Category Archives: Gaited Dressage

2011 BLESS Clinic

Jennifer Klitzke riding Gift of Freedom at the 2011 BLESS Your Walking Horse Clinic with Bucky Sparks

By Jennifer Klitzke

June 5-6, 2011 marked my fourth trip with Gift of Freedom to Proctor, MN for the B.L.E.S.S. Your Walking Horse Clinic with Bucky Sparks. And yes, clinic participant Barb Nunke said it best, “The sun really does shine in Proctor!” No parkas, rain suits, or knives to cut through the thick Proctor fog this year.

For me, the 2011 BLESS Clinic was all about breaking through the mystery about contact. How do I ride a head-shaking horse with contact? Do my hands move with the motion? Do I keep the reins slack so that I don’t bump the horse’s mouth with each nod?

Not interrupting the head-nod was the main reason I switched to an Imus Comfort Bit, but a curb and a snaffle function differently. A curb bit has leverage and poll pressure that a snaffle does not, and for dressage, a snaffle is essential in training the lateral movements, and it is the only legal bit in showing at the lower levels.

While I love how free Makana moves in the Imus Bit without contact, Bucky helped us ride forward into a light (not loose) contact without stopping. This was simply breakthrough for us!  A training level frame we get, and now Bucky has helped us capture impulsion into the outside rein for a first level dressage frame.

We began the exercise at a flatwalk on a 20 meter circle with a shoulder-fore position. As Bucky’s German schoolmaster would say, “You need to ride shoulder-fore for the rest of your life.” Shoulder-fore can be ridden on a circle and a straight line where the horse is slightly bent to the inside. You should see the inside eye of the horse, and the horse should bend slightly through the poll, neck, rib cage, and spine. The outside rein helps keep the horse from overbending the neck and popping the outside shoulder.

On our second day, Bucky helped us school second and third-level movements as shoulder-in, hauches-in, traver, and renver. He helped bring awareness to the rib cage. Whenever Makana was stiff on the inside rein, it was because she was stiff in the rib cage. Once we established bend through the rib cage by applying inside leg at the girth and outside slightly back to hold the haunches from falling out, Makana became soft and round and light on the inside rein through these exercises. Once we learn these movements fluently at a walk, they can be ridden at a flatwalk.

According to Bucky the shoulder-in and haunches-in are three-track movements and the traver and renver are four-track movements. All four exercises help establish balance, suppleness and softness, a more upright frame, and contact.

For more about Bucky Sparks, visit


Dressage Schooling Show Open to Gaited Horses

gaited dressage
Jennifer Klitzke riding Gift of Freedom at the May 2011 Walker’s Triple R Schooling Dressage Show.

A lovely spring day blessed 21 horse/rider teams at the Walker’s Triple R schooling dressage show held May 15, 2011. I rode my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare, Gift of Freedom, She was the only gaited horse entered among Friesians, Warmbloods, Arabians, and Thoroughbreds and placed second in both First Level tests with scores of 65.9% and 63.9%.


Photo Gallery»

Video: First Level Test 1»


Gaited Dressage: Rocking R Farm Dressage Show

Gift of Freedom and Jennifer Klitzke scored a 68.1% on their Gaited First Level dressage test at Rocking R Farm dressage show held on Sunday, October 15, 2010.

Gift of Freedom was the only gaited horse entered. She did wonderfully in her First Level test with a high score of 68.1%!

Judge Mary Spaeth who has been officiating dressage shows for 26 years had never seen a gaited horse ride to a dressage test. Although she didn’t know how to score the flat walk and running walk, her collective remarks include, “Fluid, obedient and willing – shows harmony and confidence.”


FOSH Gaited Dressage First Level Video>



Walkers Triple R Dressage Schooling Show

Jennifer Klitzke riding Gift of Freedom at the Walkers Triple R Schooling Show held Sunday, September 19.

Our First Dressage Schooling Show

A beautiful fall day, lovely horses of various breeds, and warm and wonderful people of all ages graced this summer’s third well-organized schooling dressage show held at Walkers Triple R Farm in Cambridge, MN on September 19, 2010. This was Gift of Freedom’s (Makana) first dressage show, and we entered not expecting to place since we were riding with trotting horses. Makana is a Tennessee walking horse and I planned on riding her flat walk in lieu of the trot (sitting of course).

To my amazement, Makana did exceptionally well riding with Friesians, warmbloods, thoroughbreds, Arabians, and quarter horses with high scores of 68% and 66% in Training 1 and 4 tests. She rode relaxed and confident, took correct leads, and made smooth transitions on each letter. She scored an “8”on her free walk on a long rein and did very well in her canter work. We took a hit in the overall gait score since we were not able to show the trot. Yet we took home second place in both classes against 13 other horses/riders.

Among the comments at the end of our first test, judge Jenny Zimmerman asked, “Is there anything your horse won’t do for you?” I remarked, “Yes, trot!” We laughed. She said that my horse could probably learn that too, but I think I’ll pass. After all, that’s the reason I bought a gaited horse.

I can’t say enough about how well organized this show was and how friendly the people were. Organizers Judy and Mike mentioned that these were among the top priorities as they planned this summer’s three shows. The facilities were well laid out with plenty of warm up area. Intro tests were held in the indoor arena and arenas were available for horses to warm up prior to classes. This made it much less intimidating for horses new to showing and helped build their confidence. The scary trailer seemed to lose its power after a few practice laps.

While conversing with several people, I learned of a schooling dressage show held on Sunday, October 10 at Rocking R Ranch in Foley, MN that even offers gaited dressage classes. I met several dressage riders who own gaited horses and several others who know dressage riders with gaited horses in the area. This is utterly exciting to know that there are others out there blending dressage riding with gaited horses. I never imaged that I’d return to showing dressage on a horse that doesn’t trot!


B.L.E.S.S.(ed) in 2010

By Jennifer Klitzke

Breaking through the Proctor fog was the sunny smile and personalized teaching of F.O.S.H. Clinician Bucky Sparks. He brought along some new tools to share from his training toolbox. This marked Bucky’s sixth consecutive 2,000-mile trip to Minnesota. He imparted wisdom to riders and auditors who had traveled from all corners of Minnesota and Wisconsin for the clinic held June 4-7, 2010 in Proctor, MN.

Bucky’s toolbox is filled with effective training techniques geared to B.L.E.S.S. the horse. B.L.E.S.S. stands for balance, looseness, engagement, softness, and soundness. In fact, everything Bucky teaches, he applies to the horses he trains and shows. You’ll see him successfully showing barefoot (the horse that is) and in a snaffle bridle.

This year, we saw dramatic transformations in many returning horses. Ones that had paced are now solid in their flat walks. Horses that had started the canter last year worked on softness and balance through simple changes and counter canter. Other horses that have mastered the basics worked on improving collection and engagement through lateral exercises like shoulder-in, haunches-in, and leg yielding.

One of Bucky’s new tools introduced this year was “breaking it down” which helps a young horse stay focused and not “take two steps of stupid,” as Bucky says.

Breaking it down redirects the attention of the horse away from doing something dangerous to listening to the rider. It is also effective for horses that have developed a habit of bracing in the neck and poll. Breaking it down applies a tug and release of one rein with some leg pressure as the horse moves forward. It redirects the horse to relaxation when they realize there is nothing to brace against.

To view photos and videos of the B.L.E.S.S. Clinic, visit Naturally Gaited on  Facebook.

For more about Bucky Sparks, visit