Gaited Dressage: Forwardness without Leg Aids?

gaited western dressage

By Jennifer Klitzke

I’ve discovered the key to forwardness with my Walking Horse mare: Stop using my legs. What? Let me explain.

Over the last couple years, I’ve spiraled into a bad habit of clucking and squeezing my calves against my horse’s sides to get her moving forward. If that didn’t work, which it often didn’t, then I’d add the use of a dressage whip and then spurs. I couldn’t figure out why my horse was getting less and less forward. I explored saddle fit, my riding position, her back and hocks, and even changed her diet. Nothing seemed to get my horse to remain forward. I figured I just have a lazy horse.

Then I learned a new riding position from Mary Wanless’s “Ride with Your Mind” video series that translates wonderfully to gaited horses. In addition to inner and outer body alignment, bearing down with the inside anatomy, inflating the muscles between my seat bones and the saddle, breathing, and a snug connection of my seat, thigh, and knee to the saddle, I’ve stopped gripping my calves against my horse’s side. Instead, I briskly bump and release my calves against my horse’s sides to get her to move forward. All that the death grip had produced was to desensitize my horse and make her dull to my leg. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it had become an unconscious habit. Now I am riding differently with intentionality to ingrain more productive riding habits which I hope become unconscious in time.

So the concept of obtaining forwardness without leg aids works for someone like me who has gotten into the habit of squeezing with each step. The calves have a place, just not with every step the horse makes.

For more about the biomechanics of an effective riding position, visit