Riding and training horses may be JJ Tate's profession, but it's also her passion. JJ can imagine no other life and she seems to remember little of her young life outside of her experiences with horses. Her life with horses started with a chestnut Saddlebred named, Solo, with whom JJ fell deeply in love at the age of eight. Solo was 16 hands and was the horse that made JJ realize how much she loved horses. The first horse that took her all the way to Grand Prix was Ehrenpreis. "He was like nothing I had ridden before. The minute I did something wrong, he would throw up a red flag. If my shoulders slumped, he would stop and if my right hand tensed, he would tip his head." With Ehrenpreis, JJ earned a spot on the Region 2 dressage team at two of the North American Young Rider Championships and also earned her USDF Bronze and Silver medals.
JJ credits her next horse, Chardonnay, with really teaching her how to ride." In 1997, we won the Region 2 Championships at Prix St. George and Intermediare I. He helped me develop the adhesiveness of my seat and also went with me to Hungary." During her childhood, it wasn't just the horses that taught her much, but also her human instructors, one of whom was Gail Kelln. "Gail had been my trainer since I was nine. She taught me so many things on so many horses, and she never drifted from the classical system. I was very lucky to have this kind of training right from the beginning. She molded me into a thinking rider. Gail also brought Charles de Kunffy to the barn. A native of Hungary, he was responsible for my private invitation to study dressage there with Gyula Dallos, that country's Olympic and many time World Cup Finals competitor."
JJ went to Hungary to train with Dallos in 1996. "My first six-month stay in Hungary holds fond memories of meeting and working with Gyula Dallos. To describe his training system would be the same as reading any book from one of the classical masters of dressage. He loves horses and loves his life of being able to work with these wonderful creatures every day. He trains his horses to be athletes through strength and skill and never force. Correct exercises were the key to developing each horse's athletic ability to the highest possible degree. Gyula's focus is always on gymnasticizing the horse and keeping him happy in his work. When my horses arrived, they were confirmed at Prix St. George and by the time they went home, they both could do all the movements from the Grand Prix."
JJ returned home to continue working on what Dallos had taught her and also, she began planning her next trip back, which was in 1998. She returned with a young horse that de Kunffy had helped her find - Whoopi, a seven-year-old, Training Level, beautiful grey Hanoverian with lots of potential. And while in Hungary, she also acquired Grand Prix horse named Wjedro. "Will was a 13-year-old Westphalian that Gyula had in training and thought we would be a good team. When I first saw the relatively small chestnut, I was not at all impressed because he did not fit the image I had of my first Grand Prix horse. After I sweated through my first ride on him, I decided I had a lot to learn. We bought him in March and the real training began."
JJ competed in Europe during the summer of 1998. She returned home the following year and qualified with Wjedro for the North American Young Riders Championships by ranking second in the U.S. where she was a member of the silver-medal winning Region 2 team.