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.
Have you ever dreamed about riding along the ocean coast? It’s been a dream of mine, and it came true—but there was a catch. I had to ride in a Marti Gras parade on a horse that had never been in one.
In January I had a week free before beginning my new job and learned that Jennie Jackson was training at Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center near Mobile, Alabama. So I took a spontaneous four-day trip South to briefly escape the arctic blast.
“Make sure you stay through Saturday,” Jennie said, “so that you can ride the ocean coast and in the Dauphin Island Marti Gras parade.”
Ocean coast? Wow! Not only would I be Jennie’s working student and ride several Tennessee walking horses at various stages of training each day, but I would be riding the ocean coast—a dream come true!
I didn’t realize how special this opportunity was until I arrived. Dauphin Island only allows horses on the beach once a year and that’s only for horses that are trailered in for their Marti Gras parade.
Speaking of Marti Gras, Like most people, I thought Marti Gras was an annual event exclusive to New Orleans. Turns out Marti Gras originated in Mobile, Alabama and is celebrated for several weeks throughout the South until Lent begins.
On the third day of riding with Jennie, I met Abbie, a six-year-old Tennessee walking horse mare who reminded me of my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana. Abbie would be the horse I’d ride on the beach and in the parade. Neither she nor I had ever ridden the ocean coast or in a parade, so I did my best to establish trust and team work.
Abbie and I took a nice trail ride with one of the boarders while Jennie taught lessons. We rode up and down hills, alongside a beautiful aqua marine lake with rust colored sand, through the woods, over felled trees, and through creeks. Back at the Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center, Abbie and I negotiated their extensive trail obstacle course . I felt like we had connected well.
The next morning a group of us trailered to Dauphin Island through the grey skies and rain. Thankfully the sun broke through the clouds for our beach ride and parade.
The first one in the ocean was Jennie Jackson and her famous stallion Champagne Watchout. He LOVES the water and gave the rest of the horses confidence to step into the wavy shoreline. In no time we were flat walking the ocean coast. It wasn’t as romantic as I had pictured in my mind—galloping carefree through the water in a long flowing gown—but it was FUN!
Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center fosters a community of wonderful people who enjoy a variety of disciplines with their gaited horses: dressage, trail riding, competitive trail obstacles, jumping and cross country, parades, mounted patrol, and more.
After our beach ride, our group dressed up in purple, green and gold, adorned in beads, and rode four miles along the city streets to the beginning of the parade route.
Thanks to Abbie and the great group of people from Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center, I not only rode on the ocean coast, but I also rode eight miles through cheering crowds, horns, loud music and flying beads and couldn’t stop smiling the entire time!
When I first bought my naturally gaited TWH Makana, Candace Rundell was one of the first friends I made with the Minnesota Walking Horse Association. How she acquired her naturally gaited Spotted Saddle Horse, Yankee Doodle Mandy, is heroing on its own. Yet it is the adversity I witnessed this duo face which exemplifies a shining example of hope, a trusting partnership, and what is possible when you persevere to never let up on your dreams.
Every Horse is Good for Something
By Candace Rundell, Guest Writer
I’ve been horse crazy as long as I can remember and owned my first horse at the age of 9. Gaming and trail riding on the bouncy variety were my gig until I became acquainted with a naturally smooth gaited Spotted Saddle Horse in an unexpected way.
In 2003, my sister and I went to an auction, and I was drawn to a 1993 black and white Tobiano Spotted Saddle Horse mare named Yankee Doodle Mandy (Jazzy). After talking with the seller, I tested out Jazzy’s naturally smooth gait. I liked her a lot, only I didn’t come to the auction to buy. I wasn’t in a place to take on a horse.
When the auction began, my sister and I noticed that not all of the horses were getting sold to good homes. We were sickened to learn that the horses no one bid on were being sold to the “kill buyer.”
Just as my sister and I were ready to leave, Jazzy’s owner caught up to us and said that no one had bid on her. The owner explained that she was pregnant and had promised her husband that she wouldn’t return home with the horse. I saw her husband anxiously waiting by their rig and ready to get going. The woman said in a panic, “It’s either you or the “kill buyer.”
My sister reached into her purse and wrote out a check for $600, and that’s how my first gaited horse entered my life.
“Every horse is good for something.”
Although Jazzy had a smooth ride, we were off to a rocky start. She was rather wild and used to charge at me which gave me quite a scare. After we overcame that hurdle, it took 45 minutes to saddle her and another 45 minutes to get on her back.
Remembering what Seabiscuit’s trainer, Tom Smith once said, “Every horse is good for something,” I set out to become educated about naturally gaited horses and the Spotted Saddle Horse breed. I joined the Minnesota Walking Horse Association (MWHA) and began attending clinics.
Slowly over time Jazzy and I developed a trusting bond, and she blossomed into a wonderfully reliable trail mount. In 2004, Jazzy and I became the MWHA Adult Trail Riding Reserve Champion.
Back in my younger years when I rode trotting horses, I gamed a lot. So in 2006, I entered Jazzy at a local show which offered two-gait game classes. That year we won the 2006 WSCA Free Spirit Riders Spring Fun Payday Walk Trot (two gait) High Point.
Then Jazzy and I rode at a MWHA sponsored B.L.E.S.S. your gaited horse clinic with Bucky Sparks. At this clinic those who watched our rides encouraged me to give gaited breed shows a try. Up until that point showing Jazzy in rail classes had never occurred to me.
So in 2009, I began showing Jazzy at gaited breed shows. To my surprise and delight, Jazzy earned Champion in Country Pleasure Amateur Owned and Trained 2 Gait, Reserve Champion Country Pleasure English 2 Gait, Reserve Champion Country Pleasure Western 2 Gait at the MWHA Celebration Show, and we became the 2009 MWHA Trail Riding Champion.
Looking ahead to 2010, I set a goal for Jazzy and I to develop our canter and travel to Missouri for the North American Pleasure Horse Championships.
Before the 2010 show season began, Jazzy sustained a serious eye injury in the pasture. I was devastated to learn that she would lose her eye. During the surgery, Jazzy developed atrial fibrillation from the anesthesia which caused a permanent irregular heartbeat. I feared that she wouldn’t be ride-able again, or worse, that I’d have to put her down.
“You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.”
Thankfully Jazzy recovered from surgery quickly, and my confidence grew when I began riding Jazzy and discovered that she had become even more responsive and wiling than when she had two eyes!
Seabiscuit’s trainer, Tom Smith once said, “You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.” So just two months after surgery, I took Jazzy to a cutting horse clinic. Not only was she the only one-eyed horse at the clinic, but she was the only gaited horse, and the clinician used her as the demonstration horse because of how soft and responsive she was.
Losing an eye didn’t stop us from pursuing our goals and reaching our dreams. Jazzy and I went on to a stellar 2010 show season. Jazzy earned Champion Country Pleasure English 2 Gait and Champion Country Pleasure Western 2 Gait at the 2010 MWHA Celebration Show before traveling to the North American Pleasure Horse Championships in Missouri to be crowned with a National SSH 3 Gait Grand Championship!
Since 2010, Jazzy and I have gone on to become an ambassador for naturally gaited horses and the Spotted Saddle Horse breed. Jazzy has participated in parades, mounted shooting, cattle work, English and western rail classes, reining, games, speed events, trail trials, and has been a flag bearer. Not only that, but Jazzy is an easy keeper and in good weight—even in the harshest of winters. She has GREAT feet, too, and has never needed shoes.
As Jazzy turned 22 this year she will retire to a life of trail riding for others who want to come and ride with me as I train and show my other naturally gaited Spotted Saddle Horses.
Indeed, every horse is good for something. I am so glad that I pressed on through the rough beginning to experience the partnership Jazzy and I have developed and all we have accomplished together—even after losing an eye.
Candace Rundell and Yankee Doodle Mandy’s Impressive Show Record 2004 MWHA Adult Trail Riding Reserve Champion
2006 WSCA Free Spirit Riders Spring Fun Payday Walk Trot (2 Gait) High Point
2009 MWHA Celebration Champion Country Pleasure Amateur Owned and Trained 2 Gait
2009 MWHA Celebration Reserve Champion Country Pleasure English 2 Gait
2009 MWHA Celebration Reserve Champion Country Pleasure Western 2 Gait
2009 MWHA Trail Riding Champion
2010 MWHA Celebration Champion Country Pleasure English 2 Gait
2010 MWHA Celebration Champion Country Pleasure Western 2 Gait
2010 North American Pleasure Horse Championships, Sedalia, MO
Spotted Saddle Horse Western 3 Gait Grand Champion
Spotted Saddle Horse Western 2 Gait Reserve Champion
Spotted Saddle Horse Youth Reserve Champion
Hi 7 Reserve Champion
Spotted Saddle Horse Division Champion with 88 points
2010 AHAGN OSIP Pleasure/Performance Champion
2010 AHAGN OSIP Game Champion
2010 MWHA Country Pleasure Champion
2011 SSLCF Walk Trot (2 Gait) High Point
2011 MWHA MN Celebration 3 Gait Country Pleasure Champion
2011 MWHA MN Celebration Youth Country Pleasure Champion
2011 MWHA Country Pleasure 2 Gait High Point Champion
2011 MWHA Country Pleasure 3 Gait High Point Champion
2011 MWHA Country Pleasure Youth High Point Reserve Champion
2011 AHAGN OSIP Pleasure/Performance Champion
2012 Kutaways Spring Payday Senior High Point
2012 Countryside Saddle Club Spring Show Senior Plus Pleasure High Point
2012 MWHA MN Celebration Country Pleasure 3 Gait Reserve Champion
2012 SSLCF Walk Trot (2 Gait) High Point
2012 Northwood’s Saddle Club INC Pleasure Reserve Champion
2012 Northwood’s Saddle Club INC All Around Champion
2012 SSHBEA OIP
Western Horsemanship Champion
Western Pleasure Champion
English Pleasure Champion
2012 AHAGN OSIP Pleasure/Performance Champion
2012 AHAGN OSIP Game Champion
2012 Minnesota Walking Horse Association
2 gait Country Pleasure Reserve Champion
3 gait Country Pleasure Champion
2012 MWHA Horse of the Year
2013 SSLCF Pleasure / Performance High Point
2013 MWHA MN Celebration ADP 3 Gait Champion
2013 DFA Summer show 35+ Pleasure High Point
2013 Brew City Classic Charity Show ADP 3 Gait Reserve Champion
2013 ASCA All Around Pleasure Reserve Champion
2013 ASCA English Pleasure Reserve Champion
2013 ASCA English Equitation Reserve Champion
2013 DFA 35+ Game Champion
2013 DFA 35+ Pleasure Champion
2013 Tri-State 3 Gait Country Pleasure Champion
2013 MWHA Country Pleasure 3 Gait Champion
2013 SSHBEA OIP Adult Overall Champion
Saddle Seat Champion
Trail Obstacle Champion
2014 SSLCF Pleasure Reserve High Point
2014 Mn Celebration Champion English ADP 3 Gait
2014 MN Celebration ADP West 3 Gait Champion
2014 Brew City Classic ADP 3 Gait Reserve Champion
2014 Tri-State ADP English 3 Gait Champion
2014 Tri-State ADP Western 3 Gait Champion
2014 Tri-State Model Reserve Champion
2014 DFA Senior Plus Pleasure Champion
2014 SSHBEA OIP Adult Overall Champion
English Pleasure Champion
English Equitation Champion
Western Pleasure Champion
Western Horsemanship Champion
Trail Obstacle Champion
2014 Tri-State Horse of the Year
2014 MWHA Reserve Champion Model, Champion
ADP 3 Gait, Champion Versatility
2015 Free Spirit Riders Spring High Point
2015 DFA Spring Reserve High point Pleasure
2015 DFA Spring Reserve High point games
2015 SSLCF Reserve High Point Pleasure
2015 MWHA MN Celebration ADP 2 Gait Reserve Champion
2015 MWHA MN Celebration ADP 3 Gait Champion
2015 DFA Summer High Point Pleasure
2015 WSCA DFA Buckle Series Reserve Champion High Point Pleasure
2015 WSCA DFA Buckle Series 3rd High Point Games
2015 Brew City Classic ADP 3 Gait Western Reserve Champion
2015 Brew City Classic SSH 2 Gait Western Reserve Champion
2015 Brew City Classic ADP 3 Gait English Reserve Champion
2015 Brew City Classic AOT 2 Gait Reserve Champion
2015 Tri-State All Day Pleasure Amateur 3 Gait
2015 Tri-State All Day Pleasure Western 3 Gait
2015 SSHBEA OIP Overall Adult Champion Candace Rundell
2015 SSHBEA OIP Champion Yankee Doodle Mandy
Qualified for WSCA Champ Show 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015
Candace Rundell and her husband own The Last Resort Farm in Brookston, MN where they rescue, breed, raise and train Spotted Saddle Horses. Candace is a SSHBEA Certified Inspector and SSHBEA Outreach Incentive Program Chair.
I hope you enjoyed reading Candace’s story about her partnership with her versatile Spotted Saddle Horse mare Yankee Doodle Mandy. If you have a naturally gaited horse you’ve developed a special relationship with and ride gaited dressage or versatility, and would like to share your story on NaturallyGaited.com, please contact me by completing the contact form. —Jennifer Klitzke
Exciting news arrived in the mail! I received a letter from The Humane Society of the United States announcing that my naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) and I have received an award and grant from The Humane Society of the United States “Now, That’s a Walking Horse” (NTAWH) program.
Cheryl Jacobson, Deputy Director, Equine Protection of The Humane Society of the United States writes:
“Your application showcases the sort of approach to training of Tennessee Walking Horses that the NTAWH program hopes to promote. This includes correct training of horse and rider without the use of artificial enhancements or aggressive shoeing techniques while focusing on the gymnastic development as a way to improve and establish the gaits of the Walking horse.”
“We are further impressed by your volunteer efforts to “spread the word.” The best promotion for the breed is a good example. It is clear that you have provided that, sharing the good news about the natural Walking horse to the trotting as well as to gaited enthusiasts who have seen the limitless potential in the breed in new ways because of your efforts.”
A couple years ago The Humane Society of the United States began to offer an award program called “Now, That’s a Walking Horse” which recognizes individuals who demonstrate natural and humane ways of training their Tennessee Walking Horses(s). This year, I pulled the material together and applied for this recognition award and grant.
I’ve been an avid dressage rider since 1988 with trotting horses and on Valentine’s Day 2007, my husband caved in a moment of weakness and said “yes” to one more horse. I purchased my first naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), just before she turned three years old. She had been selectively bred by a private family farm, imprinted and raised, and had 20 rides on her. Initially I was struck by her black beauty, and then her friendly “meet me at the fence” personality stole my heart.
I had no intentions of showing her—especially dressage—because I thought dressage was only for horses that trot.
I had no intentions of showing her—especially dressage—because I thought dressage was only for horses that trot. I just wanted a smooth horse to ride that would be easier on my aging body. However, since dressage had been the only riding style I had studied, that’s what became our training language.
Later on I joined a local Tennessee Walking Horse association. They pleaded with members to show at the county fair for fear that classes would be cancelled due to a low number of entries. So being a good sport, I took my then four-year-old TWH mare to her first rail class show. To my amazement, Makana came alive in the show ring. We had so much fun I showed her at TWH rail classes for three years where she earned Trail Pleasure Champion in 2010 with the Minnesota Walking Horse Association. Makana has always been ridden and shown barefoot and in a mild snaffle bit or Imus Comfort Gait Bit.
Video: Minnesota State Fair TWH Stakes Class (the only barefoot horse competing in the class)
Video: Minnesota Horse Expo TWH Demonstration Team
Video: Gaited Dressage Demonstration
at a Traditional Dressage Ride-A-Test Clinic
Video: Endurance Riding with a Gaited Horse
Video: Sorting Cows with a Gaited Horse
Video: Gymnastic Jumping with a Gaited Horse
Video: Gaited Dressage
I never imagined that I’d be back in the dressage arena after a 16-year lapse on a horse that didn’t trot!
In 2010, I saw a post on craigslist.com advertising a schooling dressage show near my home. I called the show manager and asked if I could ride my gaited horse in flat walk instead of trot. The show manager agreed and that’s when we made the switch to showing gaited dressage. I never imagined that I’d be back in the dressage arena after a 16-year lapse on a horse that didn’t trot!
Since 2010, Makana and I have ridden over 55 gaited dressage tests at open USDF schooling dressage shows and have been the only gaited entry among the trotting horses. Being the odd ball at these events has sparked great conversations. Many people ask what breed my horse is and when I tell them she is a Tennessee Walking Horse they are wonderfully surprised to see a barefoot and naturally gaited TWH moving in a smooth four-beat gait without heavy shoes, artificial enhancements, or a harsh bit.
The main reason I bring my naturally gaited Walking horse to schooling dressage shows is to get feedback from a professional as to where we are at in our training. Plus, dressage tests force me and my horse to face all of the required movements ridden in both directions. The difficult ones would be easy to avoid if I were just hacking at home.
In 2014, my naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, Gift of Freedom, was named Champion in Training Level, Champion in First Level, and received the Highest Percentage Award in 2014 by Friends of Sound Horses (F.O.S.H.).
2015 Gaited Dressage Competitions
In 2015, my naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, Gift of Freedom, and I competed at five USDF open dressage schooling shows and rode 10 NWHA Training Level and First Level gaited dressage tests. We were the only gaited horse entry among trotting horses at these shows which always opens the door to wonderful conversation with fellow competitors and onlookers. Nine times out of ten, people say that they own a gaited horse for trail riding, and it had never occurred to them that dressage training methods could actually improve their communication and partnership with their horse on the trail until seeing it in action!
Beginning in 1988, I took 12 years of regular dressage lessons and showed my Trakehner/thoroughbred gelding SeilTanzer successfully at USDF recognized shows—Training Level through Second Level—until his retirement in 1996. Now with my Tennessee Walking Horse, I have resumed my dressage education by attending gaited dressage clinics with instructors who travel to my State, since no gaited dressage instructors teach nearby.
Among the clinicians who I have ridden with are Larry Whitesell, Jennifer Bauer,Bucky Sparks, and I have coordinated two gaited dressage clinics with Jennie Jackson in Minnesota (2013 and 2014). In March 2015, I traveled to Tennessee to ride at a Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite clinic.
In addition to training and showing gaited dressage, I launched www.NaturallyGaited.com in 2010 as a means to promote natural and humane training methods for gaited horses using dressage. This blog features stories, photos, videos, and information about how dressage can improve the quality of natural four-beat gaits without the use of abusive handling, heavy shoes, harsh bits, and artificial gadgets or enhancements. I also participate and promote natural barefoot trimming.
“Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in.”
Readers of www.NaturallyGaited.com learn that dressage can help their trotty or pacey gaited horses smooth out as they develop relaxation, balance, rhythm, collection, and impulsion. Dressage training improves the rider’s skills, sense of feel and timing of the aids in communicating with the horse, and develops more harmony between the horse and rider relationship. In fact, dressage training improves the horse’s natural gait whether that be flat walk, foxtrot, or trot. Indeed “dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in.”
My naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse has introduced dozens of people—young and old—to the basics of gaited dressage as I offer lessons as a volunteer instructor at my hobby farm. I have also served as a volunteer foster care home and have trained and placed many horses for the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation. In 2010, my husband and I fostered, broke, and trained a three-year-old Arabian gelding and competed him at the 2010 Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse.
Over the last five years I have volunteered hundreds of hours providing graphic design, story writing, and photography for the Minnesota Walker publication for the Minnesota Walking Horse Association and cover designs for the Heritage Highlights publication for the International Heritage Walking Horse Society. Both non profit organizations are supporters of humanely treated naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horses.
The NTAWH award includes a grant to use in furthering my gaited dressage education with my mentor Jennie Jackson to which I am so grateful. Not only has Jennie Jackson accomplished what no other person in history has by training and showing a Tennessee Walking Horse to the highest levels of dressage, but Jennie and her husband Nate have been on the front lines for over 30 years fighting against the soring and abuse that has tarnished the TWH industry. I am humbled to know them as mentors and friends.
I am honored to receive this recognition award by the United States Humane Society “Now That’s a Walking Horse” Program and am so thankful to obtain a grant to further my gaited dressage training with my mentor Jennie Jackson.
Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in!