When self-taught horseback rider Melissa Abram had to put down her first horse in 2003, she thought she’d never ride again. The 2019 Ladies Trail Pleasure AOHA State Champion was reminded of her love of riding over the last few years and has made leaps and bounds ever since.

After realizing how much she really missed being in the saddle, Abram started trail riding again with friends for leisure about five years ago. She now shows gaited horses and helps take care of them on a daily basis.

“My friend Keith Dean bought a horse from Tennessee, Nosy Ned, that had some previous experience showing as a trail pleasure horse. He asked if I would show him at a local show. While I can’t remember what we even placed that day, we had a great time and ended up placing third at state that year,” said Abram, an Alexander City native.

She began riding Nosy Ned as often as possible to strengthen their bond. After a couple shows, Dean and others joined in, and the group began traveling together to shows.

“I practiced routinely and always asked questions and for suggestions from others,” said Abram. “Hugh Taylor of Taylor Farms in Childersburg and Kristi Norris of Kristi Norris Training Center in Notasulga really taught me a lot.”

Last year, Dean purchased another racking horse, Bayside, and Abram began showing him mid-season.

“We had a good season and made lots of improvements with each show. We spent the fall and winter getting to know each other trail riding. The more you ride, the better you understand one another,” she said.

At the Alabama Open Horseman Association competition over Labor Day weekend this year, Abram and Bayside won the Ladies Trail Pleasure Racking Class unanimously with all three judges placing them in first. 

The three-day event took place at the Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, with about 60 to 70 different classes contending and nearly 4,000 people passing through, including competitors and spectators.

“I am very lucky to be provided these great horses to ride and show,” said Abram. “Bayside is about four years old. Our bond has continued to grow through our daily routine of care, grooming and feeding. That’s my part and the way I can give back.”

Gaited horses are often referred to as Tennessee Walking Horses or spotted horses. All three are similar but take part in different competitions. Bayside would be eligible for all three categories, said Abram.

During a competition for a trail pleasure walk, the horse is judged by its walk and pace; then, the rider and horse do a trail pleasure rack, which is a little faster, explained Abram. The trail pleasure walk is a slow, easy walk without a lot of movement from the rider.

“Showing also consists of Western clothes and English attire. It’s like playing dress up as an adult, but this is part of the judging process, as well,” she said. “One of the judges commented about how he enjoyed my outfit this year because I was advised to dress more subtle, which leaves the main attention on the horse.”

While competitors typically don’t win money at these local competitions, Abram said, it’s all about the love of the hobby and the pride for the horse.

“The competition of showing is fun but it’s also time consuming and stressful because I don’t want to disappoint anyone with our performance. I put in a lot of time to keep the horse conditioned; that’s the easy part,” said Abram.

As a matter of fact, she would prefer leisurely trail riding to competition most days.

“It’s just about enjoying friends and nature; being able to relax and have fun. It’s my way of clearing my head,” Abram said.

Abram likes to ride at Wind Creek State Park and also prefers Horseshoe Bend National Military Park and Talladega National Forest for group trips with other riders.

Off the trail, Abram is a full-time registered nurse of 22 years and works as the clinic nurse manager for Healogics Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Russell Medical. She also is a member of the Alexander City Horse Riding Club and encourages more people to get involved. 

To learn more, visit achrc.com.