Gaited Dressage: The Feeling of Right

Gaited dressage: The feeling of right

By Jennifer Klitzke

Since 1988, I have been an avid student of dressage and competed successfully through second level until life-altering circumstances and my aging dressage horse ended our competition in 1996. Over the course of the next 16 years, I moved to a hobby farm in non-dressage country and relied on the knowledge and skills gained through 12 years of regular dressage lessons in my daily hacks.

In 2007, I purchased my first naturally gaited horse—mainly to save my aging body from the sitting trot. I knew nothing about training gaited horses. All I knew is that I wanted SMOOTH, and out of default dressage became our method of training. I wasn’t even sure if dressage and gaited horses worked together. We would just have to find out.

So much of effective dressage training comes through knowing and applying “the feeling of right.” This entails discerning when the horse begins to move off course and making adjustments to restore balance, relaxation, rhythm, harmony, suppleness, and impulsion. It takes time to develop what balance feels like in each gait and feel the difference between a quality and impure gait from the saddle, to feel when the horse begins to rush or lag, go hollow, duck behind the bit, drop its back, fall on the forehand, get tense in the jaw, lack bend or rhythm, and the list goes on.

While there are many similarities between riding trotting and gaited horses, I quickly discovered how “the feeling of right” on a trotting horse is not exactly the same as how it feels on a gaited horse. It was easier for me to feel balance, rhythm, impulsion, and connection in trot than it was to feel balance, rhythm, impulsion, and connection in flat walk and even harder for me to feel these qualities in lateral movements as shoulder-in at a flat walk.

I became perplexed with questions like: How do I develop “the feeling of right” between flat walk, rack, fox trot, stepping pace, and running walk when they are all SMOOTH? Once defined, how do I discern the difference between an adequate flat walk and an exceptional flat walk when both are SMOOTH? What does balance, rhythm, impulsion, and connection feel like in each smooth gait? How do I ride a head nodding horse on the bit? Do my hands move to and fro with the horse’s head nod (as I would follow a trotting horse at a walk)? Or do my hands remain stationary and let the horse learn how to nod without getting pulled in the mouth? I had 20 years experience riding trot and this dressage en gait thing was a whole new experience.

It became clear that I needed gaited dressage lessons with my horse to learn a new sense of “feel.” Since gaited dressage instruction didn’t exist in my area, I began trailering my horse to gaited dressage clinics that came to my region each year. Receiving instruction from Jennie Jackson, Larry Whitesell, Jennifer Bauer, and Bucky Sparks began to give me a better feel for balance, rhythm, impulsion, and connection, discernment between the gaits, and gait quality.

If you’re fortunate enough to live by a gaited dressage instructor, start taking regular lessons. If not, join a local dressage club to connect with dressage riders and find an open-minded dressage instructor who will teach you rider position and effective use of aids and help you establish balance, rhythm, impulsion, and connection in gait.

Pursuing “the feeling of right” is an ongoing journey and thanks to the quality instruction I’ve received, I’m developing a better sense of it.

Where to Show Gaited Dressage in Your Area


By Jennifer Klitzke

After a 16-year break from competitive dressage, I never imagined that I’d return to the dressage arena on a horse that didn’t trot!

In 2007, I purchased Gift of Freedom, a just turning three-year-old Tennessee walking horse filly with 20 rides on her. I knew nothing about gaited horses. All I knew is that I wanted SMOOTH and out of default dressage became our method of communication. I wasn’t sure if dressage and gaited horses went together‒we would just have to give it a try.

Then in 2010, I learned of a schooling dressage show in my area, so I contacted the show manager and asked if I could ride my gaited horse using the National Walking Horse Association tests which are patterned after the United States Dressage Federation tests with flat walk in lieu of trot. Thankfully the show manager and the judge accommodated us and gave us the feedback I was seeking on where we were at in our training.

Since 2010 I’ve ridden 45 dressage tests at various schooling dressage shows. These low key, beginner-friendly shows are a terrific way to get feedback from a dressage professional as to where we are at with balance, rhythm, connection, impulsion, relaxation, harmony, submission, accuracy of the required movements, gait quality, and rider’s position and effective use of aids. The score sheets provide feedback as to where we have improved, areas we still need to work on, and when we are ready to move to the next level of training.

If showing dressage with your gaited horse is something you’d like to try, below are a few ways to get it started in your area.

How to grow gaited dressage in your area:

  1. Take dressage lessons: If you’re lucky enough to live by a gaited dressage instructor, start taking regular lessons. If not, join a local dressage club to connect with dressage riders and start taking lessons with your gaited horse by an open-minded dressage instructor who will teach you rider position and effective use of aids and help you establish balance, rhythm, connection, bending, and impulsion in gait.
  2. Find traditional schooling dressage shows in your area through a local dressage club. Contact the show manager in advance and ask if you can enter your gaited horse using FOSH or NWHA gaited dressage tests. Then mail the tests with your entry so that the judge can get familiar with the tests before the show. (I have found that the NWHA tests have been easier to accommodate for open dressage shows since they are patterned after the USDF test which the judges are already familiar with.)
  3. Find a gaited horse show and volunteer to help coordinate dressage classes. Ask a gaited breed show manager if they would be open to offering gaited dressage classes and then get a few friends to help you organize it. Details include setting up the dressage ring with letters and ropes or chains and a judge table with two chairs, hiring an “r” judge, finding volunteers to scribe, be the ring steward, organize the order of ride times in advance, tally the score sheets after each test ridden and post the percentages.
  4. Organize a schooling dressage show in your area that is open to gaited, western dressage and traditional dressage riders. If you have a riding facility, this can be a money-making opportunity for you and a way to reach new boarders and students. Here’s how one woman did it: read more»

I long for the day when I’m not the only gaited dressage entry riding among the trotting horses in my area. My hope is that this longing will soon be satisfied as dressage for the gaited horse grows in popularity.

Gaited Dressage: Riding Bio-mechanics

bio-mechanics of riding

By Jennifer Klitzke

Twenty-plus years ago fear paralyzed me to the point of panic attacks at the thought of riding and I faced a cross-roads: Do I give up my passion for riding horses or face my fear? That’s when I picked up the book The Natural Rider written by Mary Wanless. She teaches how to ride from the right side of your brain using abstract visual concepts, details how to effectively reposition your inner anatomy in ways that impact the balance point between you and your horse, and she outlines the importance of breathing while riding and its place in overcoming fear.

When I heard that the England-native author/instructor was coming to Minnesota to teach a three-day bio-mechanics riding clinic, I had to go and watch. I soaked in profoundly effective concepts like “conveyor belt,” “sling shot,” and “strings” and couldn’t get home fast enough to try them out with my gaited horse.

Instead of fixating on manipulating my horse each time she moves off course, Mary’s approach is more about becoming aware of and repositioning my inner anatomy and symmetry between the front and back, right and left sides of my body, and when bringing it all together into correct alignment has a profound impact on the horse’s way of going. Riding from this isokinetic core brings balance, stillness, power, and impact.

Mary’s clinics feature trotting horses, but her riding paradigm works well equally well for riding gaited horses. When applying a few of the body repositioning concepts I learned while auditing, I felt more still without being tense, my naturally gaited walking horse felt more through from the hindquarters to the bit, and she took deeper steadier steps under her belly at a flat walk. Being more still reduces the “noise” to my horse where my aids are more clear and she becomes more responsive.

Two decades after reading The Natural Rider I am grateful to have finally met Mary Wanless in person whose concepts have helped me push through fear instead of giving up. And now she’s rekindled a love for riding like I’m learning how to ride for the very first time!


Mary Wanless is best known for her ground-breaking approach to riding known as “Ride With Your Mind.” Her teachings focus on the bio-mechanics of riding, improving the riding position, bringing the horse into self-carriage, becoming more flexible and supple, achieving harmony with your horse, and bringing joy into your riding. Her books include: The Natural Rider (1987), Ride With Your Mind (1987), Ride With Your Mind Essentials, Ride With Your Mind Masterclass (1991), For the Good of the Rider, For the Good of the Horse, Ride With Your Mind Clinic: Rider Biomechanics from Basics to Brilliance (2008).  Visit: www.Mary

Naturally Gaited Dressage

naturally gaited dressage by jennifer klitzke

By Jennifer Klitzke

To me naturally gaited dressage is a humane method of training and communicating with a horse that brings about beauty and harmony, balance, rhythm, relaxation, and suppleness, which results in gait quality. It develops a connection of trust and respect between horse and rider, and as the relationship grows in trust, understanding, skill and refinement, the horse and rider transform into a wonderful dance partnership without the use of heavy shoes, big bits and spurs, and mechanical devices.

I took my naturally gaited walking horse Makana to North Run Farm for our last schooling dressage show of the season. We were the only gaited entry among trotting horses. I bring her to schooling dressage shows because I like to get feedback from a professional eye as to where we are at in our training as it relates to balance, rhythm, gaits, impulsion, submission, harmony, rider position and effective use of aids, and accuracy of the required movements. It helps confirm areas of improvement and areas we still need to work on.

At the North Run show several spectators were given an introduction to dressage as it applies to the gaited horse. After every two test rides, the arena opened for ten minutes of schooling, so Makana’s expressive head shaking movement was quite the contrast as we warmed up with the trotting horses! Many onlookers had never seen a gaited horse ridden dressage style, barefoot and in a snaffle bit (without mechanical devices, big bits, and heavy shoes). Plus, the SMOOTH ride was evident in comparison to the bouncy sitting trot.

Thanks to the fine coaching I had received from Jennie Jackson this summer, the dressage judge remembered us from last year and commented on how we had made a noticeable improvement. We placed 5th of 9 in Training Level with a score of 67% and 4th of 6 in First Level with a score of 68.966%.

A huge thank you to my wonderful husband who volunteered to film my rides. (Wow, I love that man!)


Video: Warming up with the Trotters

Video: 2011 NWHA Training Level Test Three

Misconceptions of Gaited Dressage

By Jennifer Klitzke

When you watch a gaited horse performing a dressage test, do you expect to see the show gait movement of a rail class? If you don’t see show gait movement, do you think that dressage training has altered the horse’s gait? Or that the movement is permanently changed?  Is the expression of show gait or gaited dressage as simple as flipping the switch of rider aids?

There are many misconceptions of gaited dressage that I’ve heard over the years: Dressage will make my gaited horse trot; cantering a gaited horse will ruin its natural four beat gait; and dressage will ruin my horse’s show gait. Where do this misconceptions come from? Maybe people see a gaited dressage test performed and don’t see show gait. Then the horse moves up the dressage training pyramid to higher levels of collection and the movement looks even more foreign. Maybe people believe that dressage permanently alters gait. I think these are misconceptions of gaited dressage and here’s why.

While show gait movement might work in Intro levels of dressage, it becomes biomechanically impossible as the horse moves up the dressage pyramid of training into higher levels of collection and lateral work.

Dressage Training PyramidRail class movement ridden on a straight line and dressage movement ridden on a perpetual bend are like comparing apples and oranges. Rail class awards big strides and exaggerated head nods. High scoring dressage tests award the horse and rider who produces rhythm (with energy and tempo), relaxation (elasticity and suppleness), connection (acceptance of the aids and bit), impulsion (energy and thrust, straightness with alignment and balance), and collection (engagement, self carriage, lightness of the forehand) as they move through a series of required gaits, transitions, and movements precisely on the letter. Gait quality, harmony, and submission are factors in scoring, as well as rider’s position and the rider’s use of aids as they are applied to ride the horse through the required movements of the test.

While a horse ridden in rail class predominantly rides straight lines, dressage tests utilize circles, lateral exercises, and changes of bend to produce a soft, round, relaxed, engaged, and balanced movement. The cues and riding position needed for dressage require the rider’s use of leg, seat and rein aids with the concept of “inside leg to the outside rein” to connect and channel the energy from the hindquarters through the body to a soft and round bit acceptance.

As the horse advances to higher levels of collection, it lightens its forehand by engaging and bending the hocks and hips to carry rather than push forward, and the horse neutralizes or slightly rounds its back. The movement produced from this posture is biomechanically different than that of the show gait. As my gaited horse moves to higher levels of collection, it has never been my goal to shorten the stride. The stride shortens naturally as the horse engages and compresses in collection. The horse bends its hindquarter joints and steps deeper under its body while the trailing hind leg reduces its length of step back. It is the biomechanics of collection.

Does this mean that dressage has permanently altered the show gait?

A resounding, “no.” I believe that dressage movement is simply the biomechanical response of a set of rider aids and training that are applied to the horse for the requirements of the test. If you want to ride show gait, simply release the aids of dressage and apply the aids (and tack if needed) for show gait. In fact, I believe dressage training increases a gaited horse’s range of motion so that it is able to move even better in its show gait.

Age-defying Dressage


By Jennifer Klitzke

H-X-F, extended trot along the diagonal. Oh, dread, my German warmblood Seiltanzer has never been smooth to sit, especially at the extended trot, and over the last twenty years both of us have aged. Each stride has become more dislodging, resulting in back pain, sagging breasts that seem to hit me in the face with each step, and sometimes “splash”—the loss of bladder control! What began as a beautiful dance between horse and rider has now become a losing fight with gravity.


Jennifer Klitzke riding her dressage gelding SeilTanzer (1998)

In 2007, I joined other aging baby boomers and retired from showing hard-trotting horses, but I didn’t want to give up riding, especially the beautiful dance of dressage.

This quandary introduced me to the bounceless stride of the Tennessee walking horse, and I have learned that I’m not alone. The naturally gaited horse industry has seen a continual climb in popularity. Tennessee walking horses, Missouri foxtrotters, Rocky Mountain spotted horses, Icelandics, gaited mules, Paso Finos, and Peruvian Pasos are among these naturally smooth-gaited horse breeds. Not only that, I was thrilled to learn that dressage actually improves the gaited horse’s quality of movement. The principles of dressage build balance, forwardness, relaxation, suppleness, and engagement and can actually transform a pacey horse into a smooth four-beat gaiting dance partner.

Below are seven ways I’m learning that improve the walking horses’s quality of gait using dressage training methods and transform an ordinary ride into a beautiful dance, even while on the trail!

1. Equipment: Just as it is no fun to dance with ill-fitting shoes, an uncomfortable horse is an unhappy dance partner. Dressage methods are best applied by riding with a well-fitted snaffle bit that encourages salivation and acceptance of the bit, as opposed to bits that are engineered for pain avoidance. I like to ride in a hollow mouth, double-jointed egg-butt snaffle, because it doesn’t pinch my horse’s cheeks or hit the top of my horse’s pallet. Equally important is a properly fitting saddle that does not pinch the shoulders or touch the wither.

2. Long and low: Begin and end every ride with 5-10 minutes of a marching, forward walk on a long rein, and encourage your horse to stretch down and round from nose to tail. Stretching helps lengthen the horse’s topline muscles and increase a horse’s stride.

3. Transitions: Choreograph every ride with changes of direction and tempo to keep it interesting for you and your horse. Walk-canter-walk, halt-rein back-walk, and transitions from walk to gait and back every 5-10 steps are great exercises that will improve the communication between you and your equine dance partner. Transitions can improve your horse’s responsiveness and graciously establish you as the dance leader.

4. Bending: Twenty-meter circles, three-loop serpentines, spiraling in and out of a circle are great exercises to encourage a horse to bend through the neck, shoulders, and rib cage, and teach the horse to step deeper under its body with its hind leg. Bending exercises improve a horse’s balance, lighten the forehand to carry itself more poised, and help smooth out a rough gait.

5. Lateral exercises: Zig-zag leg yields, turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, haunches-in, shoulder-in, and half-pass are great dance moves to supple and soften your horse and build trust and communication between you and your dance partner.

6. Canter: It is a popular myth that cantering a gaited horse will ruin its naturally smooth four-beat gait. On the contrary, I have found that cantering actually improves my Walking Horse’s flat walk and running walk. Cantering up hills, in 20-meter circles, over ground rails and small jumps will strengthen your horse, lengthen its stride, and break up a pace.

7. Become a student: There are a few gaited horse trainers and nationally known clinicians who I have learned from who use dressage methods to improve the movement of naturally gaited horses. Among them are Jennie Jackson, Larry Whitesell, and Bucky Sparks. Audit their clinics, read their books, and watch their training DVDs or find an open-minded traditional dressage instructor to help you and your gaited horse get started with suppling exercises.

Dressage training methods will help your gaited horse improve its smooth, four-beat gait, make your horse a more mentally connected dance partner, and transform even a ride on the trail into a beautiful dance that you can comfortably enjoy well into your senior years.

Gaited Dressage: Convergence of Two Worlds

Gaited Dressage: Convergence of Two Worlds

By Jennifer Klitzke

There’s a convergence in gaited dressage: the traditional dressage rider who later applies what they know to riding gaited horses and the rail class rider who later learns dressage methods of training.

The former describes me, and I can’t ride my gaited horse well without learning from the latter. Each paradigm offers unique perspectives about what is “correct.” I believe gaited dressage has an equation: “both” + “neither” = “correct.” Both perspectives add value to this equation. Neither perspective holds the fullness of “correct.” Yet one perspective without the other is only half the gaited dressage equation.

Riders like me who have spent decades studying dressage on trotting horses understand the importance of balance, impulsion, engagement, relaxation, harmony, softness, suppleness, bending to develop the full range of walks, trots, and canters equally in both directions and produce an ambidextrous horse.

When I bought my first gaited horse, dressage was the only language I knew. However, what is “correct” on a trotting horse is not the same as what is “correct” on a smooth-gaited horse. The flatwalk and running walk have a distinctly different “feel” than that of a trot and lengthening. Riding a head-shaking horse on-the-bit has a distinctly different “feel” as compared with the stationary headset of a trotting horse. I’ve needed the perspective of knowledgeable gaited riders to help me develop “correct feel.” And I’m still learning.

On the other hand, there are rail class riders who are new to this concept of showing gaited dressage. They know how to ride a head-shaking horse in a shank bit yet need to learn a new means of communication through a snaffle bit. They know how to keep their gaited horse in a consistent four-beat gait along the rail, yet need to learn the concept of the inside leg to outside rein to establish bend and balance in the gait through circles, lateral exercises, transitions within and between gaits, and to develop the full range of walks, easy gaits, and canters on both reins, precisely on the letter. It takes the perspective of a knowledgeable dressage rider to learn this.

Riding a gaited horse consistently well is challenging and dressage is challenging no matter how many years you’ve been at it. The goal for me is not perfection, rather improvement. Dressage is a journey, not a destination.  So be part of the equation; you’ve got something to offer (and learn from) the other half!
Naturally Gaited

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Unique Breeds Featured on CSDEA Site


Two unique breeds, a Tennessee walking horse and a Spanish Mustang, were featured on CSDEA Foto Friday showing that dressage and jumping can be applied with success whether the horse trots or gaits, and versatility training can be achieved by a rider of any age.


By Jennifer Klitzke

I’m a returning member of Central States Dressage and Eventing Association after a 16-year lapse. I had retired my second level Trakehner/Thoroughbred gelding in 1996 when soundness issues and unfortunate circumstances took over my life for a time. (Praise God, as He has restored the years the locust had eaten and my gelding has been sound the last five years as an old man.)

I renewed my membership to the CSDEA in 2011 after showing my Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) at a couple of open traditional schooling dressage shows. It was one way to get reconnected with the people and events in my region as it relates to dressage. As of now, the CSDEA doesn’t allow gaited dressage horses at their recognized shows since they follow USDF rules. However many of their dressage schooling shows accommodate gaited dressage entries for which I have participated at many since 2010.

A few weeks ago I learned that CSDEA has a photo feature on their website, so I submitted two photos: one of Makana and the other of my Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend. (I refer to them as “Smooth” and “Bumpy.”) Both photos were featured last week on the CSDEA website!

This is a milestone for both breeds as the Tennessee walking horse and the Spanish Mustang have never been featured on this Web site. I was tickled and thought I’d share the good news with you!

Photos and story»

Gaited Dressage at St George


By Jennifer Klitzke

After the TWH Celebration Show, my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse and I were back to being the solo gaited horse/rider entry at the St. George Dressage Academy schooling dressage show held Saturday, August 9, 2014. One of the spectators saw us gaiting and asked if I would be trotting my gaited horse during the test. Was I ever glad that I had contacted the show manager ahead of time and received permission to ride the NWHA gaited dressage tests en gait, otherwise that’s what I’d be expected to do—trot!

Our NWHA Training Level Test Three and NWHA First Level Test One were among the 46 dressage tests ridden—Intro level through First level. Our training level test felt like our best yet with a respectable score of 66.8%. I attribute our success to Jennie Jackson who traveled to Minnesota for the second year in a row to teach a “Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse” clinic. Jennie really set us on course in establishing rhythm, connection, and forwardness without rushing. My mare is no longer “flat walkin’ in a tight skirt.” Her hind steps are deeper, more even and consistent, combined with a deeper and straighter head nod. Makana’s canter has also improved. While we love to see a true “four-beat” flatwalk, Makana has achieved a solid “three-beat” canter which is rounder and more engaged.

After our first level dressage test Judge Jim Hatch remarked, “Thank you for bringing your gaited horse to the show. This was a first for me!” I thanked him for his willingness to provide feedback for where we are at in our training. Even though my gaited horse doesn’t trot, the elements of dressage still apply: rhythm, balance, forwardness, harmony between horse and rider, acceptance of the bridle, rider’s correct and effective use of aids, rider’s position and seat, and precision of the required movements.

Thank you to St. George Dressage Academy for opening their beautiful tree-lined facility up for this venue as a chorus a song birds kept us company while we rode our tests.

Video: NWHA Training Level Test Three

TWH Celebration offers Gaited Dressage


By Jennifer Klitzke

When the Minnesota Walking Horse Association asked if I would be willing to help set up the dressage arena for the first ever gaited dressage classes offered at the 2014 Celebration Show, I gladly accepted. I’m all about supporting the cause for gaited dressage and advancing the use of natural and humane training methods.

So after my workday, I drove an hour and a half to Hinkley, Minnesota where Sally Frones and I (two grandma-aged women) measured and pounded stakes to mark the perimeter for a 20 x 40 meter dressage arena which was a perfect size for the beginner-friendly tests which were selected: FOSH Introductory One (working walk, free walk); FOSH Introductory Two-Gait A (working walk, free walk, flatwalk); NWHA Introductory A (working walk, free walk, flatwalk); and NWHA Training Level One (working walk, free walk, flatwalk, canter).

Sixteen dressage tests were ridden by six riders and seven Tennessee Walking Horses. For a few of the riders (and horses), the Celebration Show had marked their very first time riding a dressage test. Everyone did quite well, and I even have the pictures to prove it! Photo gallery>

Each rider was given the option of using a “reader”  who called out the next series of movements so that the rider didn’t have to memorize the test.  While the rider and horse were performing each movement, the judge provided brief feedback and a score from “0” to “10” which was recorded by a “scribe” onto a score sheet after the required movements. At the end of the test, the score sheet was tallied and the highest percentage would identify the winner of the class.

The best part of riding a dressage test is that the rider gets to take home the score sheet which often provides helpful feedback from the judge. This can give the rider insights as to where they are at in their training and what to work on improving, whether it be forwardness, roundness, relaxation, balance, rhythm, and bending in the horse or rider position, precision, and delivery of aids.

I’ve been showing my gaited horse at open schooling dressage shows for the last four years. Not only was it fun to ride with other gaited horses at the Celebration Show, but this was the first dressage show I’ve been at where there wasn’t even a trotting horse in sight!


Gaited Dressage at Lakeview Farm


By Jennifer Klitzke

I took my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana to Lakeview Farms on Saturday, June 21, 2014. The farm hosted an open schooling dressage show featuring traditional dressage, western dressage and gaited dressage. It isn’t surprising that we were the only gaited entry, but, I was surprised to learn that our First Level Test One ride was the highest level test ridden of all competitors that day!

Lakeview is a well chosen name since the facility is located on a lake shore. Only June’s record rains have created a few more than the one lake it is known for. Flooding forced the schooling show to the indoor arena.

After we rode NWHA Training Level Test Three, judge Nancy Porter, a long time USDF R-judge remarked, “That was very interesting. Judging a gaited horse in dressage is a first for me!”

I smiled and thanked her for accommodating us as there are few venues for gaited riders to get expert feedback from an “R” judge on where we are at with our balance, rhythm, harmony, relaxation, suppleness, transition, submission, rider’s position, and use of aids.

Our recent lessons with Jennie Jackson helped us maintain our bending through serpentines and 10 meter half circles at a flat walk, our connection has improved over last year, and my mare’s canter was clearly three beat with more roundness. We received respectable scores of 64.2% in Training Level Test Three and 65% in First Level Test One.

Lakeview plans on one more schooling dressage show this Fall. I hope more gaited folks will give it a try. This is a very low-key, beginner-friendly show with beautiful trails to ride and even a trail obstacle course to play around in after your tests are complete. In fact, I met two women at the show who own Tennessee walking horses and one of the women tacked up after my last ride and we took a lovely trail ride through the beautifully groomed wooded trails.

Thank you to Lakeview Farm for accommodating gaited dressage at their schooling dressage show and to Nancy Porter for judging. It was a privilege to ride for and receive feedback from a USDF “R” Judge.

Video: NWHA Training Level Test Three

Video: NWHA First Level Test One

Video: Backing an L-shape


Collected Walk-Canter-Walk Transitions



By Jennifer Klitzke

How to improve canter with the gaited horse
In the short time Jennie Jackson was in Minnesota this year I learned so much. Here’s another profoundly effective exercise she taught me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare: collected walk-canter-walk transition on a 15 meter circle.

First Jennie coached us to establish a forward moving collected walk in a shoulder-fore position by applying inside lower leg calf through the ankle at the girth. This helps to bend my mare’s body and step her inside hind leg under her belly toward her outside front leg. My outside indirect rein is held slightly against the neck with more contact than my inside softening rein. The outside rein keeps the outside shoulder from falling out and keeps the neck rather straight. The inside rein massages as needed to soften my mare’s jaw so that she flexes at the atlas (poll) slightly into the circle enough where I see the corner of her eye. It is important that her ears remain level without tilting her head to the side. The energy from her hindquarters travels through her body and into the connection with my hands which feels like her shoulders lift and she becomes lighter in front while I feel her back puff up under my seat as she engages her abdominal muscles.

Next is the collected walk to canter transition. The timing of this transition is important. The outside hind leg is the first step in the canter sequence. When I feel my mare beginning to step her outside hind leg forward, that’s when I need to apply my outside lower leg behind the girth. While doing so, Jennie pointed out how important it is to maintain the inside lower leg at the girth and the rein connection so that my mare holds the bend through the canter transition. Jennie reminded me to maintain a still riding position during the upward transition without tipping my upper body forward. This allows my horse to step into the canter in balance.

Jennie underlined that the purpose for this exercise is to teach the horse a quality canter transition. It is important that the rider brings the horse back to a collected walk before the canter quality deteriorates; otherwise the horse learns to canter poorly. Over time, the horse will build more and more consecutive quality canter steps. During the downward transition from canter to walk Jennie coached me to grow taller in the saddle while applying a slight half halt with the seat, a brief closing of the fingers on the outside rein, and a release as the horse moves into a forward moving collected walk.

Thank you Jennie Jackson for coming to Minnesota for the second year in a row. I finally feel like I have connected with a coach who not only has the applied knowledge and proven experience in and out of the show ring through the highest high levels of dressage as applied to the gaited horse, but someone who communicates in ways that I understand. My horse has never moved better!

For more about Jennie Jackson and dressage en gaite, visit

Video: Walk-Canter-Walk Transitions on a 15-meter Circle

Gaited Dressage: Rider Position and Connection


By Jennifer Klitzke

Since last year’s Jennie Jackson Clinic: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse, I’ve established more forwardness at a flat walk with my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare. “Forwardness” is a prerequisite for “connection,” otherwise my mare would meet contact with halt.

Riding Position
In preparation for connection, Jennie addressed my riding position. First she provided an eye-opening illustration. Jennie took my reins and placed them behind my lower back. Then she pulled back and asked, “How does that feel?” I said, “Ouch! It hollows my back!” Jennie asked, “So, how do you think it feels to your horse each time you press your weight into your irons?” Point well made.

Jennie lowered my irons by four holes and for the first time, I literally felt my seat and thighs melt into my saddle. This position provides clearer communication with my horse and allows my lower legs and ankles to wrap around my mare as needed to activate her belly which lifts and round her back. My mare is far more comfortable and less fussy.

Contact in flat walk with my rather lazy mare has always inferred “stop,” so I’ve gotten into the habit of throwing my reins away and believing that I had been riding with lightness. Riding without contact isn’t connection, just as headset isn’t riding on-the-bit.

Jennie explained that connection is an art form and a whole book could be written about it. So for me to grasp the fullness of connection in a couple lessons is not realistic, but I did get a good feel of it that I hope to maintain it moving forward until I see Jennie next.

Coming from the trotting horse dressage world, riding a head-shaking horse has been a mystery to me. I had always been taught to follow the horse’s walk movement with my hands, so naturally I thought to do the same through the flat walk and running walk. However, my interpretation of this was rather active— sloppy to a judge and noisy to a horse.

Jennie explained that at a flat walk, my elbows are to remain softly still at my sides instead of moving franticly to and fro with my mare’s head movement. It feels like my elbows are connected with my abdominal core—not lock in rigidly, but softly connected. My hands are held much closer together than I am used to (a bit’s width apart from each other), and my fingers loosely hold the reins, but tightly enough so that the reins don’t lengthen by slipping through my fingers.

Our work in connection begins at a medium walk to establish the bend in a shoulder-fore position where my inside lower leg asks my mare to bend through the ribs and encourages her inside hind leg to step under her belly toward her outside fore leg. The outside indirect rein captures the energy and helps to keep her neck straight and the outside shoulder from falling out.

Once my riding position and the connection are established, we transition from medium walk to a flat walk on a 15-meter circle. If my mare evades the contact by taking short, quick steps (what Jennie refers to as “flat walking in a tight skirt”) we leg yield to a 20-meter circle while maintaining the bend and connection.

To enlarge the circle, Jennie said, “Imagine that your belly button has an eyeball and point it towards the direction you want to travel.” What a simple metaphor that works every time! Immediately, my mare’s head nod returns, and I feel her hind steps grow deeper beneath me.

Another strategy Jennie taught me when my mare evades by flat walking in a tight skirt, is to apply a one to three stride half halt using my seat and closing my fingers on the outside rein. Just before my mare slows to a walk, I urge her forward to a deep stepping flat walk. Each time my mare moves forward with deep steps, I feel the energy from her hindquarters travel into the soft connection with my hands while my riding position remains still and held together through my inner core.

Throughout the lesson, Jennie reminded me to breathe deep into my belly to help me stay relaxed and ride with soft eyes by looking ahead with less of a concentrated and focused vision. A still riding position blends core tone, relaxation, and deep breathing and is not to be confused with rigidness, tension or stiffness; just as a relaxed riding position is not to be confused with sloppiness.

Combining a still riding position with connection will be our new home work for the coming days. Thank you Jennie for traveling to Minnesota for the second year in a row!

For more about Jennie Jackson and Dressage en Gaite, visit

2014 Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite Clinic


By Jennifer Klitzke

2014 Jennie Jackson Clinic: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse
Coming from 28 years as a devoted dressage student riding trotting horses, dressage is not new to me. But applying dressage training methods to my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse has raised a few questions: How do I ride a head-shaking horse on-the-bit? Does the dressage training pyramid apply to the gaited horse? Can a gaited horse reach high levels of dressage? Is it possible to collect a gaited horse without trotting? What about rider position?

In January 2013 I stumbled upon Jennie Jackson’s Dressage en Gaite training DVDs and purchased them with my Christmas money in hopes of finding answers to these questions.

Jennie is the only person I’ve come to know IN HISTORY who has trained and shown a Tennessee walking horse to the highest levels of dressage: piaffe en gait, passage en gait, canter pirouettes, tempi changes, and has developed the full range of motion–collected through extended walks, gaits, and canters.

Watching Jennie’s DVDs began to answer my questions. That’s when I invited her to teach a Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in MN last year. The clinic was a huge success. So this year, I team with the Minnesota Walking Horse Association for the 2014 Jennie Jackson Clinic held Friday-Sunday, May 30-June 1 in Proctor, MN.

Not only is Jennie the pioneer of Dressage en Gaite, she is an international Walking Horse judge and clinician and has a full scope of knowledge and experience with Tennessee walking horses‒from breeding through breaking, training and finishing, in and out of the show ring: English, western, trail obstacle, driving, stadium jumping, cross-country, and dressage. Plus, Jennie and her husband Nate have been on the front lines fighting soring and abuse for 30 years. What an honor to have them in our midst!

Auditors, riders, gaited horses, and a gaited mule came to the clinic from various backgrounds: some from the Walking horse show world, others from the trail, some new to dressage, and a few returned for more advanced dressage teaching.

Clinic riders and auditors experienced the importance of: teaching the horse relaxation, stretching and seeking a snaffle bit contact; teaching the horse to move away from the rider’s lower leg, step across and under its belly with its inside hind leg, and into the outside indirect rein through leg yield, turn on the fore, and shoulder in exercises; using ground rails to break pace; using half halts to discourage trot and establish a smooth four beat gait; establishing correct canter leads over ground rails; using travere through counter canter to maintain lead; applying the freshening canter to establish a true three-beat canter; collected walk-canter-walk transitions; simple changes at “X”; transitions between collected, medium, flat walk, and running walk; turn on the forehand; turn on the haunches; walk pirouettes; leg yield to half pass; introducing the kinton noseband and its function; introducing a double bridle and the function of the curb vs. the snaffle bit; plus demonstration rides by Jennie on some of the student’s horses to help riders, horses, and auditors understand the exercises Jennie taught.

I hope everyone who attended the clinic enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you Jennie and Nate Jackson for traveling to MN and to the MWHA for sponsoring this clinic!

Photo gallery>

For more about Jennie Jackson and Dressage en Gaite, visit

2014 Gaited Dressage Clinic with Jennie Jackson



Pictured above: Jennie Jackson riding her famous Tennessee Walking Horse stallion Champagne Watchout.

A Riding Clinic with Jennie Jackson:
Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse

Friday-Sunday, May 30-June 1, 2014
Dirt Floor Arena, Proctor, MN

Jennie Jackson has traveled the world teaching and exhibiting Dressage En Gaite, and we are honored to bring her to Minnesota for a three-day riding clinic held Friday-Sunday, May 30-June 1, 2014 at Dirt Floor Arena, Proctor, MN. Auditors are welcome to enjoy three full days of professional gaited dressage instruction by Jennie. Cost: $25/day or $50 for all three days. Pay at the door.

Rider schedule>

Whether you ride english or western, are new to dressage or just want to learn exercises that will help improve your horse’s smooth gait, everyone will learn from Jennie’s wealth of teaching and training experience. Riders and auditors will learn effective dressage methods that improve the quality of natural gait through lateral exercises, balance, bending, rhythm, impulsion, and relaxation.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to watch first-hand instruction from a seasoned dressage professional and the pioneer of Dressage En Gaite.

About Jennie Jackson
In the 1980s Jennie began applying and perfecting dressage methods of training to gaited horses, and in 1998 she introduced dressage as a humane training alternative to the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. In 2006, Jennie and her famous Tennessee Walking Horse stallion Champagne Watchout performed the first Dressage En Gaite Musical Freestyle at The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. The team demonstrated Prix St. George movements as canter pirouette, tempi changes, and piaffe and passage en gaite. In 2010, Jennie and Champagne Watchout were formally invited to exhibit their Dressage En Gaite Musical Freestyle at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games as the official breed representative of the Tennessee Walking Horse. For more about Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout, visit

Please note: Still photos are allowed, but no video recording is allowed. DVDs will be available for sale at the clinic.

Photo gallery from last year’s clinic>

Clinic sponsored by the Minnesota Walking Horse Association.

Gaiting at Sisu on the Border

By Jennifer Klitzke


I took my naturally gaited and barefoot Tennessee walking horse mare Makana to our first novice endurance ride of the year: Sisu on the Border. We rode 13 miles in the optimum time of two hours and 15 minutes. The strategy is to ride the first hour and forty-five minutes at a brisk pace (oops, I mean tempo) so that the last 30 minutes is at a walk cool down to get the horse’s heart rate and respiration down for the post vet check.

In addition to reaching the finish line within optimum time, the horse is judged on pre and post vet checks for pulse, respiration, heart rate and recovery, soundness, hydration, and obedience. I’m so proud of my girl! She took first place among Arabians, half Arabians, Pintos and another gaited horse.

If you’ve never ridden at an endurance ride and enjoy trail riding, you’ve got to give it a try. It is a blast and the novice group is led by an advanced endurance rider who will keep you on time and from getting lost. Plus the endurance people are a super fun group to hang around with.


Thank you Chip and my group riders Kristin and Deb. Thanks also to the dozens of Sisu on the Border organizers and volunteers to God for orchestrating a perfect Spring day through the gorgeous Sand Dunes State Forest! For more about endurance riding, visit Minnesota Distance Riders Association and Upper Midwest Endurance and Competitive Rides Association.

Video: Scenes from our Novice Endurance Ride

Happy SONrise!

Happy SONrise

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins,he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3).

Happy SONrise! Happy Easter!

Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in



By Jennifer Klitzke

“Dressage is more than trot…and the saddle you ride in.”
-Jennifer Klitzke

Dressage is for gaited horses, too!

Whether you ride english or western; whether your horse trots or gaits; whether you show dressage or not, it doesn’t matter. As long as you have rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection, your right in line with the dressage training scale.

That’s not all! Dressage training improves your relationship with your horse. I know it has mine. Dressage training has made it possible for me to give versatility a try. Pictured above is me and my naturally gaited walking horse at our first shots at working with cows and trail obstacles. I was amazed how well she did! Dressage training has made my horse be more maneuverable around obstacles and while working with cows. We depended upon each other to negotiate the situation and applying the aids we have learned while schooling in the arena, made all the difference!

Grandma Body


By Jennifer Klitzke

If a grandma body can do it, so can you!

This collection of photos is taken with my barefoot and naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana). Her willingness to be versatile has made me a more versatile rider at the age of 50.

In addition to gaited dressage, we enjoy trail riding, trail obstacles, gymnastic jumping, sorting cows and team penning, endurance, and riding in the snow.

Until I bought her in 2007, the only riding I did was in an enclosed dressage arena. I was too frightened to ride trails or go places. Now my calendar is full of fun things to try!

What are some things you do with your gaited horse?

Natural Gaits in Snow


By Jennifer Klitzke

Why do I live here?

Every year I ask myself this question. Two feet of snow makes gaited dressage training difficult without an arena. I long for warm weather and dry ground to ride my naturally gaited walking horse, Makana.

However, aside from the darkness and below zero temperatures, riding in the snow is one of my favorite things to do! My rather sluggish TWH horse comes alive in the snow. When she gets the chance to escape the icy paddock, she loves to rip across the field at a hand gallop and dabble with some animated trot and gait on cue.

(I’d still rather it be 75-degrees and sunny, but I’m making the best of it!)