Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) is a non-profit that supports the sound and humane training of gaited horses and is on the front lines fighting against soring and abuse. FOSH publishes the Sound Advocate which is filled with informative, well-written articles and stories.
I was elated when I received the 2017 September/October issue of Sound Advocate and read the story written about me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) who were named the 2016 Western Dressage Champions.
In 2016, Makana and I gave Gaited Western Dressage a try through the North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) Virtual Shows.
While we have been gaited dressage award winners since 2014, this was the first time we have won in the Gaited Western Dressage division.
To be eligible for awards in the FOSH Gaited Dressage Program, three scores of 60% and over must have been recorded in any level of Dressage competitions with a recognized judge. Tests must have been specifically developed and written for gaited horses. Recognized tests include IJA, NWHA, WDAA and Cowboy Dressage.
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.
It has been a rainy summer. I was lucky to have one dry day to film our rides for the Harvest Virtual Western Dressage Show before another storm swamped the arena.
Since the last virtual Western dressage show, I’ve been working on improving engagement with my friend’s naturally gaited horse Lady and it paid off. Lady was the only gaited horse shown in NAWD Intro 2 and placed second out of 11 horses with a score of 64.821%.
Video: NAWD Western Dressage Intro 2
Lady ridden in her easy gait.
This show was the first time my Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend (Indy) and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) competed against each other in the same show, riding the same test.
Indy placed first in NAWD Basic 3 with a score of 66% and Makana placed third with a score of 58.857%. She was the only gaited horse among the three horses riding NAWD Basic 3.
Video: NAWD Western Dressage Basic 3 TWH-style
Makana demonstrating a flat walk.
Video: NAWD Western Dressage Basic 3 Spanish Mustang-style
Indy being ridden on a 20 meter circle allowing the horse to stretch.
The show had a good turnout with 127 entries ranging from Intro through Basic, Freestyle, Therapeutic, Working in Hand and Versatility for Youth, Adult Amateur, and Open.
This year I’ve pretty much put showing on hold, because its been so touch and go with my Dad who is in hospice care. But, I thought I could sneak in a few local events: a Virtual Western Dressage Show (that I can do without leaving home), a Cow Sorting League (only minutes from my house) and the Mosquito Run Endurance Ride (held once a year at a local park).
Only I didn’t seem to notice that all three events were held in the same week until the week of. Working full time with an ailing father in hospice, what was I thinking?!
Virtual Western Dressage
North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. Makana and I gave it a try a couple months ago and we couldn’t wait for the next one. We have been practicing the feedback I had received from the judge’s remarks and from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.
When I saw that NAWD was having another Virtual Show, my over zealous enthusiasm overtook my sense of available time. I registered three horses for the show. Most challenging was finding time to squeeze in the rides between working full time, visits with my Dad, the cow sorting league, endurance rides, filming the tests around my husband’s schedule, the week’s inclement weather, and forcing my grandma brain to memorize three new Western dressage tests!
For this Western Dressage Virtual Show I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, and my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy). It was Lady’s very first show and Indy’s first Western Dressage show.
Our window for recording our rides just happened to be at the same time our neighbor took down his trees next to our arena with the brush hog. This stirred up an arsenal of repellent-resistant biting flies that came in for the attack!
Despite the distractions, we made the best of it. I rode Makana in IJA Western Training Level 2, Lady in NAWD Intro 2, and Indy in NAWD Basic 3.
A couple weeks back I saw a last minute opening for the July Cow Sorting League. I knew Makana was due for some cow time, because it’s her favorite thing to do. (My theory: since she’s lowest on the pecking order, cows give her something to push around!)
We finished our first week getting all ten cows sorted in order within 70 seconds! Not the fastest by far (which was an amazing 46 seconds) but it felt good to officially achieve this milestone.
On Sunday, I entered Makana in a ten-mile Mosquito Run novice endurance ride at Crow Hassan Park Reserve. That morning we were hit with ANOTHER thunderstorm. Many riders had packed up and headed for home just before Makana and I arrived. So many riders had left that I thought the event had cancelled. (At least it made it easy to find a parking spot!)
The novice ride headed out with two large groups of seven. The footing was slick in spots with lots of puddles, but the storms cooled down the temperature for a comfortable ride.
The week’s thunderstorms had taken a toll on the park. We passed hundreds of mature trees that had fallen during the storms. Many thanks to the Park Reserve staff who worked hard to clear the trails so that the endurance ride could go on.
Our group was composed of three Tennessee walking horses, a Rockie, and three Arabians. It was wonderful to ride with other gaited horses. While our gaited horses outpassed the nongaited horses at a walk, the speed required of the ride in order to make time forced our gaited horses to trot, speed rack (or canter) the majority of the ride. I asked Makana for a speed rack. She held it for a while, but waffled between the rack, the trot, and canter.
Three miles before the finish line we all cooled off in the lake. Makana and I took our first swim! We walked in the water until her entire body submerged and all that surfaced the water was her ears, nostrils, and eyeballs. Thank God horses are intuitively good swimmers!
Makana and I made the optimum time and took sixth place out of 12 entries. (We even surpassed the Arabians!)
I’ll see you soon Dad. Hang in there! I love you! (Next time I’ll double check my calendar before committing to these events.)
I felt like I was dressed up for a Halloween costume party wearing this get up, but I thought I’d give Western gaited dressage a try again. This time without leaving home. I saw a Facebook post for a virtual Western dressage show that was open to gaited horses. So my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and I rode the FOSH IJA Training 1 Test which calls for regular walk, medium walk, free walk, intermediate gait (flat walk), and canter.
What’s nice about a virtual show is that you can ride from home—no need to trailer to the show grounds, as long as you have an arena marked off and someone to record your ride. No editing allowed, just the raw footage to capture the entire test, post it to youtube and wait for the results and feedback via email.
Then if you feel like it, you can share the video link with others and ask for their feedback as to how you and your horse could have ridden the test better.
Video: FOSH IJA Training 1
One of the judge’s comments about our test was: “Excessive head nod.” Isn’t that what a Tennessee walking horse is known for?
Perplexed, I asked my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson for feedback on how to improve my Western riding.
Jennie gave me terrific feedback in regards to riding the medium walk, which makes up the majority of this test. She said that at times during the medium walk, my horse displays a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.”
“Head peck? What on earth is that?!” I asked. Jennie said that the head nod is where the Tennessee walking horse travels forward from the hindquarters through a neutral to round back into a connection with the rider’s seat and light rein contact (not loose, floppy reins). The head nod should lower down from the head and neck with each step of the hind legs.
The head peck, on the other hand, is a disconnected head motion from the hind leg steps where the horse simply flicks its nose upward.
To correct the head peck, Jennie said that I need to encourage my horse to step deeply under her body where I feel her back raise up under my seat and then travel through the shoulders,neck, and poll to the bit.
Video: Head Nod (or Head Peck)?
Jennie also mentioned that I need to “freshen up” Makana’s canter with hand galloping to get her back to a three-beat canter. It’s not enough to be satisfied with just getting the correct canter lead. I need to work on improving our canter to the quality of the trotting horses. Will we ever attain it? Maybe not, but it is something to aspire to.
Ah, yes! After reviewing the video, I see the nose flicking head peck at the medium walk and the rather flat canter.
Now that’s terrific feedback I can begin working on the next time I ride. I hope by sharing these videos and feedback will help you at home as you train your gaited horse in dressage.