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Horse that can dance offers second chance

Reynolds will bring El Gato to Pumpkins and Ponies

October 7, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

Kelly Christine Reynolds and her dancing horse, El Gato, are the latest addition to the Pumpkins and Ponies festival.

Reynolds' act isn't just a fun romp with a talented animal. It's an encouraging story of how to get back in the saddle too.

Reynolds bred and showed horses for 20 years before an injury and other health concerns eventually led her to quit.

Article Photos

-Submitted photo
Kelly Reynolds and her dancing horse, El Gato, will perform at this year’s Pumpkins and Ponies celebration. Gato does a high-stepping trot in place to music as part of their routine.

"I fell out of our hayloft in 1995 and really severely injured my left leg," Reynolds said. "I was in a wheelchair for quite a while, and I had several surgeries. Being on a horse farm and being a rider, it really impaired that a lot.

"As it got worse and worse as the years have gone on, I had quit riding. I hadn't ridden for several years when I found Gato. When I got on him I realized how much I missed riding."

Gato is a purebred white Arabian trained to be a dancing trick horse, like in a circus. He dances to a beat doing a high-stepping trot in place, falls over on command and bows, among other tricks.

Reynolds found that performing with the horse let her get back into the world of equine entertainment, even though she couldn't ride as well as before.

"If you're show riding, you have to ride a lot. If you're trail riding, that's hours on a horse," she said. "Some people think when you get older and arthritic, when you have problems you just can't ride anymore. Well, I'm living proof that you can still ride, for just few minutes at a time, and have a blast."

Reynolds said people assume she must ride her horse quite a bit, practicing for her act, but she doesn't.

"I really don't ride him a lot because of the leg," she said. "I work with him a lot in hand. I play with him every day and do stupid little tricks, like ring the bell, sit on the beanbag. I'm still with him every day, I just don't ride him every day."

When Reynolds bought El Gato three years ago, he was already trained as a performing horse. Reynolds then had to learn from him how to speak "circus trainer language," how to give the right cues and touches that tell Gato to do his tricks.

"He knows a lot more tricks, I just need to figure out what the buttons are. It's just like a new language. He doesn't speak English, so I have to learn with my hands, my feet and my whip where to touch him, how to hold my hands, those kind of things," she said.

"I touch him in different areas - like if I rub back and forth on his side he'll dance. If I put my spurs up under his elbows and just kind of touch under the elbows, he'll do what's called a rock and fore.

"If take my whip, lay it down and touch his knee with it - that's why I ride with a whip, I can touch all parts of his body with it - I lay that down and touch his knee, and he'll bow. There's lots of different things and I'm still learning."

Reynolds has also taught the horse some additional tricks that the kids like, such as how to sit on a beanbag, shake his head yes and no, and ring a bell on command.

She said trick riding for entertainment was completely different from the dog-eat-dog world of the show ring.

"When you're performing, everybody loves you. You don't have any enemies," she said. "You're not competing, you're out there to entertain and make sure everybody has fun.

"I almost can't put words to how much more fun it is to do something like this."

Reynolds said El Gato had his name, which means "the cat," before she bought him, and she doesn't know the real story behind it.

"That's probably the most popular question I'm asked," she said. "I wrote a children's story that explains why he's called El Gato, but I totally made it up. In that, it's because he came from fairies, from the fairy realm."



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