Category Archives: Gaited Dressage

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. If not, I will for sure take up a few virtual shows.

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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Quality Step to Quality Steps

quality step to quality steps

By Jennifer Klitzke

Do you have a naturally gaited horse and wonder why it doesn’t have a consistently smooth natural gait?

Lots of people buy a gaited horse thinking that they all automatically gait. While they are all born with the ability to perform naturally smooth gaits, it takes time to train the gaits. It takes time for the horse to develop balance, muscle memory, rhythm, strength to carry a rider in gait, and for the rider to develop the sense of “feel” to discern the difference between a quality step from an unbalanced, rushed, hollow, or disengaged step.

In this video I share what I’ve learned about developing quality gaits —one step at a time. Don’t practice poor quality steps, just transition down and restart with a quality step and build upon that.

Video: Quality Step to Quality Steps

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Life and Random Thoughts about Gaited Dressage

By Jennifer Klitzke

I hope your Spring is off to a great start! After six month of winter’s dark and cold, I was chompin’ at the bit for sunshine and ridable terrain to be back in the saddle and riding my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and my friend’s naturally gaited fox trotting mare Lady. Thankfully, I’m back riding again. I hope you are, too!

Lady FoxtrotFirst off, I have great news: Lady, my friend’s fox trotting horse, has officially become a part of my family. Lady has been boarded at my place the last three years and my friend feels called to other time commitments in life. She has turn Lady over to my care, yet she knows that any time she wants to ride, she is more than welcome!

At the same time, due to my aging parents, a full time job, and the demands of life, I had to part with my once-in-a-lifetime Spanish Mustang, Indy, who had made many of my life-long dreams come true: cross country, endurance, stadium jumping, trail obstacles, dressage, and more.

NAWD Basic 3 stretch trot 1
My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend showing a jog by allowing the horse to stretch its head and neck out and down.

Indy was missing our continual weekend adventures that I no longer had time for during my Dad’s grave illness and my Mom’s need for our assistance on the weekends. I sold him back to the owner I purchased him from. Now Indy is living the trail horse dream. Here’s Indy’s story»

050617 Lady jumpingOn the bright side, Lady possesses many of Indy’s brave qualities, so who knows, after we get her canter consistently well established on both leads, maybe we’ll be back competing at these same events–only as a gaited duo!

So, now that it’s been Spring, here’s what’s been percolating since I began riding…So much of my focus has been on the depth of stride from behind. Lately I’ve been contemplating about fore stride in addition to the hind leg stride as it relates to head nod, throughness, connection, balance, engagement, rhythm, shoulder scope, and following the horse’s natural movement with my arms and seat.  It seems the more I follow the natural motion of the horse, the more freedom I’m seeing in the horses I ride.

Video: Naturally Gaited Tennessee Walking Horse Flat Footed Walk

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Naturally Gaited Dream Ride

Balanced flatwalk

By Jennifer Klitzke

Have you ever had a special ride with your naturally gaited horse that you replay in your memory as one of those “dream rides”?

I had one of those “dream rides” today. Yes, it happened to be on a sunny, spring day after a week of gray rainy, no-ride days.

Never-the-less, my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Makana, was as happy to be ridden as I was riding her.

She had all of the ingredients for a dream ride: naturally balanced, relaxed, and forward with rhythm, and a beautiful head nod. We had harmony in our engaged, deep striding even four beat flat-footed walk. Makana felt soft and supple; relaxed yet energetic, and maneuverable and responsive to my leg, seat, and rein aids. She felt lifted in the head, neck, and withers with each deep-swinging head nod in timing with her hind leg steps.

Her head and neck nod came from thoroughness and connection: from the hindquarters, through her engaged abdominals which lifted her back and whither to lighten her forehand and free her shoulders and through my seat and following arms and hands with her head and neck motion to the bit.

I embraced every euphoric moment.

Yet, the exquisite steps didn’t last forever. No worry, each time I felt Makana lose her balance, by beginning to rush or lean into my hands, I would regroup with a half halt by stilling my seat and lower back and squeezing my hands on the reins to slow down her tempo. Then I lifted her head and neck with my hands massaging the reins upward with my palms facing up. As soon as she was no longer leaning on the bit, I asked for engagement from behind and tickled her belly with my heels to lift her back in a frame of balance, and sent her off into a proud flat-footed walk.

What an amazing feeling!

Video: Flat-footed Walk

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Gaited Dressage for the Trail Horse

by Jennifer Klitzke

Have you longed to learn dressage with your gaited horse, yet have a trail horse that detests arena work?

Not all horses are wired the same. That includes my friend’s naturally gaited horse Lady. My friend asked me to work with Lady and see if I could bring out a smooth gait—something between the dog walk and a hard bouncy trot.

I began riding Lady in the arena, because that’s how I’ve introduced dressage to all of the horses I’ve ridden over the years.

Lady is a marvelous trail horse, and I quickly discovered that she didn’t understand the purpose of repetitive 20-meter circles without a change of scenery!

Instead of fighting with her, I took Lady to her happy place—the trail. And that’s where we worked on our gaited dressage. We used natural obstacles to maneuver around such as trees and the fire pit. Then we would leg yield from one side of the path to the other, followed by a soft halt, gentle and slow rein back, to a walk, and then transition to her easy gait for a few strides before transitioning back to a walk.

Changing up the requests along the way did three things:

1) Instead of being a passenger, I became an active participant in our relationship,

2) It gave Lady a reason to stay dialed in to me instead of relying on her fight and flight instincts.

3) Working together developed a partnership of trust.

While on the trail Lady began to ride the elements of a low level dressage test, and she seemed to enjoyed herself.  Come to think of it, so did I. Our ride became a dance; a partnership. Lady became more relaxed, more balanced, and in more rhythm. She began to listen to me more without resistance and began to trust me more.

For me, dressage on the trail has become a new kind of training—training without walls in the beauty of nature which feeds my soul while freeing me of the rigidity and perfectionism that often plagues me in the arena.

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