From Trail to Rail to Dressage?

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Jennie Jackson and Cynthia Priebe
Pictured left to right: Dressage en Gaite Clinician Jennie Jackson, Heritage Walking Horse Temp’s Red Rascal, and Cynthia Priebe.

By Cynthia Priebe, Guest Writer

If you Google “Dressage,” you will learn it is a French term most  commonly translated to “training.” To most horsemen it conjures up
images of horse and rider teams such as Charlotte DuJardin and the great Valegro. We think of FEI, USEF, WEG and the Olympics.
We may think of Levels, tests and Freestyle performances. We recognize and may even understand a leg yield, shoulder-fore or shoulderin. We may not however think of our gaited horses doing these maneuvers, but we should!

Dressage at its most fundamental is a standardized and progressive training method intended to bring out a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to do what its rider asks of it. At its peak, the horse will respond ably to a rider’s minimal aids. The team performs together and it looks effortless. It is NOT breed specific. All horses can benefit from its principles and techniques.

However, over the years if I would discuss dressage as could be applied to my TWH, I would receive odd looks, wrinkled up noses, scoffs or comments of “Dressage does not and cannot apply to a Walking Horse.” If I was referring to the Equestrian sport of the FEI, USEF or USDF, they are correct, but I was referring to its principles and exercises for training.

The last few years have changed that. Gaited Dressage though not widespread is now recognized. Facebook and Web pages are dedicated to the subject. Clinicians and trainers of the gaited horse have written books, posted videos and sell DVD’s.

This past April, Temp’s Red Rascal and I attended a Jennie Jackson’s Dressage en Gaite Clinic. A day of watching other riders learn how to apply dressage principles to their gaited horses, and a one-on-one session of our own. Rascal and I haven’t really done anything but ride around the barn for the last few years. Improving health and other factors have revitalized my energy. Rascal’s abilities, temperament and patience have revitalized my confidence. My goal – use dressage to get us both back into shape.

Cynthia and her Heritage Walking Horse Temp's Red Rascal
Cynthia and her Heritage Walking Horse Temp’s Red Rascal

Jennie is so good at communicating with any and all levels of rider experience. She is patient, and really understands the gaited horse. She helped me understand where we are in the training pyramid and what we might be capable of. We successfully performed leg yields and shoulder-in and learned a new way to warm up for focus, muscle elasticity and increased responsiveness to the aids all without expending the energy Rascal would need to perform properly. May not seem like much, but what we learned that day has completely changed our relationship and what we have been able to accomplish together since.

Most of the Walking Horses at the clinic were from show bloodlines, and Rascal presented very differently so I seized the clinic as an
opportunity to discuss the Heritage Walking Horse. Other than Jennie, no one was familiar. Jennie explained how Rascal’s temperament, build and “On/off” switch where hallmarks of
the Heritage horse. She took the time to explain that though Rascal’s build kept him from having a big over stride, it was not what he was bred for. He was bred for a steady and consistent 4 beat gait that would cover uneven ground safely. So proud that Temp’s Red Rascal could be an ambassador for the Heritage Walking Horse that day!

Since the clinic, Rascal has been improving in all aspects of his condition, responsiveness and ability. He has actually increased his stride length which I attribute to our lateral work and the conditioning that dressage provides. We plan on showing again this year in Halter, Western Pleasure and Horsemanship (Equitation.)
I am not sure where we will pin, but I know we will have more fun this year than we have had in long time. And I am looking forward to the growth of Gaited Dressage and the possibility of testing in the near future on Temp’s Red Rascal.

So next time you hear “Dressage,” think Dressage en Gaite!


For more about the International Heritage Walking Horse Society, visit IHWHA.com.

To learn more about Jennie Jackson and her dressage en gaite clinic schedule, visit walkinonranch.com.

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Working Cows with a Gaited Horse

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Working cows with a gaited horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

It’s been a while since my naturally gaited Walking horse, Makana and I have worked with cows. I was so excited to see that Hi Circle Vee Ranch was having a Beginner’s Cow Sorting Clinic. My horse was due. She loves moving cows more than anything else. I think the reason she enjoys it so much is because she is the lowest on the pecking order and the cows give her something to push around!

Our clinician, Brandon Kruger, offered us strategies in reading cows and practical exercises to help our horses be more maneuverable.

One such exercise was the use of the counter bend. I’ve used the counter bend as a straightening exercise with my horses, but it had never occurred to me that it would have practical use in sorting. Brandon suggested to ride the horse on the counter bend along the fence, because it allows quicker change of direction for the horse when the cow darts off the other way.

The application of the inside leg to outside indirect rein has been so ingrained in my riding, because I am so fixated on getting the inside hind leg to step deeper under my horse. Brandon offered another practical maneuver which involves a different set of aids to lighten the forehand by engaging the hindquarters. The aids are to use the inside rein and outside leg at the girth. This makes the horse lighter in the shoulders so that it can more quickly lift up and change directions to stay in step with the cow.

Working the hole (the space between the two round pens) is the hardest thing for me and Makana  to do because those sneaky cows read us and out maneuver us more often than not. Brandon worked with each of us one-on-one and gave us some great tips. One of the best tips is to ride the horse two feet in front of the hole instead of inside of the hole. This tip along with the inside rein to outside leg kept more cows from sneaking through the hole than when we stood inside of it.

After our one-on-one lesson, we broke into two person teams for sorting. Sara and her Quarter horse and me and Makana made a great team. Sara had only been riding her Quarter horse for a week and it had been her horse’s first time working with cows. In the three sorting rounds, we got all ten cows sorted in order in 90 seconds or less. This is a first for me and Makana thanks to Brandon’s teaching. Everyone at the clinic was excited to join a sorting league!

Video: Sorting cows with a gaited horse

Thank you to Hi Circle Vee Ranch for hosting the clinic and to Brandon Kruger and his lovely wife for the teaching and encouragement.

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Gaited Dressage [and Jumping] at Northwoods

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Gaited dressage and jumping at Northwoods

By Jennifer Klitzke

Thanks to the familiar faces, I felt like I was showing among friends at the Northwoods schooling show instead of me, Makana, and tripod.

Northwoods offered their first annual schooling dressage [and hunter] show on May 30, 2015. I took my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana—the only gaited horse/rider entry among 29 trotting horse tests ridden, Intro through First Level.

Nearing the arena I heard someone say my name. I turned to look and a woman introduced herself. We came to know each other through NaturallyGaited.com. I was delighted to connect with her face-to-face.

Then another woman I had met through the Western Dressage Association rode her Norwegian Fjord at her mare’s first dressage show. These women, among the other friendly spectators and competitors, made it feel like I was riding with friends instead of showing solo—me, Makana, and tripod.

Since Makana seems to run out of gas so quickly, I’ve been making a point to do more conditioning with her during our rides at home. It really paid off. We rode both First Level Tests One and Three back-to-back and Makana had enough energy to spare. The tests were held in Northwood’s spacious mirror-lined indoor arena with dust-free rubberized footing.

This show marked the first time Makana and I had ever ridden First Level Test Three which is filled with lots of new challenges: leg yield zig zag at a flatwalk, 10-meter flatwalk circles, counter canter, and simple changes of lead at X through the flatwalk, in addition to the running walk, canter lengthenings, and 15-meter canter circles.

To my amazement Makana scored 70.294% on First Level Test Three and received a respectable score of 65.926% on First Level Test One.

After our rides, Judge Colleen Holden remarked, “That was really fun to watch how you orchestrated all those variations of walk.” She said that we received an “OMG” on our free walk and medium walk because they were the best she had seen all day, and she was very impressed with our transitions, and the quality of our canter. Areas she encouraged us to work on are developing better bend which will improve the overall elegance of our tests.

After the dressage tests were completed, the outdoor arena was set for the hunter course. While I continue to school Makana over ground rails and small jumps at home to improve her canter, it had been a couple years since we entered a hunter course.

The last time we rode a course of ground rails, Makana spooked, refused, and hesitated getting near the strangely colored poles. The Northwoods schooling show promised to be a fun and beginner-friendly event, so I entered Makana in the hunter course over ground rails.

What a terrific course—eleven poles with lots of turns and canter stretches made it feel more like a cross country course. I was so proud of my girl. She confidently cantered the entire course of rails without a spook, refusal, or hesitation! In fact, I was tempted to enter her in the 18″ cross rail course.

Video: Naturally gaited (and barefoot) Walking horse over a hunter course of ground rails

Special thanks to Northwoods Stables for hosting their first annual dressage and hunter schooling show and for accommodating gaited dressage.

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

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