Animal training, riding, acting - all in a day’s work for former Ironton resident

Jennifer Hudzic

 

It’s Dixie Stampede’s version of training days for Jennifer Hodzic. The former Ironton resident spends her days - and nights - training animals and performing for thousands at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Branson.

Hodzic lives in Branson where her husband, Cory, is a police officer.  They are both graduates of Arcadia Valley High School.  Jennifer is the daughter of Karen and Charlie Seifert.

“I actually moved to the Valley when starting 9th grade,” the 25-year-old performer said.  “We had a house there since my mom was four and we vacationed there, but we actually moved there when I entered the 9th grade.”

She said she has always had pets and did a little bit of trail riding when she was 10, but nothing like she does now.

This is Hodzic’s third season at the Stampede where she is a dancer, assistant bird trainer and she also works with the dogs for the show’s new “Canine Capers” rescue dog relay race.

“I love to dance and play with horses, and amazingly, I get paid to do that,” said Hodzic. “I wanted to be a vet so now I have a job where I use both my theatre background and my love for animals, it’s perfect.”

Hodzic joined the Stampede as a dancer with no riding experience.

“One of my friends was looking for a job in Branson and she is a dancer.” Hodzic explained. “I had already move here with my husband, so I did some searching for her. She said to me, ‘Why don’t you come with me to the audition just for fun and see what happens?’  I got the job, but sadly, she didn’t.”

The trainers at the Dixie Stampede taught her how to ride and work with animals.

“We had a dance audition, and if you get past that, they put you on a horse to see how you look,” Hodzic said.   “Basically if you look good enough then they teach you how to ride.

“Sometimes they hire people who are just riders and teach them how to dance.”

Her education in musical theater at Mineral Area College and Southeast University certainly helped.

If you haven’t been to the Dixie Stampede, either the one at Branson or the one near Dollywood in Tennessee, it is a unique experience.  Here is how the company explains it: 

Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede is a ... dinner and show experience set in a giant 35,000-square-foot arena featuring 32 magnificent horses, the amazing Roman Ride of Fire, Stampede of the Buffalo, Rumble In The Treetops lumberjack relay, thrilling horsemanship, pageantry, romance and patriotism, all showcased in a friendly rivalry between North and South and served with a fabulous four-course feast.  

By the way, the four-course dinner is fried chicken and other finger foods, partaken without the benefit of cutlery.

The performers all work five or six days per week and play multiple parts in the show.

“I like our Christmas show the best, which is completely different from out main show,” Hudzic said. “The Christmas show begins the last week of October and goes through the first week of January. We have a live Nativity Scene with goats, sheep, donkeys, and camels.”

She plays the Virgin Mary in one scene and an angel in another - an angel that descends from the ceiling of the arena.  At one point, homing pigeons fly from the front of the arena to alight on her hands.

“I help to train the birds and well as the dogs,” she said. 

In peak season, Hodzic, the birds, dogs and horses will perform for about 5,000 guests every day.

“I grew up with a theatre background so it’s always been about audience reaction,” she said. “Several people have told me seeing the show has changed their lives. That is a special experience.”