Gaited Dressage at Lakeview Farm

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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

 

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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 www.walkinonranch.com.

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

Gaited Dressage: Rider Position and Connection

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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.

Connection
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 www.walkinonranch.com.

2014 Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite Clinic

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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 www.walkinonranch.com

2014 Gaited Dressage Clinic with Jennie Jackson

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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 www.walkinonranch.com.

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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!)

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Gaited Dressage Western Style

Western Gaited Dressage

By Jennifer Klitzke

When I heard that Hi Circle Vee Ranch was offering another beginner’s cow clinic, I had to sign up my naturally gaited walking horse. We needed a Spring Break!

On Sunday, February 2, 2014, I trailered to the facility worried that I wouldn’t find a place to park since 27 riders were signed up for the two-hour clinic. To my surprise I was the first one there. Looking at my dash, the temperature read -10 degrees. Then I wondered if the clinic had been cancelled.

Soon two more trailers showed up for a total of five riders. Twenty-two people had cancelled due to the polar vortex, but it wasn’t cold inside Hi Circle Vee’s indoor.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding in good footing and a 55-degree climate.

Normally at these clinics each rider gets two five-minute coaching sessions with the cows, but because of the low turnout, the five of us had LOTS of cow time. The first hour gave each horse plenty of time to get familiar with the cows. Then the second hour we were given an introduction to sorting cows. In our four runs, we got lots of practice guarding the hole, cutting off sneaky cows, improving our timing, adding more speed, and judging our position with the cows. Our dressage training had really paid off!

What a gas! I never imagined that this dressage rider would be working with cows until a friend encouraged me to give it a try, and now I think working with cows is one of my favorite things to do with my gaited horse.

Thank you to the clinic organizers at Hi Circle Vee Ranch for such a great experience.

Video: Introduction to Sorting Cows

Turn a frown upside down

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By Jennifer Klitzke

Time spent with my furry friend

on a frosty day

has an amazing way

of turning my frown

upside down.

Natural meets UNnatural

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By Jennifer Klitzke

After bouncing around for 20 years on trotting horses, my aging body was looking for a change—SMOOTH. Little did I know that my search for smooth would lead me to a jolting discovery.

Looking through hundreds of online ads in the comfort of my warm home that cold Midwestern February day of 2007, I came across a black, 14-2 hand, registered Tennessee walking horse filly named Gift of Freedom (Makana). She was just turning three years old and had 30 rides on her. The owners had imprinted her from birth and handled her daily. I was intrigued with her name and partial to her size, her handling, her color, and she was barefoot like my other horses.

My husband and I drove two-and-a-half hours through the ice and snow to see her. Upon meeting Makana I knew instantly that she was the one for me when she wedged her nose between my arm and body and literally made me hug her. I had never met such a friendly horse! Driving away that day, my husband said, “Let’s think about it. You already have three horses.”

A few days passed. Then on Valentine’s Day, my husband said, “Yes, you can get the horse.” Wow, Gift of Freedom was far better than a box of chocolates, and my first gaited horse!

I sent in my registration papers and became a member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA). A month later the Voice magazine arrived. I looked through this thick, glossy, well-produced magazine and was utterly perplexed. Page after page, I noticed unnatural hoof angles, big shoes, shank bits, and exaggerated poses. Is this how I’m suppose to train my Walking horse?

I decided then and there, dressage is all I knew, and dressage is all Makana will know.

A couple months passed and I attended the Minnesota Horse Expo. I met the late Brenda Imus and watched her naturally gaited presentation, bought her Gaits of Gold DVD set, and went to the coliseum to see the Tennessee walking horse demonstration. None of the gaited horses moved in the manner I saw pictured in the Voice magazine. One of the riders was even dressed in dressage attire and rode her horse at a flat walk, not trot. Inspired, I followed the demo team back to the barn.

2007-national-grand-championship-world-grand-championship-classThe Minnesota Walking Horse Association (MWHA) demo team had a nice presentation table. Looking through the information about local and national TWH associations, their television caught my eye. It brought the Voice magazine photos to life; a TWH wearing the big shoes was moving next to a horse with regular shoes. What a staggering contrast: mechanical and exaggerated movement vs. natural and flowing movement. I later realized that I had been watching Jennie Jackson riding her flat shod stallion Champagne Watchout at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration World Grand Championship class. She was the only flat shod entry riding among performance horses wearing the big shoes. And Jennie and her husband Nate have been on the front lines fighting against TWH abuse for 30 years. Video>

In 2009 I took Makana to her first recognized TWH show, the Minnesota Celebration. Each horse was officially inspected for soundness and palpitated for evidence of soring before entering the show ring. Soring? What is that?

I was mortified to discover that it wasn’t just the big shoes that made the horses move with exaggerated motion. Some people put corrosive agents on the horse’s front feet and add chains around the horse’s fetlocks. When the chains hit the raw skin the horse flicks its sore foot up with each step to produce the extreme motion. All this for a blue ribbon. That’s what soring is.

How jolting! Was I ever thankful to know that soring is illegal according to the Horse Protection Act.

Then in 2012 my husband urgently called me into the living room to watch Nightline. I was shocked to hear reporter Brian Ross uncover an investigation about the ongoing abusive and inhumane training practices predominant in the TWH performance division. “But this is ILLEGAL, how can this be!?” I exclaimed.

The trouble is that soring is hard to enforce; it’s costly to hire the infrastructure needed to enforce; those who sore their horses have devised ways around the system; and those who get caught receive rather light sentences.

In November 2013, House Bill 1518 called the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) was presented to Congress. It proposes to ban all use of pads and chains from the show world.

According to veterinarian Dr. Haffner, “The fact is the big lick can only be accomplished by soring,” he wrote in a letter to Congress urging them to put an end to this abuse. “When one soring technique becomes detectable, another one is developed. The big lick is a learned response to pain and if horses have not been sored, they do not learn it.

“It takes skill to be able to teach a horse the big lick and then determine the proper amount of soring and the proper timing to have a horse ready on a Friday or Saturday night. The horses must have the memory of the pain, but they must also be able to pass inspection.

“It takes a combination of the built up pads for the weight and the chain to strike against the pastern that has been sored to produce the big lick. Other methods have been developed, but the traditional method is oil of mustard placed on the pastern and a chain put around the pastern to strike against it.

“The hair must be protected and this is generally done by applying grease on the pastern with a stocking over it. Calluses develop as a result of the chain rubbing against the skin. Later, the calluses are removed with a paste made by mixing salicylic acid with alcohol and applying it over the calluses and putting a leg bandage over it for a few days,” he wrote, adding, “This practice is also very painful to the horse. I have seen many horses lying in pain in their stalls on Monday morning from an acid treatment on Saturday.”

In regards to the PAST Act, The Chattanoogan reporter Roy Exum writes, “There are 435 members in Congress and, to date, 248 of them have signed on as co-sponsors of a pending bill that will help eradicate sadistic horse abuse in Tennessee.” This bill is likely to be voted upon later in January 2014. more>

To think that all I wanted was a comfortable, smooth horse to ride would lead me to such a jolting discovery about the exaggerated movements seen on the cover of the Voice. My naturally gaited and barefoot Tennessee walking horse might be boring to watch, but at least she’s happy and sound.

For more information about soring, the PAST Act, and ways you can help put an end to abusive and inhumane training methods, visit the links below.

Links

What is Soring?

What is the PAST Act?

How You Can Help

PAST Act Opinion Poll

Letter from a Former Performance Horse Veterinarian

Letter from a Performance Horse Owner

Letter from a Former Performance Horse Trainer

Caught in the Act of Soring

Petition

TWH Advocacy

Chronical Forum

Voters Who Approve the PAST Act

Friends of Sound Horses

National Walking Horse Association

 

Naturally Gaited 2013 Most Memorable Moments

By Jennifer Klitzke

From scenic trail rides to new gaited dressage venues to gaited dressage clinics and many firsts, here are my top 10 most memorable moments of 2013:

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10. Riding in the snow
The winter of 2013 didn’t want to end! A snow covered landscape through May gave me many memorable moments of walkin’ in wonderland!
Story: Walkin’ in Wonderland

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9. Rocking R Farm Schooling Dressage Show
I’ve ridden at several Rocking R schooling dressage shows since 2010. They’ve been offering gaited dressage classes at all three of their annual schooling shows (Western dressage, too). I hope 2014 is the year that I won’t be the only one riding a gaited horse!
Story: Gaited Dressage at Rocking R

 

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8. Larry Whitesell/Jennifer Bauer Gaited Dressage Clinic
In August I returned to my third Whitesell/Bauer Gaited Dressage Clinic. Among the many memorable moments were connecting a few more dots in grasping Larry’s riding philosophy which is patterned after French classical dressage (see clinic recap); solo rides through the beautifully groomed trail system on my Spanish Mustang while Makana rested up for another full clinic day; and gaining important answers to the reason I returned to Larry’s clinic a third time.
Story: Back and Forth to Better Movement

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7. Orienteering
2013 held many firsts for me and my gaited horse Makana which included learning how to follow a map, read a compass, and decipher clues to find six hidden targets on our first mounted orienteering event.
Story: Maps, Compasses, and Clues

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6. Autumn Trail Ride
I experienced many memorable trail rides this year. Among them was the autumn trail ride through Crow-Hassan Park Reserve on my birthday with my saintly husband. Riding through the canopies of gold was like a sunrise in the forest. Photos>

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5. North Run Schooling Dressage Shows
Ranking five among my most memorable moments of 2013 was showing at North Run Farm Schooling Dressage Shows. North Run became another traditional dressage venue which welcomed gaited dressage entries. Both North Run shows I took my gaited horse to were extremely well organized, drew a friendly crowd, and the judge provided encouragement to each rider after each test. If you’re thinking about giving gaited dressage schooling shows a try in 2014, North Run is a wonderful venue to start with.
Story: Gaited Dressage at North Run

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4. St. George Schooling Dressage Shows
Like North Run, St. George Equestrian Center also graciously accommodated gaited dressage entries at their schooling shows this year. St. George is a posh, brand new, state-of-the-art facility with perfect footing, a competition sized outdoor arena surrounded with scenic woodland, an enormous indoor arena lined with mirrors and giant fans that circulate the air. The shows are well organized and the atmosphere is beginner friendly, helpful, and relaxed. In addition to the scoring sheet, the judge gave each rider significant suggestions after each ride to help them improve.
Story: Gaited Dressage at St. George

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3. Endurance
My third most memorable moment of 2013 was taking my gaited horse to a 10-mile novice endurance ride. I was pleasantly surprised when my naturally gaited mare was naturally forward the entire ride! This had been the first time I actually felt what “ahead of my leg” on this horse is suppose to feel like. (Now if I can harness this forward desire in an arena, we might just break into second level this year!)
Story: Naturally Gaited at Mosquito Run

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2. Working with Cows
My second most memorable moment of 2013 was discovering how much fun Makana and I had working with cows. If it weren’t for my cow-chasing friend, I would have never given it a serious thought, but she got us signed up for the “Introducing Your Horse to Cows Clinic.” After the clinic we joined a cow sorting league and a couple team penning practices. Chasing cows is another activity that inspires my mare to be naturally forward.
Story: Gaited Dressage and Cows?

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1. Jennie Jackson Clinic: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse
Hands down, my most memorable moment in 2013 was spending a few days being coached by Jennie Jackson. Jennie is the only person I know of 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 developing the full range of motion–collected through extended walks, gaits, and canters.

During the last seven years of pursuing dressage with my gaited horse I’ve wrestled with a few questions: How do I ride a head-shaking horse on-the-bit? How do I develop an elegant, balanced dressage form in my gaited horse? How high up the dressage levels can a gaited horse go while maintaining gait? Is it possible to collect a gaited horse?

In January I purchased Jennie Jackson’s Dressage en Gaite training DVDs in hopes of finding answers to these questions. After watching the DVDs I knew that Jennie would be able to help me and my horse. That’s when I asked Jennie to teach a Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in my state. The clinic was a huge success.
Story: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic with Jennie Jackson.

As an added bonus, Jennie’s husband Nate also came to the clinic. The Jackson’s traveled half way across the country in an RV and camped at my place during the clinic. Words do not describe the honor and respect I have for the Jacksons’ tenacity, perseverance, and integrity as they have taken a stand against TWH soring and abuse for 30 years. While they camped in their RV parked in my backyard, it was a privilege to call them neighbor and leave as friends!

Here’s hoping for another clinic with Jennie Jackson in 2014!

Smooth vs. Bumpy

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By Jennifer Klitzke

‘Smooth’ is the reason I bought my first naturally gaited horse in 2007. Yet I was surprised to discover that my horse came with a full gamut of ‘smooth’ and ‘bumpy’ gaits. At times it was hard to know what was going on beneath me when my horse switched from a smooth natural four-beat gait to a pace, stepping pace, rack, flat walk, fox trot, and hard trot within a matter of strides. I quickly learned that ‘smooth’ was something I had to train my horse to be consistent with. And just how do you do that?!

I have met so many people who become discouraged when their gaited horse won’t gait. Many resort to unnecessary gimmicks like weighted shoes, unnatural hoof angles, and harsh bits to make their horse gait‒only to get further discourage when their horse gets tense, reactive, and even less smooth.

There is a much better way.

Ivy-schexnayder-training-a-smooth-gait-naturally-dvdBack in 2007 when I first began training my three-year-old Tennessee walking horse Makana, there were few naturally gaited training DVDs on the market. Today a few more, like Ivy Schexnayder’s DVD: Training a Smooth Gait, Naturally! in which she draws upon ten-years experience training gaited horses using natural and humane training techniques. Ivy’s 70-minute DVD for only $39.95 shows the smooth four-beat gaits in regular and slow motion of several gaited breeds as Missouri Foxtrotter, Tennessee walking horse, Paso Fino, and Rocky Mountain, as well as the bumpy lateral gaits as pace and stepping pace and diagonal gaits as trot and broken trot. Seeing and hearing the footfalls in regular and slow motion have really helped me identify what my horse is doing beneath me as I ride.

There are many variations of gaits between the gaited breeds where terminology can get confusing. Ivy further simplifies the gaits into two training categories: ‘smooth’ and ‘bumpy.’ She offers no-gimmick, humane, and natural training strategies that effectively break up pace and trot. Plus, the DVD covers real-time training through Ivy’s three basic phases to lead your gaited horse into a naturally gaited smooth ride. Ivy demonstrates simple exercises that you can do with your gaited horse each time you ride. And if you stick with it, your gaited horse will develop a more consistent smooth natural four-beat gait in as little as 10 days. Not only that, Ivy’s humane and natural training techniques will build a better trusting partnership with your horse and lead your horse into greater relaxation and balance.

I can’t wait to try the cavaletti exercise with my horse! I highly recommend Ivy Schexnayder’s DVD: Training a Smooth Gait, Naturally! for anyone who wants a smoother gaited horse to ride and a better relationship with their horse.

For more information about Ivy Schexnayder, visit IvysHorses.com.

Merry Christmas

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“The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Wishing you and those you love a Merry Christmas!

Misconceptions of Gaited Dressage

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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 ruined the horse’s gait? Or that the movement is the effect of bad training? Do you think that dressage permanently alters show gait movement?  Is riding 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. Larry Whitesell helped me understand this biomechanic difference when I rode at one of his 2012 clinics (see story Form and Function).

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 ruined 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 athleticizes and increases a gaited horse’s range of motion so that it is able to move even better in its show gait.

***

About a month ago I stumbled upon the TWH Dressage Facebook group. I have participated in deep discussions such as the biomechanics of collection as we grapple with dressage as it applies to the Tennessee walking horse. Among the participants are gaited dressage trainers, naturally gaited trainers, national TWH judges, TWH rail show folks, traditional dressage instructors who also teach students with TWHs, avid gaited dressage riders like me, and people new to the concept of gaited dressage as it applies to the Tennessee walking horse. If you haven’t been following this group, you’ve got to check it out: TWH Dressage Facebook Group.

Gaited Dressage: Why Show?

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By Jennifer Klitzke

Why show? What motivates us to show? Is it all about the blue ribbons and bragging rights?

I roll my eyes and gasp when I think back to my first days of showing my Trakhner/Thoroughbred gelding SeilTanzer (Seili). I had saved my money and bought the best trot I could afford. My motivations were to take Seili to the top levels of dressage. Why? Because I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be recognized. I wanted to be accepted among my peers. I found out quickly that these were really bad reasons to show.

Those who experienced my first recognized show in 1992, likely remember it to this day. I know I will never forget it. Seili and I were practiced and prepared. I ate, breathed, and slept with dressage on my brain. I rode Seili six days a week at a deluxe dressage facility, took regular dressage lessons by a winning instructor, read books by the dressage masters, watched videos of how to become a better dressage rider, recorded and analyzed my rides, attended dressage clinics, and journaled my every ride.

So what happened? Getting to the show grounds that day, my cool, calm, and relaxed gelding turned into a creature I no longer recognized. Snorting and saucer-eyed, Seili danced around the bleachers, crowds, and announcer booth like a meth addict. He didn’t even know I was there. Nothing seemed to get his attention. Feeling out of control launched a full blown panic attack.

I did my best to courageously negotiate Seili through the movements of Training Level Test One. After the halt and salute, I released Seili to a free walk on a long rein on our way out of the arena. The judge stopped me to make a comment (which is very uncharacteristic at a recognized show). She said, “You have a wonderful horse who can go very far in dressage.”

“Thank you,” I remarked with a smile. “This is our first recognized show and we are a bit nervous.”

The judge replied, “But YOU…your riding will NEVER take him anywhere. Can I buy your horse from you?

Stunned, I left the arena blinded by my tears. My motivations for showing collided head on with my disappointment that I couldn’t present our hard work, and the judge’s harsh words. Devastated, I faced a cross roads: Either change my motivation for showing or give it up. If showing isn’t fun or educational, it isn’t worth doing.

Changing my motivation for showing is what I did. Seili and I continued to show for the next few years. We even received a CSDEA award for Second Level Amateur of the Year in 1995. Then our show career ended in 1996 when Seili developed chronic laminitis.

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Fifteen years passed.

In 2010, I learned of a schooling dressage show only 10 miles away at Walker’s Triple R Ranch, so I entered my Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana). We rode Training Level Tests One and Four. I had never imagined that I would be returning to dressage competition — especially on a horse that didn’t trot!

Since 2010 Makana and I have entered dozens of schooling dressage shows and have worked our way up to First Level Test Three. Every now and then a critic rises up, but it doesn’t stop me because showing for me is about getting feedback from a qualified judge on where we are at in our dressage training. It gives us something to work on until next time. Committing to a dressage test forces me to work on transitions more precisely in both directions, develop the range of gaits and movements the level requires, and face the test requirements I would otherwise avoid—things that bring up resistance in my horse and things that press my panic button. Plus, showing gaited dressage lets others see that naturally gaited horses can be trained using the humane training methods of classical dressage. After all, dressage is more than trot!

As long as my barefoot naturally gaited walking horse enjoys gaited dressage competition, that’s what we will do.

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P.S. Seili is still alive and well and turning 30 soon. His laminitis has been managed with natural barefoot trimming and a low carb diet. He is as sound today as he was at five! I am thankful for each ride we have left.
Naturally Gaited

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Age-defying Dressage

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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.

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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 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

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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!
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