Category Archives: Gaited Dressage

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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Relaxation, Softness & Engagement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

relaxation softness and engagement in the naturally gaited horse

Relaxation, Softness & Engagement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

Wowzers, was she ever a hot tamale! After five months of Minnesota winter off, this was Lady’s second ride of the Spring.

Lady is my friend’s naturally gaited fox trotting horse. She is ridden barefoot and in a snaffle bridle. In this riding session, we focused on relaxation (of mind and body), softness in the jaw, and engagement (stepping deeper under the body).

With a little persistence, gentleness, and encouragement, Lady settled into some rather nice fox trotting that was relaxed, soft, and balanced, with good rhythm and engagement.

Video: Relaxation, Softness & Engagement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

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Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

By Jennifer Klitzke

Most owners of gaited horse who have a pacey horse or a horse that cross canters don’t refine the pace and cross canter, they work to break up the lateral gait for a four-beat gait and true canter.

My gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson taught me that the pace and the cross canter are lateral movements while the trot and true canter are diagonal movements. Using trot over one or two ground rails can help break up the lateral movement for a more diagonal movement.

For the pacey horse, one or two ground rails can help break up the pace and help the horse learn to trot. One ground rail can help correct cross canter any time the hind legs are traveling in the wrong lead. When the horse hops over the ground rail they often correct the hind legs to the true lead.

For me, the most important aspects of this exercise is to establish:

  • Introduce the rails and lunge whip so the horse isn’t afraid of them.
  • Encourage the horse to find relaxation, balance, rhythm and impulsion at the walk, trot, and canter. If the horse gets tense or loses its balance, bring the horse down to a walk or trot and start over.
  • Teach the walk, trot and canter on cue and in a quality way of going to build the correct muscles. Don’t let the horse decide its gait, blast off into tension, or travel continually in a hollow ewe neck frame. Seek to teach gaits that build the top line muscles, encourage a deeper stride under the body, are balanced, and a develop a relaxed rhythm.

Video: Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

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2016 FOSH Gaited Dressage Winners

This year my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom and I gave Gaited Western Dressage a try through North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) Virtual Shows.

2016 was a year of firsts for all three gaited dressage winners

Friends of Sound Horse (FOSH) announced the award winners for the 2016 FOSH Gaited Dressage Program, a division of FOSH Gaited Sport Horse. This unique program recognizes and rewards gaited horses competing in the discipline of Dressage.

2016 entries included the Spotted Saddle Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, Missouri Fox Trotting Horse, and Rocky Mountain Horse. Eligible scores ranged from 62.8% to 74.50%. Eligible tests may be Live, Virtual, English or Western. Recognition was given in Two Gait, Introductory, Training, First, and Second Levels.

IJA Western Training 2 canter
Jennifer Klitzke riding her naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom at one of three North American Western Dressage Association Shows.

For my naturally barefoot and naturally gaited Tennesee walking horse, Gift of Freedom, this was the first we submitted entries for Western Dressage. While we have been award gaited dressage award winners in the FOSH gaited dressage category, this is the first time we have won in the Gaited Western Dressage division.

Loren Hilgenhurst Stevens riding Sosa’s Playboy at Sonset, a Tennessee Walking Horse.

I am thrilled to see gaited dressage grow! Congratulations to Sosa’s Playboy at Sonset, a Tennessee Walking Horse, owned by Nicole Mauser-Storer of Bartonville, IL who are a new entrant to the FOSH gaited dressage program. Not only did this duo submit seven test scores, they won the award for Training Level and achieved the highest score of 74.50%,.

Congratulations also to Cash-N-Out owned by Loren Hilgenhurst Stevens of Atkinson, NH who was a new entry in 2016. This Tennessee Walking Horse was the award recipient in the Two-Gait category, submitting six test scores.


To be eligible for awards in the FOSH Gaited Dressage Program, three scores of 60% and over must have been recorded in any level of Dressage competitions with a recognized judge. Tests must have been specifically developed and written for gaited horses. Recognized tests include IJA, NWHA, WDAA and Cowboy Dressage.

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Benefits of trotting the gaited horse on cue

 

Benefits of trotting the gaited horse on cue

Benefits of Trotting the Naturally Gaited Horse on Cue

By Jennifer Klitzke

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Never trot a gaited horse, because trot will ruin their easy gait?”

Who ever coined this myth maybe didn’t know there is a BIG difference between letting a gaited horse choose to trot off in a hollow fashion versus teaching a gaited horse to trot on cue in a quality way of going .The former is letting the horse train the rider. The latter is the rider training the horse.

Trotting the gaited horse isn’t for everybody and every horse, but if you ask me, teaching a gaited horse how to trot (or soft trot) on cue and in the right posture, has many benefits that can actually improve the quality of their easy gait. Trotting with back to front connection and engagement develops the top line muscles, rhythm, balance, forwardness, breaks up pace, and results in a deeper stride reaching under the body.

When my friend brought her trail horse, Lady, to my place, she had two gears: a dog walk and a hollow hard trot. My friend wanted to know if Lady had an easy gait in her, because she was told that Lady was a gaited horse.

I’ve ridden Lady on and off the last three summers. My strategy has been to speed up her walk just before she breaks into a hard trot in order to develop a smooth, easy gait on cue. It isn’t that showy, but it is smooth, and nothing beats Lady on the trail in her easy gait! It’s fun to ride, and we see a lot of the forest in a short amount of time.

Then last Fall, I began to ride Lady with more contact using a mild snaffle bit. Previous to this she had always been ridden trail style on a loose rein.

NAWD Intro 2
Lady in her easy gait while showing NAWD Intro 2

In July 2016, I entered Lady in her first dressage show—a North American Western Dressage (NAWD) Virtual Show which was open to gaited horses. I was thrilled that the show didn’t require that Lady be registered in order to enter. We rode NAWD Intro 2 which includes walk, freewalk, and substituting jog trot with gait. Lady was the only gaited horse competing against trotting horses and placed 5th of 9 horses with a score of 60.357%. For her first go at it, I was tickled!

The judge provided wonderful feedback. She said that overall Lady seemed tense in the bridle and lacking engagement. She pointed out a section in the test where Lady was moving well in relaxation and engagement and to shoot for more of that. This was very helpful feedback!

You see, for the last three summers, I’ve focused on developing a SMOOTH gait, not so much on producing engagement or connection.

So now that Lady has established smooth, I studied the video, took the judge’s feedback, and began to work on engagement and a soft connection with relaxation.

Lady’s response wasn’t rainbows and unicorns. She resisted the engagement by rushing off in shorter steps and then she blasted off into a hard, hollow trot.

Then I had an idea. Back in my trotting horse days, I spent many miles trotting in a rounded working frame on a 20-meter circle to develop the top line muscles, rhythm, balance, and engagement.

So that became my strategy for Lady any time she resisted engagement and connection with a soft contact in the easy gait. I asked for a quality TROT on cue.

Huh!? I know what you’re thinking: Why would I trot a gaited horse that I just broke from hard trotting?!

Let me explain. There is a big difference between Lady choosing to blast off in a hollow hard trot and me teaching her a quality trot on cue.

Lady’s hard trot was stiff in the jaw and back. Her under neck was bulging, and she ran away with me. Her hard trot was an evasion to get out of working in the easy gait. Left unchecked, this is an example of the horse training me, the rider.

Teaching Lady a quality trot on cue has many benefits. When riding her with a relaxed jaw, connection from back to front produces engagement, rhythm, balance, and strengthens the top line muscles. This type of trot produces depth of stride which improves the quality of her easy gait. It is an example of the rider training the horse.

quality trot
Teaching a gaited horse how to perform a quality trot (or soft trot as shown) on cue has many benefits: engagement, rhythm, balance, strengthening the top line muscles, and breaking up pace. This type of trot produces depth of stride which improves the quality of the easy gait.

Then after a few circles of quality trot on cue, I’d cue for the easy gait, and I am amazed how much better the easy gait has improved after a few circles of trot.

Easy gait after quality trot on cue
Lady’s easy gait improves in engagement, rhythm, and balance after a few 20-meter circles of quality trot on cue.

It didn’t take Lady long to prefer the engaged easy gait over the quality trot. My strategy was to ask for an engaged easy gait first, and if her response was resistance, then I cued for the quality trot. After a few training sessions, our trotting on cue became less and less to none at all, because she offered the engaged easy gait on cue without resistance.

In September 2016, I entered Lady in her second NAWD Virtual Dressage Show. Not only had Lady’s easy gait improved with engagement, but she placed second of 11 horses in NAWD Intro 2 with a score of 64.821%, and she was the only gaited horse!

Video: Gaited Horse NAWD Intro 2

Trotting the gaited horse isn’t for everyone or every horse. It has helped Lady and I establish more engagement in the easy gait and now that she is working in a quality engaged easy gait, with connection, rhythm and balance, we haven’t had to resort to the trot on cue.

Who ever coined the myth, never trot a gaited horse, because trot will ruin their easy gait, maybe didn’t know the difference between letting the gaited horse evade by trotting hollow at will and training the gaited horse to trot on cue in a quality way of going that brings about rhythm, relaxation, balance, and forwardness to develop engagement, a soft connection, a deeper stride beneath the body, and breaking up pace.

That’s where years of dressage lessons on trotting horses have paid off for me. I never imagined that I would be trotting a gaited horse. I got into the gaited thing for a SMOOTH ride, but in the end, that’s where we are now, because I discovered that Lady prefers an engaged smooth easy gait over an engaged trot any day. That makes us both happy!

Video: Benefits of trotting the gaited horse on cue 

I hope you find this video helpful. Please let me know your thoughts by completing the contact form.

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

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