By Jennifer Klitzke
How to improve canter with the gaited horse
In the short time Jennie Jackson was in Minnesota this year I learned so much. Here’s another profoundly effective exercise she taught me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare: collected walk-canter-walk transition on a 15 meter circle.
First Jennie coached us to establish a forward moving collected walk in a shoulder-fore position by applying inside lower leg calf through the ankle at the girth. This helps to bend my mare’s body and step her inside hind leg under her belly toward her outside front leg. My outside indirect rein is held slightly against the neck with more contact than my inside softening rein. The outside rein keeps the outside shoulder from falling out and keeps the neck rather straight. The inside rein massages as needed to soften my mare’s jaw so that she flexes at the atlas (poll) slightly into the circle enough where I see the corner of her eye. It is important that her ears remain level without tilting her head to the side. The energy from her hindquarters travels through her body and into the connection with my hands which feels like her shoulders lift and she becomes lighter in front while I feel her back puff up under my seat as she engages her abdominal muscles.
Next is the collected walk to canter transition. The timing of this transition is important. The outside hind leg is the first step in the canter sequence. When I feel my mare beginning to step her outside hind leg forward, that’s when I need to apply my outside lower leg behind the girth. While doing so, Jennie pointed out how important it is to maintain the inside lower leg at the girth and the rein connection so that my mare holds the bend through the canter transition. Jennie reminded me to maintain a still riding position during the upward transition without tipping my upper body forward. This allows my horse to step into the canter in balance.
Jennie underlined that the purpose for this exercise is to teach the horse a quality canter transition. It is important that the rider brings the horse back to a collected walk before the canter quality deteriorates; otherwise the horse learns to canter poorly. Over time, the horse will build more and more consecutive quality canter steps. During the downward transition from canter to walk Jennie coached me to grow taller in the saddle while applying a slight half halt with the seat, a brief closing of the fingers on the outside rein, and a release as the horse moves into a forward moving collected walk.
Thank you Jennie Jackson for coming to Minnesota for the second year in a row. I finally feel like I have connected with a coach who not only has the applied knowledge and proven experience in and out of the show ring through the highest high levels of dressage as applied to the gaited horse, but someone who communicates in ways that I understand. My horse has never moved better!
For more about Jennie Jackson and dressage en gaite, visit Jennie Jackson: Dressage en Gaite.
Video: Walk-Canter-Walk Transitions on a 15-meter Circle