Category Archives: French Dressage with Gaited Horses

Twenty-two Years Later Still Applies

22 years later still applies

By Jennifer Klitkze

Twenty-two years ago Dominique Barbier traveled to Minnesota for a clinic and introduced me and my German warmblood, SeilTanzer, to the French dressage method of riding with lightness and harmony. Not only did I become acquainted with Barbier’s dressage methods, I came to know a fun-loving fellow and clinic participant named Fred Kappler, who traveled from Michigan with his American warmblood, Aden.

I never imagined that our paths would cross again. And when they did, Fred helped me see that Barbier’s methods still apply—even to a naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse. 

1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic
Jennifer Klitzke and her German warmblood SeilTanzer at the 1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic held at Jacqurei Oaks in Minnesota.

In 1995, I felt like a traitor attending Barbier’s clinic. You see, Seili and I had invested several years studying the German dressage system. That’s all that what was offered in my area. Yet my heart yearned for lightness, partnership, and harmony with my horse. I got a taste of this at the Barbier clinic.

The last few years I began studying the French dressage work of Philippe Karl and Jean Claude Racinet, and I have ridden at a few French dressage clinics with traveling clinician Susan Norman who has been a long-time student of both Karl and Racinet. I also rode with Nicole Walters at Cadbury Farm who has passed her first leg of certification in Philippe Karl’s School of Légèreté.

Flash forward 22 years after the Barbier clinic. (Yes, Seili is still alive at 33!) A Facebook friend informed me about a French dressage clinician coming to Minnesota named Fred Kappler. French dressage isn’t common around here, so I looked into it. Fred has studied Philippe Karl and Jean Claude Racinet’s teachings, has ridden with Dominique Barbier, and is familiar with gaited horses.

The clinic had filled quickly, but thankfully they made room for me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Makana. This would be the first non-gaited dressage clinic I have taken a gaited horse to. Turns out there were two other Tennessee walking horses riding at the clinic. (It’s a good thing Fred has had some knowledge with Walkers!)

During my first lesson, Fred mentioned that he rode with Dominique Barbier at Jacqurei Oaks. That’s the moment I realized Fred and I had ridden together at this clinic. Now 22 years later Fred is coaching me in Barbier’s methods of lunging and working in hand. Yes, 22 years later still applies—even with a gaited horse. What a moment!

Fred Kappler and Aden 1996 Dominique Barbier Clinic Jacqurei Oaks
Fred Kappler and Aden at the 1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic held at Jacqurei Oaks, MN. At that clinic, I knew Fred as a fellow student and a personable guy. I had no idea he had a training facility and was a traveling clinician!

I must confess that Barbier’s methods of lunging and working in hand are two things I haven’t continued with the gaited horses I work with. I tend to saddle up and ride. Fred helped me see the benefits of lunging and working the horse in hand before riding.

Lunging equipment:

  • One side rein attached to the snaffle ring and girth at the inside of the circle; allow the side rein to be long enough for the horse to stretch forward without bringing the nose behind the vertical and short enough to keep the horse from getting strung out
  • A lunge line looped through the snaffle ring and attached to the girth buckle on the inside of the circle
  • A lunge whip to encourage the horse forward with a “snap” if the horse ignores your “cluck”

We lunged long enough to loosen up the horse (about 3-5 minutes each direction) at a walk, trot (yes, quality trot on cue) and canter with lots of transitions between gaits. Our circle size was about 15 meters. A relaxed and forward rhythm is the goal.

Teaching the gaited horse how to trot on cue, in a quality way of going, on a lunge line and in saddle, will not ruin the gait. Trot on cue will improve rhythm, balance,  engagement, and strengthen the top line muscles. The benefits a quality trot on cue offers will break pace and improve the natural four-beat gaits and canter.

June 2017 Fred Kappler Clinic
Teaching the gaited horse how to trot on cue in a quality way of going on a lunge line and in saddle will not ruin the gait. Trot on cue will improve rhythm, balance, engagement, and strengthen the top line muscles. All of these benefits will improve the gaits.
shoulder in in hand
Shoulder in while working in hand.

The in-hand exercises are done in both directions. The exercises are shoulder in on a square; turn on the forehand where the horse pivots around me; halt along the wall, rein back, walk forward and repeat three times; and bring the horse to a square and balanced halt.

shoulder in
Shoulder in at a SLOW collected walk with no head nod.

The riding exercises we did are all exercises Philippe Karl uses in his training which I need to focus on more. After watching all of the riders (gaited and trotting) I realize that beautiful gaits come after working the horse through lateral exercises which supple the horse, bring the horse into balance, engagement, and into a round and connected frame onto the bit.

flatwalk
A smooth flowing flat walk after lateral exercises.

I tend to focus so much on depth of stride and head nod that lateral exercises have taken a back seat. After experiencing this clinc, my approach has been backwards! Fred’s clinic clearly demonstrated that the lateral exercises done in a SLOW collected walk improve the gait quality (whether it be trot or gait). This is a game changer for me!

Fred guided Makana and I through a course of fun and interesting exercises:

  • Broken lines
  • Leg yields
  • Changes of rein through the half circle
  • Changes of direction through bends—shoulder in to haunches in to shoulder out
  • Shoulder in to half pass to walk pirouette to half pass to reverse half pirouette to half pass

After Makana found her balance, softness, engagement, and suppleness through these exercises at a collected walk, Fred released us along a straight line into a flat walk and WOW it felt terrific!

The two lessons I had with Fred Kappler have set me on a new course of training gaited dressage. Going forward, I will spend more time riding lateral exercises at a collected walk before releasing Makana into flat walk along a straight line. I will add more transitions between exercises, more transitions between directions of bend, and more transitions between gaits. All of these exercises improve balance, engagement, connection, roundness, strength, and quality of movement.

Adding to the education was the amazing feeling of community I felt with the people who attended this clinic. Fred is unique when compared with most clinicians. He enjoys sharing his wealth of experiences outside of lesson time and is an entertaining storyteller. Deb, the owner of Amity West Stables, is an inspiring rider and trainer with amazingly talented horses. I watched her lessons with Fred and was impressed with witnessing piaffe and passage, canter pirouettes, tempe changes, extended trot, half pass, and more. Not to forget that Deb is a lot of fun to hang around with, as well as the many boarders there.

It was great to meet Facebook friend, Louisa, for the first time in person. She organized a marvelous matching set of four black Tennessee walking horses on a beautiful trail ride along Lester River the day before the clinic. I enjoyed reconnecting with a Walking horse friend, Becky and an eventing friend, Amy, and met new friends Nikki, Michelle, Pam, and the barn staff at Amity West Stables.

I hope it will be the first of many re-connections with this fun-loving group of dressage riders—both gaited and non-gaited. (As for Fred, will he and I live another 22 years for a reunion? Awe, maybe. Hopefully I will get a chance to ride with him sooner than later!)

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Harmony, Trust and Partnership

Harmony Trust and Partnership

By Jennifer Klitzke

For years I couldn’t understand why my horses didn’t want to go forward. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a new approach to dressage that I realized I had been riding with the gas pedal and brake pedal on at the SAME time each time I drove my horse with my seat and legs into closed hands.

I thirsted for harmony, partnership, trust, and lightness in my riding with my horses. I was tired of setting agendas for my horses and ready to invite them into a dance of relaxation, balance, harmony, and lightness—where ever that would lead us.

If you’ve been following Naturally Gaited for the last couple years, you know that classical French dressage has become my language of choice.

I’ve been studying books and DVDs by Philippe Karl, a DVD by Lisa Maxwell (a student of the late Jean Claude Racinet, who studied the work of Francois Baucher), taken lessons from Susan Norman, a student of both Philippe Karl and Jean Claude, and lessons from Nichole Walters, a student of Philippe Karl.

These teachings have rocked my world! Notably because they sharply contrast the German dressage training I had studied for the preceding decades. It wasn’t the contrast that made me switch. It was the truths in the contrast that made me switch. (Just watch the DVD: Classic vs. Classique where the French and German theories go head-to-head in a convincing demonstration.)

For me, I couldn’t understand why my horses didn’t want to go forward. It wasn’t until I began to open my mind to the French method that I realized I had been riding with the gas pedal and brake pedal on at the SAME time each time I drove my horse with my seat and legs into closed hands.

I was also tired of being a domineering micro-manager with my horses, and I thirsted for harmony, partnership, trust, and lightness in my riding. I was tired of “making” my horses DO and GO, and I was ready to “ask” my horses to dance with me—even if it meant giving up showing and my expectation of moving up in the levels each year.

If I was able to maintain harmony, trust, and partnership in the show ring, then I’d be open to showing, but if showing became a demand at every letter, then it was time to recheck my motives.

Last year my Dad grew gravely ill, and I didn’t have time to travel to shows. It was more important to be with my family. This is when I discovered virtual shows. Currently, the only organization that offers virtual shows is the National Western Association of America (NWAA). Many of their virtual shows are open to gaited horses. Not only could I ride and record my test from my own backyard, I could ride my test within the relaxation, harmony, trust, and partnership that I felt was essential in our dressage training.

I hope to get out to a show or two this summer (virtual and/or live). If not, I will for sure enjoy riding my horses with harmony, trust, and partnership.

Video: Separating the gas pedal from the brake pedal

For a list of gaited dressage tests, see “Links” in the right sidebar.

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Following Arms & Rubber Band Fingers

Following the Head and Neck Motion

Following the Head and Neck of the Gaited Horse with Relaxed Arms & Rubber Band Fingers

By Jennifer Klitzke

When I returned from my Seattle vacation last Fall, I was excited to try out all I learned from Nichole Walters, a student of Philippe Karl, as it relates to following the motion of the head and neck of the naturally gaited horse.

Granted, I rode trotting horses at Nichole’s farm, but while the trotting horse walks, it expresses an even four-beat gait where the head and neck nod with each step. This is where Nicole encouraged me to relax my shoulders, back, and arms to follow the horse’s motion.

It got me thinking. This seemed like a direct take-a-way I ride  my Tennessee walking horse. It was critical that I learn to follow the motion of the head shaking naturally gaited horse while maintaining an even contact with the right and left rein.

After publishing the video: Following the Motion of the Head Shaking Horse, I received a great tip from someone on the Naturally Gaited Facebook page. Along with following the motion of the head and neck with relaxed arms, a women encouraged to open and close my fingers with each head nod. This is what I call “rubber band fingers.”

I began giving this idea a try with both my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse and my friend’s fox trotting mare now that Winter is over and I’m back in the saddle again.

Along with following the head and neck motion with relaxed arms and rubber band fingers are the importance of relaxation (of mind and body within the horse), skeletal balance (not to be confused with collection), rhythm for the naturally gaited horse, and engaging the hind leg steps deeper under the body.

I am seeing great results from combining these elements. My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse’s head nod is more defined and regular in timing with the hind leg steps. Her rhythm is more even, and she seems more forward and engaged from behind.

Video: Following the Motion of the Head & Neck

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Beginning Lessons in Légèreté: Following Hands

Following the motion of the head shaking horse

Beginning Lessons in Légèreté: Following Hands

By Jennifer Klitzke

Dressage requires riding with even contact with a snaffle bit—not floppy, loose reins. This means that I need to earn my horse’s trust with my hands in order for her to accept contact with the bit. This is a lot easier to do at a trot when the horse’s head and neck remain stationary, but what about the flat walk, running walk and fox trot? How do I maintain an even contact while the horse’s head and neck nod with each step?

Recently while taking classical French dressage lessons on trotting horses, I learned how following the motion of the four-beat walk with my hands fosters relaxation, harmony and lightness. This makes me wonder how following hands might translate to relaxation, harmony and lightness to the naturally gaited head-shaking horse while moving in flat walk, fox trot, and running walk.

philippe-karl-dvds-video-cameraIf you’ve been following NaturallyGaited, you know that I’ve been studying the work of classical French dressage school master Philippe Karl through his books and videos. Recently before I set out to Seattle, WA to visit family, I learned that Philippe Karl has been conducting School of Légèreté certification clinics in three USA locations—one of which is Cadbury Farm, not far from where I would be staying.

Ecstatic with the opportunity to get first-hand teaching in this classical French dressage method, I contacted Nichole Walters, the owner and instructor of Cadbury Farm for lessons while I was in Seattle.

This is the second blog post following lessons I took with Nichole who has now completed the first leg of the instructor’s certification program in the School of Légèreté.

After Nichole had spent a few hours teaching me work-in-hand exercises, we proceeded to my favorite part—riding!

Video: Work in Hand: Educating the Mouth

The majority of my riding time was at a walk in order that I took home how the work-in-hand exercises progress to the saddle.

Before we even got to applying the work-in-hand exercises in the saddle, Nichole encouraged me to follow the horse’s natural head and neck motion with my hands while maintaining an even contact with both sides of the snaffle bit (instead of keeping my arms quiet at my sides.)

She noticed that while my arms were locked at my sides, my body followed the motion of the horse more than it needed to. The tension in my shoulders became evident in my efforts to remain still with my arms and hands, yet this tension and stillness translated heaviness to the horse.

While some following the motion of the horse with my body is needed, Nichole encouraged me to also follow the head and neck motion of the horse with my arms while maintaining an even contact with both sides of the snaffle bit.

This was an epiphany for me! Granted, I was riding a trotting horse, but I was riding the horse at a natural four-beat walk.

This got me thinking about the natural four-beat gaits of the head nodding breeds. What compromises have my stillness in my arms been creating in the quality of the flat walk, running walk, and fox trot? Could the tension in my shoulders and still arms and hands be saying “stop” to my Tennessee walking horse, Makana? Would following hands produce less prodding on my part to move her forward? Would following hands produce less tension and more relaxation, harmony and lightness in my friend’s gaited horse, Lady? Would Lady be more apt to seek contact with the snaffle bit and trust the contact more if I followed her head nod? Would her back be less braced if I rode her with following hands? Would she track up more with deeper strides if there was greater relaxation in her back?

How many gaited riders struggle with pace and step pace? I just wonder if following the horse’s head nod might lead the horse to greater relaxation, harmony, and lightness and produce less brace in the jaw and back and produce a more pure four-beat gait?

Video: Following Hands

If you are on this gaited dressage journey, I’d love to hear from you. Contact us»

Thanks for watching. Stay connected by subscribing to the Naturally Gaited youtube channel and join our community on facebook.com/naturallygaited.

Special thanks to Nichole Walters, the owner and instructor of Cadbury Farm who taught me the “Educating the Mouth” and “Following Hands” exercises that she learned first hand from Philippe Karl and his School of Légèreté.

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Beginning lessons in Légèreté: Work in Hand

Extend the neck

By Jennifer Klitzke

Work in hand? If you’re like me, I just like to get on and ride. Recently, I experienced the purpose work in hand has to build communication with my horse that translates to our saddle time and makes our training move along quicker in lightness and balance.

Before I set out to Seattle, WA to visit family for a week, I learned that Philippe Karl has been teaching School of Légèreté certification clinics in three USA locations—one of which is Cadbury Farm, not far from where I would be staying.

Ecstatic with the opportunity to get first-hand teaching in this classical French dressage method, I contacted Nichole Walters, the owner and instructor of Cadbury Farm for lessons while I was in Seattle.

Nichole asked about my experience with Karl’s philosophy and the training with my horses. I explained that I had been studying Philippe Karl’s DVDs Classical versus Classique and Classical Dressage 1-4.

philippe-karl-dvds-video-camera

Learning via DVDs are great for teaching concepts, but nothing beats one-on-one instruction for applying these concepts in real time.

When Nichole urged me to begin with understanding lightness from the ground, I sighed, because I just wanted to get to the fun part of riding. Philippe Karl’s DVD series covers work in hand, but I had just glossed over that portion thinking that it wasn’t important. WRONG!

Nichole said that Karl believes educating the mouth from the ground is so important that he won’t teach his students how to ride until the student knows how to teach the horse how to establish balance (how to open its poll and lift its head and neck to shift its balance from the forehand to the hindquarters); taste the bit and swallow; relax the jaw; flex 45 to 90 degrees to the right and left in order to stretch the outside neck muscles; and accept and follow an even contact of the snaffle bit and extend the neck down and out to stretch the top line.

These concepts then translate to the rider’s hands while in the saddle which make it easier for the horse and rider to progress more quickly in their training.

Work-in-hand at a halt to teach the horse how to be light with the bit and follow a light contact:

1) Face the horse and align my spine to the horse’s spine;

2) Raise the horse’s head and neck and open the poll (the angle between the neck and the lower jaw) by applying equal contact on the corners of the horse’s mouth. This helps the horse shift its balance from the shoulders onto the hindquarters. (Notice the horse square up its fore legs and straighten its chest). This is a terrific exercise for breaking the habit of horses that lean on the bit;

3) Activate the horse’s tongue so that it begins to taste the bit and swallow;

4) If the horse stops tasting the bit, unlock the tension in the jaw. One hand remains neutral and holds the snaffle ring and the other hand directs the snaffle toward the bridge of the nose. As soon as the horse begins to taste the bit, release to reward;

shift balance by lifting head
Lift the head and neck and open the poll to shift the balance from the shoulders and more onto the hindquarters. Noticed the forelegs are perpendicular to the ground and not leaning toward me.

5) Then, while holding one ring of the snaffle while the horse is in a balanced stance, collect the rein of the opposite snaffle ring so that there is EVEN contact with the snaffle ring and the opposite rein;

Even contact
Moving to the side, one hand remains on the ring of the snaffle and the other on the rein with even light contact.

 

6) Gently lead the horse’s head and neck to one side with even contact. This stretches the outside neck muscles. (Notice the inside neck muscles concave and the outside muscles convex) ;

Stretching the outside neck muscles
With even contact, I reposition myself from the side to the front of the horse while encouraging the horse follow the contact and turn its head and neck. This stretches the outside neck muscles. Be careful that the ears remain level and the horse continues to taste the bit.

7)Then direct the horse to follow the contact down and out to the side to stretch while keeping its ears level. This stretches the outside neck muscles and prevents the horse from contracting the neck muscles and hollowing the underside muscles. It also builds the top line muscles. Karl’s book Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage goes into detail why this is so important.

Extend the neck
Extend the neck with even contact by guiding the horse with the hand down and out. Seek to maintain balance without the horse leaning onto the inside shoulder.

 

My lessons began with a horse that knew these exercises well so that I could experience how it feels when it goes right. Then I worked with a horse that was just starting these exercises so that I could experience what it is like when things go wrong and how to correct it. This would help me at home when I began teaching my horses.

Nichole guaranteed that if I spent ten to fifteen minutes in hand teaching each horse balance, tasting the bit, swallowing, flexing to each side, and following an even contact before riding, my horses will progress quicker in their training and become lighter on the bridle.

After the lessons with Nichole, I returned home and began to apply these exercises with my horses. Now I see why Karl feels so strongly about educating the horse’s mouth while in hand. I’m astounded with how soft, light, and balanced all of the horses are becoming when I begin every riding session with these exercises.

I have never given work-in-hand its proper respect until now. If you are a visual learner like me, I’d encourage you to purchase Philippe Karl’s Classical Dressage DVD Volume 1 which covers the work-in-hand exercises plus much more. Karl’s book Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage is also a great study aid with lots of pictures and detailed explanation.

For those who have studied German dressage like I have and wonder what the differences are between it and French dressage, Karl’s DVD Classic versus Classique is an amazing contrast with riding lessons from Philippe Karl and FEI German Trainer Christoph Hess.

Special thanks to Nichole Walters, the owner and instructor of Cadbury Farm who taught me the “Educating the Mouth” exercises that she learned first hand from Philippe Karl and his School of Légèreté.

Video: Educating the Mouth

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