By Jennifer Klitzke
Bucky Sparks returned for the fifth year to the Dirt Floor Arena in Proctor, MN for more B.L.E.S.S.ing. While the humane training methods that produce balance, looseness, engagement, softness, and soundness, blessed the horses, the education and encouragement blessed the riders.
Remembering the erratic weather of years gone by, I packed my pickup prepared for anything. Yet I felt foolish loading up my truck with winter coats, hats, and mittens when it was nearly 90 degrees on departure day.
While the 2009 B.L.E.S.S. Your Horse Clinic in MN came in like a lamb, it went out with a roar. On the last day of the clinic it was only 39-degrees, with pouring rain and gale-force winds. Was I ever glad to have been foolish!
The first two days of the clinic focused on the basic exercises of stretching the bit, lateral flexion, and rein-back. The last two days focused on curling and canter exercises. During all four days, the clinic began with a group session followed by individual lessons.
I loved how Makana, my five-year-old Tennessee walking horse felt at the clinic: impulsive, light, and forward with a dramatic head nod, flopping ears, and clicking teeth. These are three things that sound really strange to a classical dressage rider of hard trotting horses, yet to a walking horse enthusiast, these are three highly desired attributes.
Now as both a dressage rider and walking horse enthusiast, I have noticed that when Makana is correct in her dressage frame, she reflects the true walking horse attributes in a flat walk. She produces an even four-beat, smooth gait with an overstride, along with a nodding head, flopping ears, and clicking teeth.
In our first lesson, Bucky remembered us from last year, the complete rookie at this gaited thing with a four-year-old green horse. This year, we had several months of applying B.L.E.S.S. techniques through stretching the bit, lateral stretching, forwardness, rein-back, and leg-yielding exercises that paid off. This year Bucky challenged us to go to the next level of training: bending on a 20-meter circle, canter departs, and running walk.
You see, many gaited horse riders believe that the canter ruins the flat walk, but this is such a myth. Not only did the canter improve Makana’s flat walk, but bending on a 20-meter circle improved the canter departs and the pureness of gait as well.
As a five-year old, we were just beginning to work on Makana’s canter work. My approach to getting the correct canter lead had been to counter bend Makana along the fence and ask for the canter with my outside leg in the corner of the arena. While this is a somewhat common method at producing the correct lead, it was at the cost of Makana’s frame. She lacked roundness, softness, and the correct bend.
Bucky challenged me to bend Makana in a 20-meter circle using the inside leg at the girth and the outside hind leg slightly behind the girth. Then he asked me to slightly raise my inside rein. Once Makana was in soft, round, supple and bending correctly, that when I asked for the canter depart with the “inside” leg. Amazingly, Makana took the correct lead, and this application had produced a round, soft, and correctly bent canter. That felt connected and controlled.
After cantering a few circles, we transitioned to a flat walk which had notably improved. The canter work had clearly produced a pure flat walk with more overtrack than ever!
Next we worked on running walk. Bucky asked me to establish bend at a flat walk and then ask for more speed. He said that when increasing the tempo, it is common to experience more resistance. Instead of dropping down to a flat walk to fix Makana’s frame, Bucky encouraged us to correct the frame in the higher speed.
As always, the four-day clinic provided enriching and effective training methods to help us bring the best out of our walking horses. And gave me plenty of homework for the coming year.
For more about Bucky Sparks, visit www.blessyourhorse.com.