Category Archives: Naturally Gaited Horse Stories

Tribute to a Legend: Champagne Watchout

Tribute to a Legend Champagne Watchout

By Jennifer Klitzke

With deepest and heartfelt sympathy to Jennie Jackson, Nate, and their family in the sudden loss of their legendary naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse stallion: Champagne Watchout, who passed away on July 17, 2017 at the age of 24.

In the 1980s Jennie Jackson began applying and perfecting dressage methods of training to gaited horses. Then in 1998 she introduced dressage as a humane training alternative for Tennessee walking horses. She began to apply dressage training methods with her naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse stallion Champagne Watchout. The two defied the critics and rose through the levels of dressage [en gaite].

spanish walk
Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout performing the Spanish Walk.

In 2006, Jennie and Champagne Watchout were the first duo in history to perform dressage en gaite at The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. The duo demonstrated never-seen-before Prix St. George movements en gaite as piaffe, passage, half pass, Spanish walk, as well as canter pirouette, and tempe changes.

Champagne Watchout at Alltech
Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout performing at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

In 2010, Jennie and Champagne Watchout were formally invited to exhibit their dressage en gaite musical freestyle at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Champagne Watchout became the official Tennessee walking horse breed representative.

Video: Jennie Jackson and 16-year old Champagne Watchout performing their dressage en gaite musical freestyle at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games at Lexington Kentucky Horse Park in 2010

As a life-long student of dressage, I have always longed to achieve piaffe, passage, canter half pass, pirouette, and tempe changes with my trotting horses and now with my naturally gaited horses. In my opinion, Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout are naturally gaited dressage legends! They performed these difficult movements en gaite with ease—something many claimed was impossible for a gaited horse.

In addition to his striking looks and athletic moves, Champagne Watchout has a powerful, jaw-dropping, head-shaking, natural flat walk and running walk that turns heads at the rail class events. Champagne Watchout earned the right to compete in the 1999 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration World Grand Championship class. He was the first and ONLY naturally gaited flat shod entry competing among the traditional Big Lick horses.

Video: Champagne Watchout—First flat shod horse to compete at the 1999 TWHBEA World Grand Championship Tennessee Walking Horse Class

Encounters with the Golden One

Champagne WatchoutI was fortunate to have met Champagne Watchout on two occasions. In 2015 I traveled to Tennessee to ride at a Jennie Jackson Dressage for the Gaited Horse Clinic and I got to meet this gentle, golden stallion. Even with his winter fuzzies, Champagne Watchout was a standout.

Jennie and Watchout
Jennie Jackson riding her gaited dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.

The next year, I returned to the South to ride with Jennie Jackson as a working student. While I was there I had the privilege of watching Jennie ride her barefoot, 22-year-old gaited dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.

Back then Champagne Watchout was the ONLY Tennessee walking horse still living among those he had competed against in the 1999 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration World Grand Championship class.

I was privileged to watch Jennie ride Champagne Watchout at Amazing Gaits, piaffe and passage along the ocean coast, and dance to the music during the Marti Gras parade.

Jennie and Watchout
How long do you think the beads will last on this head shaking stallion? Champagne Watchout and Jennie Jackson enjoyed throwing beads to the Marti Gras parade patrons.

Champagne Watchout was the first horse eager to step into the wavy coastline and gave the rest of the Amazing Gait’s horses confidence. In no time all of us were flat walking in the ocean.

And through the Marti Gras parade at 22 years old Champagne Watchout still had all the moves!

We will never forget you, Champagne Watchout. You have inspired multitudes and left an amazing legacy that will live on.

Videos

Early years: Champagne Watchout at play and under saddle with Jennie Jackson

2012 Champagne Watchout with Jennie Jackson at the TWHBEA World Versatility Show

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Angels unaware

Gerald Filson

By Jennifer Klitzke

Many of you know me as an avid gaited dressage equestrian and the author of Naturally Gaited, but I am also a daughter of a gentle, kind and generous man with unwavering integrity and a brilliant mind who lost his battle to Alzheimer’s disease on January 25, 2017 at the age of 77. The day my Dad passed away, we had an angel encounter without even knowing it.

As a child, my Dad grew up around work horses, Dolly and Sally. His Grandfather was a blacksmith for the logging mill where horses earned their keep.

Unfortunately the love for horses didn’t gravitate to my Dad, so he didn’t raise me up with them. My Mom and Dad just prayed that I’d outgrow this insanity for horses.

Nope. Horses were in my blood, and it wasn’t until I moved out, acquired my first real job, and saved up my money that I bought my first horse in 1988. She was an off-the-track-thoroughbred named Seasons. I bought her for trail riding, jumping and dressage. Dad kept asking me when I’d be racing at Canterbury. He was sure we’d be a winner.

Me and Seasons 1988

Dad had great faith in me. His support was always with me whether or not I had a winning [race] horse.

In January 2017 I lost my Dad to a long and grueling battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Most people knew him as Jerry. I knew him as Dad.

He was a complex character of eclectic interests: an outdoorsman, a country western singer, a rose grower, a videographer, a polka dancer, and an artist.

Dad was a man of few words, a deep thinker, an off-the-chart introvert, and proud to be 100% Finnish.

He was a man of principle; quiet and reserved. Not an easy guy to strike a conversation with, unless you like to do all the talking. He wasn’t much for idle chit-chat at the water cooler. In fact, as Chief Design Engineer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, he was known for conducting staff meeting right before lunch in a room without chairs!

I knew my Dad as a kind, gentle, genuine, and generous man with unwavering integrity. I knew this, not by what my Dad said, but by how my Dad lived.

Me and Dad
Me and Dad 1964

My Dad was a wonderful provider for our family, a loyal husband to my Mom for 54 years, and he was a supportive father of two daughters, me and my sister, Julie. I saw his generosity throughout his life of serving others, notably his family, as well as decades of volunteer work with the Minnesota Horticultural Society, City of Cottage Grove, and the Lutheran church.

Whenever I had car trouble, my Dad would drop everything to help me. (My first car was a Ford Pinto, which explains just how often I needed his help!) That was every winter when my car wouldn’t start, every spring when my car got stuck in the mud, and every summer when my car would overheat. Not to forget the times I accidentally locked my keys in my car or got a flat tire. Dad would be there, greeting me with his delightful grin.

As a child my Dad taught me how to ride a bike. He ran alongside me to keep me steady until I found my balance and began pedaling on my own.

Dad taught me how to build the best paper airplanes, and he showed me how to construct and fly a kite.

Dad brought me fishing to places he fished in Northern Minnesota when he was a boy—places where the lunkers live. One summer, Dad took my family to the Boundary Waters where we canoed, portaged, and camped on our very own island.

Me, Mom and Sis at the Boundary Waters
Me, Mom and Sis at the Boundary Waters 1970 (Dad took the photo)

As a family we always ate dinner together, and on the weekend we’d do things like go bowling, go on picnics, or play catch with the softball. Dad even became our softball coach. One of my favorite memories was when we played the undefeated team. Whenever a fly ball came to right field, our fielder would hide behind her glove. On this particular day, the ball landed right in her glove. My Dad ran into the field and shook her hand!

Softball Coach
Dad coached my Sister’s and my softball team 1979

Over the years, my Dad had volunteered countless hours caring for the roses at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. In 2002, my husband and I were married there. My Dad walked me down the grassy aisle at the rose garden and then he captured the ceremony on video. It was a special day, a special place, and a special memory.

wedding
Dan and I married in the MN Landscape Arboretum Rose Garden 2002

When my husband and I moved to our farmhouse, my Dad gave me several rose plants he had started from seed. These are treasured keepsakes of my Dad every summer when they bloom.

Dad's Roses
Dad’s Roses

In 2010, Dad came to my college graduation and videoed the ceremony. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree and now both of his daughters had reached this milestone.

During this time Alzheimer’s began to steal my Dad away.

It didn’t seem fair. His parent lived sober-mindedly into their 90s. Dad thought he had longevity on his side. Mind over matter, Dad put up a good fight, but Alzheimer’s continued to erode away.

In 2012, our family took a last minute road trip to New Orleans and celebrate my Mom and Dad’s 50th Anniversary. I continued to take Mom and Dad on short road trips to Galina, IL, Munsinger Gardens, and the Apostle Islands before Alzheimer’s overcame Dad’s life.

Munsinger gardens 2014
Munsinger Gardens 2014

The last three years have been agonizing for my family, but Alzheimer’s doesn’t define who my Dad was, and Alzheimer’s doesn’t have a hold on him anymore.

I will always remember my Dad as a kind, gentle, genuine, and generous man with unwavering integrity. I miss you, Dad. I miss you.


The day after my Dad had passed away, my Mom, Sister and I met with the funeral Chaplain. She showed us the funeral program options. Among them was a cardinal. All three of us gravitated to this program because of my Dad’s great love for birds.

“Do you know the significance of the cardinal?” the Chaplain asked.

We shook our heads, no.

She said the cardinal is symbolic of those who have departed and come back to escort a loved one on to eternal life.

We burst into tears because just hours before Dad had passed away, a male and female cardinal had perched in the snowy tree outside of his room. It seemed odd as there were no bird feeders around, yet the pair perched in the tree for 15 minutes—long enough for their presence to be noticed. Dad was close to his parents who had both passed away just a few years before.

My Grandma had faith in Jesus, and I shared my faith in Jesus with Grandpa and Dad for the hope of eternal life.

There was no doubt in my mind that the male and female cardinal were angels God had sent to give us hope that Grandma, Grandpa, and Dad are with Jesus until one day we join them for eternity.

Video: Angels unaware

I love you forever, Dad. I love you forever.

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Upper Level Movements and the Naturally Gaited Horse

Piaffe in hand for the gaited horseBy Jennifer Klitzke

Should lower level horses wait to be schooled in shoulder in and rein back or is there a benefit to learning these exercises before Second Level? Is piaffe and passage only reserved for talented horses and riders (or only for horses that trot)? I think not, and here’s why. 

In 1996 I sat center line in the balcony at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna mezmorized watching the ivory Lipizzaner stallions being schooled in piaffe, passage, canter pirouettes, tempi changes, and airs above the ground. The dressage training pyramid of rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection was made complete right before my very eyes. It was a life-long dream come true!

Since 1988 I’ve been an avid student of dressage and have longed to experience piaffe and passage with my horses. Yet these movements are reserved for Intermediate and Grand Prix Levels of dressage, and thus far I have only shown through Second Level. In my Grandma age I was beginning to wonder if I would ever reach these levels of training.

can-german-and-french-dressage-co-existThen in the last year I purchased the DVD Classical versus Classique with Christoph Hess and Philippe Karl. Hess represents the German National Federation and Karl represents French Classical Dressage. Their lively conversation illuminates the rather stark differences between German and French dressage and made me realize that showing dressage and training dressage don’t have to be the same thing. From this DVD, French dressage trainer Philippe Karl gives me hope because he believes that the upper level movements can be performed by any horse, not just the talented ones. And the rather average horse at the age of 12 shown in the DVD learned all of the movements through piaffe and passage by its rider within ONE YEAR under Karl’s instruction!

While the USDF tests and levels make perfect progressive sense for the show ring, and align with the dressage pyramid of training, I no longer believe horses in lower levels need to wait to be schooled in higher level movements such as shoulder in, rein back, counted walk and piaffe in hand. Nor do I believe that piaffe and passage are only reserved for talented horses and riders (or only for horses that trot)!

Intro, Training, and First Levels don’t introduce shoulder in at a walk, rein back, counted walk, or piaffe in hand, yet these exercises provide wonderful benefits to the horse in terms of balance, engagement, connection, straightness, collection, and communication between the horse and rider (as long as the horse is relaxed in its mind and jaw). This is true for both horses that trot or gait. Plus, these movements teach the rider the feeling of balance as the horse bends the hindquarter joints, engages the abdominal muscles to lift the back, and rise up more through the withers.

It’s a fact that few riders and horses ever achieve the highest levels of competition dressage, and the majority of dressage riders never reach Second Level. So why should our horses miss out on training in balance through the benefits of rein back, shoulder in, counted walk, and piaffe in hand while we school the lower levels?

I made this mistake—for years—as an amateur trainer while I was schooling the lower levels with my Trakehner/Thoroughbred gelding. I only practiced the elements of the tests I was showing at. Since then, what I have realized is that this approach taught my horse rhythm, relaxation, and forwardness in a  long and low frame—on the forehand. Long and low is terrific, as long as it is in BALANCE. But balance wasn’t something I learned until I reached Second Level which was several years later.

If you are an amateur trainer like me, who has a full time career, family, and other obligations, plus the five-month-long Winter season and no indoor arena to stay in condition, it takes far longer to make training progress through the dressage levels. Consequently it took me several years to work my way through Second Level with my Trakehner/Thoroughbred and that’s when the tests introduced BALANCE demonstrated through shoulder in, rein back, and haunches in.

Sigh. So for several years, I had conditioned the muscle memory of my horse to carry himself on the forehand—with rhythm, relaxation, and forwardness. I had not developed the “feeling” of balance as a rider, because I had only performed the exercises the Level I was showing at called for.

For me, Second Level was like erasing the hard drive and starting over in our training. I had to learn the feeling of balance and retrain my horse from long and low on the forehand to engagement and connection in balance.

My horse and I would have been so much better off if I had introduced shoulder in, haunches in, and rein back while I was schooling the lower levels because of the balance these exercises produce. Plus, I would have learned the “feeling” of balance which would have helped me train my horse in the lower levels of long and low — in balance — instead of training my horse long and low onto the forehand. Remember, not all long and low is the same.

A few months ago, I purchased a DVD entitled Getting Started in Lightness: The French Classical Dressage of Francois Baucher as taught by Jean Claude Racinet presented by one of his students Lisa Maxwell. This DVD introduces rein back, shoulder in, introductory steps of piaffe, and other refreshing exercises such as the counted walk (something I had never heard of before but produces amazing results in balance: bending of the hindquarter joints, engagement of the abdominal muscles to lift the back, and lighten the forehand with a feeling of the withers rising up).

I immediately I noticed how light, happy, harmonious, engaged, relaxed (in mind and jaw), rhythmic, impulsive, and balanced Lisa’s horses are in this DVD. The horses aren’t fancy, just like my horses, yet they demonstrate some amazing transformations. So I began applying these exercises with all of the horses I ride—Intro through Second Level dressage.

While this DVD illustrates these exercises using trotting horses, I have seen remarkable improvement in balance, gait quality, and transitions with the naturally gaited horses I ride as a result of applying these exercises.

Progression of exercises: First I introduce leg yields along the fence. As soon as the horse understands the exercise, I introduce leg yields from the quarter line to the rail.

I do a lot of circle work with my horses beginning with a 20-meter circle and reducing the size as the horse is able to maintain balance, rhythm, relaxation (in mind and jaw), and softness in the mouth. I include true bends and counter bends on a circle.

As the horse can maintain balance in a 10-meter circle at a slow walk, I introduce to a few steps of shoulder in. After a 10-meter circle, I maintain the arc of the circle as I travel along the fence a few steps.

Over time I will increase the number of steps and increase the tempo from a slow walk to a medium walk as long as the horse remains in balance with relaxation, bending, impulsion, and rhythm. Then I will proceed with shoulder in at a flat walk or fox trot. I also do the shoulder in on a circle at a collected, medium walk and flat walk.

When the horse is forward in the mind and from the leg, I will introduce rein back and counted walk along the fence to help the horse remain straight. I only ask for a couple steps at a time in order to rebalance the horse. Then I begin teaching the piaffe in hand before asking for piaffe from the saddle.

Bottomline: I let the horse tell me what it needs vs. the level we are showing at. I introduce the next progression of exercises as the horse is able to maintain balance, relaxation in the mind and jaw, softness in the mouth, rhythm and forwardness.

canter-left canter-rightIn fact, the improved balance the rein back, shoulder in, and counted walk have established with my friend’s gaited horse, Lady, have built the balance needed to introduce canter to the right and left leads without chasing her into the canter.

Plus, Lady has developed a natural head nodding fox trot that is smoother than a Western jog! I feel that we have made dramatically greater training progress by introducing rein back, shoulder in, and counted walk than if we would have just continued traveling in 20-meter, long and low circles that the Intro Level calls for.

Naturally gaited and barefoot fox trot.
Naturally gaited and barefoot fox trot.

 

Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I knew in 1988 what I know now. At least I am becoming a rider with more awareness of the feeling of balance and believe I’m moving in a constructive training path of lightness, balance, harmony, and impulsion—especially in the lower levels. That’s not to say that I expect Grand Prix balance from an Intro Level horse; I just redirect the horse into the feeling of balance each time the horse leans on the bit or becomes heavy on the forehand and shoulders with exercises that improve balance, lightness, harmony, and impulsion. In any case, it transforms our training into more of an enjoyable dance.

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Sore No More: Rehabilitating a Big Lick Horse with Dressage

Sore no More

By Jennifer Klitzke

Can dressage training rehabilitate a former Big Lick Tennessee walking horse? Can dressage transform a tense, high-headed and hollow-backed frame into a relaxed posture that builds the top line? Can dressage break up a hard pace into a natural four-beat gait without heavy shoes and pads? Can dressage mend a damaged mind to develop trust in a rider, accept a soft snaffle contact, and respond willingly to leg aids without exploding? Can humane training methods prolong the life of a Tennessee walking horse?

In January I had the opportunity to address these questions when I applied the grant awarded by the United States Humane Society “Now That’s a Walking Horse” program and flew to Theodore, Alabama to be Jennie Jackson’s working student at the Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center. Jennie is the only person in history who has trained and shown a Tennessee walking horse through the highest levels of dressage, and she, along with her husband Nate, have been on the front lines fighting against Big Lick soring and abuse for over 30 years.

While I was there I had the privilege of watching Jennie ride her barefoot, 21-year-old gaited dressage stallion Champagne Watchout in person! He is the ONLY Tennessee walking horse still living among those who he had competed against in the 1998 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration World Grand Championship class. He was also the only flat shod entry ridden in that class among Big Lick horses. Horses simply don’t live that long when subjected to the cruelty and abuse of soring.

Jennie and Watchout
Jennie Jackson riding piaffe en gaite with her barefoot, 21-year-old TWH gaited dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.

My days with Jennie were filled with riding several Tennessee walking horses at various levels of training, flat walking the ocean coast, riding in a Dauphin Island Marti Gras parade, and being introduced to the challenges of retraining a rescued Big Lick horse.

Big Lick it’s something I’ve ever encountered in Minnesota. In fact, I didn’t even know what Big Lick or soring was when I bought my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) in 2007. It wasn’t until I began surfing YouTube for information about training a Tennessee walking horse when I stumbled upon Big Lick. After watching a few Big Lick videos, I wondered, “Is this how a Tennessee walking horse is suppose to move?”

To me, the Big Lick Tennessee walking horses are like a Picasso painting coming to life: exaggerated, disjointed, and unnatural. Picasso once said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” While some people might think Big Lick is expressive and exciting to watch and ride, how the motion is achieved unveils a horrifying truth. The exaggerated Big Lick motion is produced by applying caustic agents to the horses’ front feet known as soring. Then heavy shoes, pads and chains are added. Horses are forced forward by the riders’ sharp spurs. With each step the chains slap against the horses’ sored feet. The horses’ pain reaction, propelled by the heavy shoes, are the real reasons why the horses lift their front legs as they do. To evade the pain, horses learn to shift most of their weight to the hindquarters which produces extreme engagement. Then the horses are ridden in harsh curb bits to restrain them from exploding. Torturous. Sadistic and unlawful. Yet Big Lick still exists.

I made a firm decision after watching a couple Big Lick videos that dressage is all my barefoot Tennessee walking horse was going to know. Then I began to support organizations like Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) who advocate against Big Lick soring and abuse, and I began to meet others like Jennie Jackson who teach and train dressage as applied to the gaited horse.

Thankfully my Tennessee walking horse has never experienced Big Lick. Makana was imprinted at birth, family raised and trained when I bought her in 2007 as a barefoot, just-turning-three-year-old filly. Natural and humane training methods are all she’s known—no rehab needed.

Not so for many Tennessee walking horses down South.

A few weeks before my trip, Jennie had acquired a lovely mare named Sweet Caroline who had sadly experienced “Big Lick” training trauma. Like many Big Lick Tennessee walking horses, Caroline was breed to pace where when heavy shoes and pads are added they would offset the pace into a four-beat sequence. For years, Carolyn had been driven forward with sharp spurs into a harsh curb bit which taught her to rush off in a tense, high-headed, hollow-backed frame. The soring scars on her front feet tell the rest of the story.

Now that Caroline is barefoot, could dressage break up her pace to develop a natural four-beat gait? Could dressage transform her tense, high-headed and hollow-back frame into a relaxed long and low posture? Could dressage help her develop trust with a rider, seek a snaffle bit contact, and accept leg cues without rushing?

If anyone could teach me, it would be Jennie who has been training naturally gaited Tennessee walking horses for decades using dressage. Jennie had been retraining Caroline for several weeks prior to my arrival, so she knew how to coach me as I rode this hot, tense, and sensitive mare.

Sweet Caroline and I
Jennie Jackson coached me on how to achieve relaxation and rhythm with a former Big Lick Tennessee walking horse using dressage. This horse is being ridden in a Happy Mouth Pelham bit which functions as a snaffle or a curb depending upon which reins are applied.

Relaxation and Rhythm
Dressage training produces relaxation and rhythm in any horse breed whether the horse trots or gaits. Jennie showed me a great exercise to establish relaxation by riding Caroline at a dog walk on a 20-meter circle and transition between a true to the inside of the circle (shoulder fore) and a bend to the outside of the circle (counter bend). This exercise helped her lower her head and neck down and out and break up the pacey steps into a four-beat walk.

The shoulder fore/counter bend exercise taught Caroline to step beneath and across her belly with her hind leg each time I applied my calf lightly at the girth. This engaged her abdominal muscles and lifted her back and lowered her head and neck. As I squeezed and released the inside rein softly, it unlocked the tension in her poll to look slightly to the inside of the circle. The opposite rein (the indirect rein) maintained a light contact against her neck to keep her from moving sideways. Then I’d squeeze and release the outside rein softly to unlock the tension in her poll to look slightly to the outside of the circle while applying my outside calf at the girth.  I clearly felt the “before” and “after” difference. Each time Caroline got tense, dropped her back, and rushed off in a pace, I felt like I was riding a stiff bumpy plank, but as soon as she relaxed into the bending exercise, she felt smooth and pliable.

Half Halts
When Caroline relaxed into the bending exercise at a dog walk, Jennie encouraged me to move her up into flat walk. That’s when she taught me the importance and effectiveness of half halts. Each time Caroline would rush or pace, I squeezed my fists together on the reins and at the same time stilled the motion of my hips and back. As soon as Caroline responded to the half halt by slowing down or breaking up the pace, I immediately relaxed my grip on the reins (without letting the reins slip through my fingers), lengthened my arms toward the bit, and resumed following her movement with my hip joints and lower back.

I got LOTS of practice with half halts and releases while riding Caroline. We’d have a few soft, round steps in rhythm and relaxation before she would try to rush off again. It takes a lot of patience and quiet repetition to rehabilitate a Big Lick horse like this.

riding along the lake
Riding up and down hills is a great way to build top line muscles and balance.

Cantering the Hillside
After Caroline and I became acquainted in the arena, Jennie tacked up and we rode along the scenic trail system at the Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center and to the lake where we schooled flat walk and canter along the hillside. This really helped Caroline engage from behind as she cantered up the hill and learned balance walking back down. I switched up the flat walk and canter each time I rode up the hill so that Caroline would listen to my cues instead of anticipate the gait.

In the short time I was there, I was delighted to witness how dressage could rehabilitate a horse damaged by Big Lick. Each day I rode Caroline, we had more prolonged moments of relaxation and rhythm. Her pace was being replaced with a natural four-beat gait. She was beginning to seek a snaffle bit contact instead of evading it, and we began to build a some trust.

I grew to love that spunky little mare, and returning home I felt good knowing that Sweet Caroline was in good hands with Jennie and that for the rest of her life she’d be sore no more.

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Gaiting the Coast before Marti Gras

riding the ocean coast

By Jennifer Klitzke

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.

Jennie and Watchout
Jennie Jackson riding her famous TWH dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.
Abbie and I riding on the ocean coast.
Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center’s TWH Abbie and I riding on the ocean coast.

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.

Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center
Our group from Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center.

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.

Cremelo TWH
The large beads are called sugar beads.
Blues band between the ears
Not your typical between the ears shot.
Abbie and I
Abbie seemed to like the music and danced to the beat.
Jennie and Watchout
How long do you think the beads will last on this head shaking horse?
Large crowds ahead.
Large crowds ahead anxiously awaiting beads, coins and moon pies.
Parade patron
Parade patrons caught flying strings of beads.
She's got the bead technique mastered.
This young parade patron has got the bead technique mastered.
Baby's first Marti Gras.
Baby’s first Marti Gras.
Parade patron
Front row seat.
Parade patron
Parade patrons of all ages having a wonderful time!
Parade patron
Love the hat!
Madison
Kathee’s TWH mare Madison leading our group in the Marti Gras Parade.
Parade patrons caught flying strings of beads.
Parade patrons caught flying strings of beads.
Parade patrons
Parade patrons getting a better view!
Parade patron
Parade patron festively dressed for the parade.
Parade patron
Love the hair!
Festively dressed horse and rider
Festively dressed horse and rider.

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!

Getting ready to for the Marti Gras parade
Getting back to the trailers after four hours of riding, my face hurt from smiling about as much as my body hurt from riding!

For more information about Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center, visit their blog or subscribe to the Amazing Gaits Facebook group.

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