally has turned in award-winning performances at high-profile TWH competitions in Tennessee and elsewhere. Spotted Dance Ranch owner and operator Kym Rouse said she met Bledsoe at a clinic he presented at in Morriston, Florida, last year and decided to ask him to offer one at Spotted Dance Ranch.
As a result, a total of 15 teams, including 13 gaited horses and two so-called “trotting horses – American Quarter Horses and Saddlebred/Arabian horses, which trot rather than gait – took part in the Dec. 1-3 event. “Clinics offer simple pointers to help your horse gait better and improve communication, but we haven’t hosted a clinic here in a few years mainly because we are always so busy with guests,” Rouse said. “I invited Carl (and his wife Tammy) because they are able to explain things to people in a way that they can understand that is also engaging.”
For Bledsoe, the Spotted Dance Ranch clinic presented a chance to teach natural horsemanship techniques specifically to riders of gaited horses.
“Natural horsemanship has not always been part of training gaited horses, and we’re trying to change that one horse and one rider at a time,” Bledsoe said. “Besides, it is so beautiful here.”
In fact, according to Rouse, the Spotted Dance Ranch is located in a long-established, equestrian-friendly neighborhood that has increasingly become an oasis during Florida’s recent development and population growth spurt. “Properties have been split and sold, but most people who move into the neighborhood bring their horses with them or just want to live in a quiet rural area – especially many retired veterans and law enforcement folks,” she said. “This immediate area should not change much, but many of the large tracts near I-75 and on the other side of Highway 50 are turning into subdivisions and commercial developments.”
Even so, the effort to maintain the equestrian industry in Hernando County is challenging as development is increasingly seen as more economically beneficial. “Our guests spend lots of money in Hernando County and pay sales and tourist development taxes, and people who own horses spend lots of money on trucks, trailers, tractors, and mowers, buying feed and hay from local farms and feed stores, buying horse supplies, hiring vets and farriers,” Rouse said. “The county should be working really hard to protect the rural way of life.”
Carl and Tammy Bledsoe are slated to present another clinic at Spotted Dance Ranch from March 10 through 12, 2023.