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.
Dressage training has helped my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse with her rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection. Yet quickness hasn’t been something I have practiced on a regular basis, and it really becomes apparent when we sort cows.
Recently I took my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare Gift of Freedom (Makana) to a Wednesday evening cow sorting league. We are clearly the odd ball in the group among quarter horses that are naturally built for this sport. These horses are highly engaged from behind and can lope, stop, pivot and spring off in a new direction in half a second.
Will my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse ever be as quick and responsive as the quarter horses? Not likely, but being lowest on the pecking order seems to motivate her. Makana LOVES having something to push around. Each week we get better at moving the cows from one pen to the next in order, and have more clean rounds than DQs.
Watching the riders warm up their quarter horses, I’ve noticed that they often use rollbacks as an exercise of choice, so I began adopting rollbacks into our warm up.
Rollbacks have great benefits. They increase engagement and make her think about quickness and responsiveness. This is helping us in the hole as we attempt to keep the unsequenced cows from sneaking through before their turn.
P.S. As a side note, I show up at sorting league as a cross dresser: my horse wearing Western attire and me wearing breeches, half chaps, and my riding helmet. I figure if I’m going to be the oddball among all these spur wearin’, shank sportin’ cowboys and cowgirls riding their cowy quarter horses, I might as well go all out!
Video: Rollbacks for the Gaited Horse
(Take it from me, it is easier to ride rollbacks in the security of a Western saddle.)
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
It was our first 75-degree spring day after a long winter. I couldn’t wait to get Makana, my naturally gaited Walking horse mare, saddled for an afternoon ride.
I had thought that the gale-force winds would be our greatest riding challenge as I negotiated Makana past the disco tree dancing to and fro at the corner of the arena. I had no idea we’d be riding 100 yards from our new neighbor’s artillery range practice, plus enduring a steady stream of overzealous motorcyclists roaring by!
The frenzied sights and sounds gave us plenty of opportunity to practice riding bio-mechanic techniques I have learned from Mary Wanless that helped me maintain a secure riding position each time my explosive horse reacted to unexpected gun fire, thundering motors, and swaying bushes. Among Mary’s riding tactics include breathing deep into my stomach, bearing down of my internal anatomy to lower my center of gravity, holding my weight in my inner thighs to distribute my weight across my horse’s back instead of my weight resting on my horse’s spine, and pressing my fists forward toward the bit instead of pulling back.
The distractions challenged me to practice what I learned from Larry Whitesell about becoming a trusted leader. Whenever my horse got tense, nervous, and distracted it was my job to lead her back to balance and relaxation, and while doing she became a safer horse to ride. The best way to lead Makana back to balance and relaxation is through many transitions and lateral exercises.
So I practiced the suppling and lateral exercises I learned from Jennie Jackson and Outrageous, the gaited dressage school master I rode while I was at the March 2015 Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in Tennessee. Lateral exercises, such as pivot the fore, shoulder in, and haunches in break up tension, lead to balance and relaxation, and improve the communication between me and my horse. As Makana realized that I was helping her find balance and relaxation through this harried situation, she learned to trust me more as a reliable leader.
In addition to riding bio-mechanics and leading my horse back to balance and relaxation with suppling exercises, we also practiced what I’ve been learning from the Philippe Karl Classical Dressage DVD series regarding the separation of the rein and leg aids, riding my horse into balance, and encouraging Makana to open and close her mouth, salivate and swallow by making my connection with the less sensitive bars of her mouth instead of from tongue pressure. These elements help to produce relaxation in the jaw and poll which help to produce a relaxed body which makes for a more trainable horse.
Although it wasn’t the joyous and relaxing spring ride I had hoped for, it was a successful milestone for me and my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana. I faced my riding fears, trusted the skills my mentors have imparted, remembered to breath, (prayed a bunch that I didn’t get shot by stray bullets), and managed to work Makana through the distractions in real time. We managed to end our ride with quality flat walk possessing good rhythm, balance, over stride, and impulsion.
Video: Riding through Distractions
Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in!