By Jennifer Klitzke
Coming from over 20 years of dressage riding non-gaited horses, much of my focus was on the quality of the trot. Before buying SeilTanzer, my German warmblood in 1989, I had looked at over 50 dressage prospects to find the best trot I could afford. Back then the trot seemed to define dressage, especially in the show ring.
Ironically, it wasn’t until I began showing my naturally gaited Walking horse at schooling dressage shows that I realized dressage is more than trot. This realization came through the feedback I had been given by the judges—many who had never evaluated flat walk in the dressage ring. While the flat walk was new to them they provided wonderful feedback as it relates to rhythm, relaxation, balance, connection, straightness, engagement, harmony, rider’s position and effective use of aids as me and my naturally gaited Walking horse navigated through the required movements precisely at each letter.
Dressage is a French term for the training of horse and rider which transcends the saddle you ride in. Whether you ride english or western; whether your horse trots or gaits, it doesn’t matter. As long as you seek to improve rhythm, relaxation, balance, connection, engagement and straightness with your horse and grow in knowledge and application of rider position and effective use of aids, you’re right in line with the foundational principles of dressage. Dressage training will bring out the best natural movement in your horse whether it trots or gaits. This realization inspired me to scour my closet for my dressage books and videos and become a dressage student all over again with my gaited horse.
That’s not all! Dressage training translates well into versatility training. It is refreshing to break out of the four walls of a dressage arena for some team penning, sorting cows, trail obstacles, trail riding, endurance races, and gymnastic jumping. Dressage training has made my naturally gaited horse more maneuverable around obstacles, jumps, and sneaky cows, and she is more reliable on the trail. Plus, a naturally gaited horse is easy on a grandma body like mine!
Dressage training has made all the difference and it hasn’t made my gaited horse TROT!