Category Archives: Gaited Dressage

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


B.L.E.S.S.(ed) in 2009

Clinician Bucky Sparks began each day with a group lesson followed by private lessons.

By Jennifer Klitzke

Bucky Sparks returned for the fifth year to the Dirt Floor Arena in Proctor, MN for more 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


B.L.E.S.S.(ed) in 2008

Clinician Bucky Sparks

By Jennifer Klitzke

Gale force winds, heavy rain, lightning, thunder, dense fog, cold temperatures and tornado watches threatened our first day of the 2008 B.L.E.S.S. Your Horse Clinic with Bucky Sparks, owner of Walk The Dog Ranch in Cortez, Colorado.

Thankfully the clinic was held indoors. When the rain pounded on the aluminum roof and the wind rattled the aluminum siding, Bucky said, “It’s a good thing we don’t have any spooky horses here!”

Fortunately the weather improved dramatically by the second day. Just in time for the thunder of revving motors from the race track across the street. Wow, if you can ride through this, you can ride through anything!

I had audited the 2007 B.L.E.S.S. Your Horse Clinic and learned that B.L.E.S.S. stands for balance, looseness, engagement, softness, and soundness. I drank in as much knowledge as I could hold. You see, I’m pretty new at this gaited thing. While I’ve owned and ridden trotting horses for many years, I wonder why it took me so long to discover the super-smooth gait of a Tennessee walking horse.

Rider, Sonya Spease and I were like many MWHA members who registered for the clinic and put on a waiting list. It’s easy to understand, because this clinic is like no other, and Bucky is one of the most enthusiastic and encouraging clinicians I’ve ever experienced. Lucky for us, openings became available. I was one of several first-time clinic participants and new riders to the gaited thing. In all, there were 15 riders over four days. Each morning began with a group session followed by individual lessons.

Bucky gave humane and effective methods for a wide-range of training levels, from young and green horses to seasoned show horses with consistent rhythm and head nods. He worked with impulsive horses and lazy horses, experienced riders and newcomers to the gaited world. Bucky had excellent methods to develop trust with horses that had been rescued from soring, heavy pads, and harsh bits. He shared life-saving safety techniques for riders, and he demonstrated practical tips on how to work with a horse that doesn’t want to stand while being mounting.

Bucky’s contagious smile and encouraging words blessed every rider and horse. Each horse and rider combination left the clinic affirmed, renewed, and challenged for the riding season. Those who audited the clinic had gleaned just as much as those who had participated.

We witnessed many transformations in the four days; horses that paced became gaiting fools, bracing and stiff horses melted into round and relaxed things of beauty, and anxious riders became equipped with life-saving tools!

Much of Bucky’s training comes from years of successful showing, training, and breeding Tennessee walking horses, and mixing in the German-form of dressage and cowboy methods from the likes of Clinton Anderson. Bucky blends the best of these humane training methods to achieve balance, looseness, engagement, softness and soundness, and when orchestrated together, they produce a pure walking gait that is simply a joy to watch and ride.

Exercises included rein back, leg yield, stretching the bit, one-rein stop, flexing, curling and half halts.

Some of my favorite themes Bucky taught were:

“Head up: bad. Head down: good.”
When a horse’s head is up, the horse isn’t listening to the rider, and it is using the reacting side of its brain. In addition to not looking very attactive, a reactive horse can unexpectedly spook, bolt, or rear and place its rider in potential danger.

Softness and suppleness will help a horse lower its head and neck and help it relax and use the thinking side of its brain. In addition to looking more attactive, a relaxed, thinking, and listening horse is much safer for the rider to be on.

Leg yields, curling exercises (raising the inside rein and applying the inside leg), one-rein stops are all effective tools to soften and lower the horse’s head and neck. Not only is this practical, but it’s beautiful to watch a horse in a round and soft frame and a pleasure to ride.

“One-rein stops will save your life.”
Horses are safer when they are flexed to the side because it significantly reduces their ability to bolt, spook or rear. One-rein stops work best when practiced often.

Here’s how: At a halt, simply take contact with one rein to your side and bring the horse’s nose to your foot. When the horse relaxes, release. Do this several times on each side with every ride before walking off. Then practice one-rein stops at a walk and release when the horse comes to a complete stop.

One-rein stop helps the horse relax and get into the thinking side of their brain. It also helps make them soft and supple. If a horse begins to act unsafe, apply a one-rein stop.

“Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.”
My horse had developed a bad habit of walking off before I was in the saddle.  Bucky said, “You can’t make a horse stand. Instead, help the horse realize that standing still while mounting is easier than moving.”

Here’s how: While on the ground, we simply bent Makana’s nose to the saddle until she stood still. Then we rewarded her by removing the pressure and slightly relaxed the rein contact. That’s when I attempted to get on. Makana began to walk off before I was in the saddle, so we bent her nose to the saddle while she walked and we didn’t release the contact until she stopped moving. When she stopped, then we relaxed the rein slightly. After a few minutes my horse realized it was easier to stand than to move while I got on.

I haven’t had a mounting issue with my horse since the clinic.

Rider Sonya Spease said, “I have attended three of the B.L.E.S.S. clinics. These are the best clinics I have ever attended, and prove wrong those who say a horse will never gait if worked in a snaffle or if not worked consistently. Bucky reinforces that I am working on the correct training methods and encourages me to work my horses when I can even if I don’t have much time.”

Rider Meredith Hinnekamp said, “Bucky has such a personal and positive way of communicating with each rider. His humble and honest stories make interesting teaching tools.” She added that Bucky showed her active and productive methods to use with her sensitive horse, Libby. Meredith said, “Instead of a power struggle, we can move forward in her training. His tools help focus her energy and help her feel security when she questions learning new things. Bucky gave me tools to be safe, comfortable, and happy.”

For more about Bucky Sparks, visit


Long and low

Riding your horse in a long and low frame will improve the quality of all gaits. Freewalk on a long rein is a great way to start a young green horse, as well as begin and end every ride on a horse of any level of training.

The DVD “Training the Gaited Horse from the Trail to the Rail” by Gary Lane with Anita Howe shows vintage footage of foundation Walking Horses along with footage of today’s Walking Horses, and offers tips to resolve common gait problems such as pacing and hard trotting in the gaited horse by using long and low. Anita builds her foundation in the easy-gaits by encouraging a forward flat walk in a long and low frame. Over weeks or months of consistent work and after the horse has developed its muscles and established a consistent four-beat step, more speed is added .