Showing Recognized Gaited Dressage from Home

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By Jennifer Klitzke

Finally a way to ride gaited dressage at recognized shows, and I don’t even have to leave home!

flatwalk jog fox trotNorth American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. This year they have included gaited dressage in their recognized Virtual shows.

My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) and I gave it a try in May. Since then, I have been practicing the feedback I received from the judge’s remarks and from coaching I received from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson. I couldn’t wait for the next Virtual show to check our progress.

There have been several schooling dressage shows this spring and summer, but my Father has been terminally ill and in hospice care. I decided to put traveling shows on hold so that I can spend more time with my Dad. Virtual shows have made it possible for me to squeeze in a few showing opportunities without ever leaving home! All I need is for my adoring husband to widget some time between is golf games to record our rides.

In July NAWD offered the Midsummer Celebration Virtual Show (which doubled as a successful fundraiser for autism) and was their biggest show to date with over 150 entries! I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy), and my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady. It was Indy’s first Western Dressage show and Lady’s very first show. All three horses competed in the same Recognized Dressage Show without leaving home!

Video: Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom in IJA Western Training Level 2

I am very happy in how the medium walk and canter felt over the last test—more fluid and forward. Her canter was noticeably more impulsive and clearly three beat instead of a sluggish rather four beat canter. I was especially pleased with our improvement in connection from back to front and its effect on the head nod. Makana moved forward in her medium walk with deep steps from behind and a clear head nod instead of a nose flicking head peck. The judge noticed it too, and remarked, “It was a pleasure to watch the degree of reach with the hind legs and steadiness of the nod.”

Areas the judge encouraged us to work on are more distinction between regular walk, medium walk and intermediate gait; more roundness in canter right; straightness; and squareness and balance at the halt.

Score: 64.091% (1st of 1)


Video: My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend in NAWD Basic 3 in his first Western Dressage Test

This was Indy’s first Western Dressage Test. Although I feel like I’m dressed for a Halloween costume party, I am very pleased with how Indy looks in his Western get up. I could be hooked on this Western dressage after all!

Riding the test, I liked how balanced Indy felt overall and how he reached down and out in the freewalk. The judge remarked. “Yeah, baby!!!” Although Indy was busy in his mouth, he wasn’t heavy on the bridle or forehand; I think it was the bit. I usually ride him in a full-cheek snaffle and it isn’t legal for Western Dressage, so I switched to a bit he wasn’t used to.

The judge felt we rode the test well and with accuracy, balance and bend. Areas of improvement are for us to work on improving softness in the bridle. She felt Indy was impulsive and balanced in the jog and needs to work on more impulsion in the canter and softness in the transitions to halt.

I had to giggle when the judge remarked how much she loved my “Fjordie.” We get this all of the time! Don’t get me wrong. I love Fjords, it is just that my Indy is a Spanish Mustang.

Score: 69.844% ( 1st of 3)


Video: Naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, showing for the first time in NAWD Intro 2

This is Lady’s very first show and I am tickled with how well she did considering that riding with contact is something rather new to her and arena riding is something she’s not fond of. Trail riding is her gig.

The judge remarked that she can see how this horse can be a bit difficult—like she might be all ‘go’ and very little ‘whoa.’ The judge said, “I think you are doing a very nice job bringing her along. Movement #4 (KXM change rein at easy gait) showed the real horse: relaxed, engaged and brilliant.” Which really helps me move towards more of that in our training.

Score: 60.357% (5th of 9)

This feedback is so helpful, and the reason I show dressage. I need unbiased feedback from an educated professional as to where I’m at in my training.

From the judges’ comments in all three rides, I feel like we are heading in the right direction in this Western Dressage thing and the feedback has given us something to work on until we check our status next time.

Midsummer Celebration Virtual Show Results»

For more information about North American Western Dressage Virtual Shows, visit: www.NorthAmericanWesternDressage.org

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A Full Week: Western Dressage, Cow Sorting & Endurance

IJA Western Training 2 medium walk
Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom performing IJA Western Training 2.

By Jennifer Klitzke

This year I’ve pretty much put showing on hold, because its been so touch and go with my Dad who is in hospice care. But, I thought I could sneak in a few local events: a Virtual Western Dressage Show (that I can do without leaving home), a Cow Sorting League (only minutes from my house) and the Mosquito Run Endurance Ride (held once a year at a local park).

Only I didn’t seem to notice that all three events were held in the same week until the week of. Working full time with an ailing father in hospice, what was I thinking?!

Virtual Western Dressage
North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. Makana and I  gave it a try a couple months ago and we couldn’t wait for the next one. We have been practicing the feedback I had received from the judge’s remarks and from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.

When I saw that NAWD was having another Virtual Show, my over zealous enthusiasm overtook my sense of available time. I registered three horses for the show. Most challenging was finding time to squeeze in the rides between working full time, visits with my Dad, the cow sorting league, endurance rides, filming the tests around my husband’s schedule, the week’s inclement weather, and forcing my grandma brain to memorize three new Western dressage tests!

For this Western Dressage Virtual Show I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, and my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy). It was Lady’s very first show and Indy’s first Western Dressage show.

 

NAWD Intro 2
Naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, in her easy gait while showing for the first time in NAWD Intro 2.
NAWD Basic 3 stretch trot 1
My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend showing a required movement in NAWD Basic 3, a jog allowing the horse to stretch its head and neck out and down.

Our window for recording our rides just happened to be at the same time our neighbor took down his trees next to our arena with the brush hog. This stirred up an arsenal of repellent-resistant biting flies that came in for the attack!

Despite the distractions, we made the best of it. I rode Makana in IJA Western Training Level 2, Lady in NAWD Intro 2, and Indy in NAWD Basic 3.

Cow Time!
A couple weeks back I saw a last minute opening for the July Cow Sorting League. I knew Makana was due for some cow time, because it’s her favorite thing to do. (My theory: since she’s lowest on the pecking order, cows give her something to push around!)

Sorting cows with a gaited horse

We finished our first week getting all ten cows sorted in order within 70 seconds! Not the fastest by far (which was an amazing 46 seconds) but it felt good to officially achieve this milestone.

Endurance Ride
On Sunday, I entered Makana in a ten-mile Mosquito Run novice endurance ride at Crow Hassan Park Reserve. That morning we were hit with ANOTHER thunderstorm. Many riders had packed up and headed for home just before Makana and I arrived. So many riders had left that I thought the event had cancelled. (At least it made it easy to find a parking spot!)

The novice ride headed out with two large groups of seven. The footing was slick in spots with lots of puddles, but the storms cooled down the temperature for a comfortable ride.

The week’s thunderstorms had taken a toll on the park. We passed hundreds of mature trees that had fallen during the storms. Many thanks to the Park Reserve staff who worked hard to clear the trails so that the endurance ride could go on.

Our group was composed of three Tennessee walking horses, a Rockie, and three Arabians. It was wonderful to ride with other gaited horses. While our gaited horses outpassed the nongaited horses at a walk, the speed required of the ride in order to make time forced our gaited horses to trot, speed rack (or canter) the majority of the ride. I asked Makana for a speed rack. She held it for a while, but waffled between the rack, the trot, and canter.

Mosquito Run endurance ride

Three miles before the finish line we all cooled off in the lake. Makana and I took our first swim! We walked in the water until her entire body submerged and all that surfaced the water was her ears, nostrils, and eyeballs. Thank God horses are intuitively good swimmers!

Makana and I made the optimum time and took sixth place out of 12 entries.  (We even surpassed the Arabians!)

2016 Mosquito Run

I’ll see you soon Dad. Hang in there! I love you! (Next time I’ll double check my calendar before committing to these events.)

Video: Balanced Lightness for the Gaited Horse

Balanced lightness for the gaited horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

What does it mean to ride with lightness? Is there more to it than riding with looped reins? What about connection and its role in the dressage training pyramid to bring about balance and rhythm?

Last month I took one of my horses to a classical French dressage clinic with Susan Norman. Susan had been a 15-year student of the late Jean Claude Racinet and a three-year student of Philippe Karl. Both Racinet and Karl are highly acclaimed French classical dressage thinkers of our modern era and have studied the work of Baucher.

Susan holds dear the principle of riding with lightness, and when she said that she sees people riding their horses on loose reins when they shouldn’t, all of us at the clinic were braced for her next words. She went on to say that well-meaning riders are releasing their horses to lightness before their horses have learned balance and self carriage.

That really resonated with me as it relates to recent feedback I received from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.  A month ago, I had asked Jennie for feedback on ways to improve my Western gaited dressage with my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana. Jennie said that I need to ride my mare with MORE contact to establish forward balance into the correct mechanics of the head nod.

Jennie explained that Makana wasn’t traveling through from behind to the bit, and it showed in the presence of a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.” A head peck is an upward nose flicking evasion which is disconnected from the hind leg steps. Whereas the head nod is when the head and neck bob downward in sequence with each hind leg as it steps deep under the body.

After studying French classical dressage for the last year, my initial reaction to Jennie’s comment was, “What? Ride with MORE contact?!” But blending Jennie’s feedback with what Susan Norman said in her clinic put it into perspective.

Yes, ride with more contact UNTIL my horse learns to travel in a relaxed, balanced, forward rhythm with the correct mechanics of a head nod. THEN I can offer a release to a lighter connection and reward her AS LONG AS she remains in balance with the same quality of head nod. That’s what training for self carriage and lightness is all about.

Riding on floppy reins wasn’t training my gaited horse to be in self carriage. Training my horse to lightness offers her a release whenever she travels forward in relaxed, rhythmic balance with the correct mechanics of a head nod.

If my horse leans on the bit, that’s when a half halt comes into play: a brief lifting of both reins which contact the bars of my horse’s mouth, stilling of my seat, and bracing of my lower back, and then releasing the reins, refollowing the belly sway of my horse with my hip joints, and relaxing my lower back as soon as my horse rebalances.

During the clinic Susan said, “There is no intimacy in long reins.” This was another profound statement coming from a dressage clinician who teaches lightness. But what Susan meant is that short reins don’t mean pulling back reins. Short reins are communicating reins which are an ongoing dialogue with the horse. Short reins allow my fingers to have an even light feeling with the horse’s mouth to ask for softness and preparation for what’s coming next.

Another benefit to riding with short reins is that they allow me to keep my balance over my horse’s back, because short reins keep my elbows at my sides where my ear, shoulders, elbows, hip and heel align in balance. As soon as my reins grow long, my elbows extend forward and soon thereafter I begin to lean forward and lose my balanced alignment. Then my horse loses her balance, and she falls onto the forehand in response.

How do you know when your horse is in balance or not? That’s the tricky part. Balance is something that takes time to develop a feel for and balance feels different from one horse to the next. How balance feels on a Tennessee walking horse is different from that of a trotting horse.The best way to learn the feeling of balance is through regular lessons with an educated dressage instructor who can coach you as you ride your horse. Over time, you’ll be able to feel balance more instinctively as you ride on your own.

Video: Balanced Lightness for the Gaited Horse

Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in!

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