By Cynthia Priebe, Guest Writer
If you Google “Dressage,” you will learn it is a French term most commonly translated to “training.” To most horsemen it conjures up
images of horse and rider teams such as Charlotte DuJardin and the great Valegro. We think of FEI, USEF, WEG and the Olympics.
We may think of Levels, tests and Freestyle performances. We recognize and may even understand a leg yield, shoulder-fore or shoulderin. We may not however think of our gaited horses doing these maneuvers, but we should!
Dressage at its most fundamental is a standardized and progressive training method intended to bring out a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to do what its rider asks of it. At its peak, the horse will respond ably to a rider’s minimal aids. The team performs together and it looks effortless. It is NOT breed specific. All horses can benefit from its principles and techniques.
However, over the years if I would discuss dressage as could be applied to my TWH, I would receive odd looks, wrinkled up noses, scoffs or comments of “Dressage does not and cannot apply to a Walking Horse.” If I was referring to the Equestrian sport of the FEI, USEF or USDF, they are correct, but I was referring to its principles and exercises for training.
The last few years have changed that. Gaited Dressage though not widespread is now recognized. Facebook and Web pages are dedicated to the subject. Clinicians and trainers of the gaited horse have written books, posted videos and sell DVD’s.
This past April, Temp’s Red Rascal and I attended a Jennie Jackson’s Dressage en Gaite Clinic. A day of watching other riders learn how to apply dressage principles to their gaited horses, and a one-on-one session of our own. Rascal and I haven’t really done anything but ride around the barn for the last few years. Improving health and other factors have revitalized my energy. Rascal’s abilities, temperament and patience have revitalized my confidence. My goal – use dressage to get us both back into shape.
Jennie is so good at communicating with any and all levels of rider experience. She is patient, and really understands the gaited horse. She helped me understand where we are in the training pyramid and what we might be capable of. We successfully performed leg yields and shoulder-in and learned a new way to warm up for focus, muscle elasticity and increased responsiveness to the aids all without expending the energy Rascal would need to perform properly. May not seem like much, but what we learned that day has completely changed our relationship and what we have been able to accomplish together since.
Most of the Walking Horses at the clinic were from show bloodlines, and Rascal presented very differently so I seized the clinic as an
opportunity to discuss the Heritage Walking Horse. Other than Jennie, no one was familiar. Jennie explained how Rascal’s temperament, build and “On/off” switch where hallmarks of
the Heritage horse. She took the time to explain that though Rascal’s build kept him from having a big over stride, it was not what he was bred for. He was bred for a steady and consistent 4 beat gait that would cover uneven ground safely. So proud that Temp’s Red Rascal could be an ambassador for the Heritage Walking Horse that day!
Since the clinic, Rascal has been improving in all aspects of his condition, responsiveness and ability. He has actually increased his stride length which I attribute to our lateral work and the conditioning that dressage provides. We plan on showing again this year in Halter, Western Pleasure and Horsemanship (Equitation.)
I am not sure where we will pin, but I know we will have more fun this year than we have had in long time. And I am looking forward to the growth of Gaited Dressage and the possibility of testing in the near future on Temp’s Red Rascal.
So next time you hear “Dressage,” think Dressage en Gaite!
For more about the International Heritage Walking Horse Society, visit IHWHA.com.
To learn more about Jennie Jackson and her dressage en gaite clinic schedule, visit Jennie Jackson’s Dressage en Gaite Facebook Group.