A true dark horse: Tennessee Walker is USA’s best trail horse

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Motion and Sara in Indian Territory, John Zink Ranch, Sand Springs, Oklahoma, last May.
Motion and Sara in Indian Territory, John Zink Ranch, Sand Springs, Oklahoma, last May. © Mike Collins

A Tennessee Walking Horse has won the President’s Cup for 2014, the highest award for the North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) in the US.

The President’s Cup is awarded to the high point horse in the nation. The journey to this prestigious award began in 2005 for Loco Motion, a black unregistered TWH, and his owner Sara Baldwin of Rockford, Alabama.

Baldwin, a breast cancer survivor, said she first saw Motion in 2005 and said: ‘ “Open Champion’. Winning the President’s Cup took me a long time. It has been a wild ride on a difficult and wonderful horse.”

She chose not to register Motion because of the walking horse show culture. The path she chose is about the horse, not the breed. It has been a horsemanship journey of selection, training and care of a special horse.

Back in 2005, Baldwin was shopping for an extra horse, “a husband horse, one to use on trail work and day rides so that my NATRC horse, Image, could focus on moving up in competition”.

This is their story:

quoteI’ve been telling awful Motion stories for years. I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to explain why I stuck with him, why I kept trying, or why I’ve believed firmly for years that he could win the President’s Cup.

I never gave up on Motion because I chose him. In 2008, Image was injured. I had cancer.  Somewhere along the miles of trails and roads near my home, I decided to put all that behind me and compete; on Motion. He was difficult, scary and too much horse for me, but he was the horse I had.

I accepted the challenge to train Motion in this sport. I had a physically gifted horse with a difficult brain. The lessons he has taught me over the past five years have finally shown me that he is an extremely smart and sensitive horse. I am 100 percent responsible for his actions. He is not easy. He requires intense focus, calm, softness, and discipline. Meeting the emotional and physical demands of riding him has taught me about managing myself as well. So training me has been a part of training him.

I am also 100 percent responsible for his care. It has taken years to work out the right feeding program, the right shoeing, the right bridle, saddle and pads. I have also learned to recognize when he needs rest and chiropractic care. Sixteen rides in one year is a lot of miles! He is a great traveler, but I had to learn to take it easy and take better care of him on the thousands of trailer miles, too.

Motion on a Judged hill climb, at the Georgia on My Mind ride, Dawsonville, Georgia, last October.
Motion on a Judged hill climb, at the Georgia on My Mind ride, Dawsonville, Georgia, last October. © Equineloco

Riding Motion is like a drug. He loves to go down the trail and his energy passes to me. His step is light and springy. His pace is balanced and sure footed. He will pace, gait and trot, gallop and lope. And considering that he can spin, flip, and levitate, Motion is a superior athlete.

He will go anywhere, as long as it is forward down the trail. I have ridden Motion through icy rivers and flooded streams deeper than his chest and climbed banks taller than his head. I have ridden him along highways in the Ozarks, through wetlands and flint hills in Kansas, through deep sand in Texas and Florida, in the pouring rain in Tennessee, and the broiling sun and wind in Oklahoma. In thousands of miles of training and competition, he has gotten tired, gotten stressed, but has never quit. And he usually finishes a ride stronger and hotter than he starts.

Horsemanship is a journey; this one has been long and winding. It has been a NATRC journey of the selection, training, and care of a special horse. I don’t exactly remember when the President’s Cup became the goal for Motion, but it has been out there a long time. All of my fellow competitors and Region 5 family deserve thanks for helping me mark such a milestone in my life.”

Sara and Motion at the Georgia on My Mind ride, Dawsonville, Georgia, last October.
Sara and Motion at the Georgia on My Mind ride, Dawsonville, Georgia, last October. © Equineloco

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