By Jennifer Klitzke
It’s hard to ride gaited dressage when the feel of “right” isn’t engrained. So much of riding is how it feels when it is “right,” how it feels when it is “wrong,” and making corrections to get the horse feeling “right” again. It takes time to develop this. That’s why lessons are so important for me. A trained eye can coach me to correct movement, position, connection and let me know when it is correct so that I can hold onto that feeling for when I practice on my own. Nothing beats one-on-one coaching by someone who understand the mechanics of a four-beat gait combined with dressage principles of collection. If only I lived closer to a gaited dressage instructor!
There are plenty of good dressage instructors but few who are familiar with the biomechanics of a four-beat gait. The trotting horse does not have a head nod, so riding on-the-bit by capturing the energy from the hindquarters through the reins to the bridle is far less complicated!
Using today’s technology, I’ve been watching gaited dressage videos for how it looks when it is “right.” I study the headshake, depth of step, speed, headset, rider’s position and rein connection. Then I capture a ride or two each week on video and compare. This has been a powerful tool for me between clinics.
Since getting into gaited dressage in 2007, I have explored how to ride my Walking Horse on-the-bit, meaning how to ride my horse from back to front by capturing the forward energy through the reins to the bit. I’ve asked many gaited riders the question: how do you ride a head shaking horse on the bit without disrupting the head nod? I have yet to get an answer that I am able to translate to my own riding. I think I’ve been asking the wrong question. I need to ask, “How does riding on-the-bit feel on a head-shaking horse in the flat walk and running walk?”
It is important to note that riding on-the-bit is far more than just rein contact. Riding position is a huge factor. Last November I audited a life-changing bio-mechanics clinic taught by author and international riding instructor Mary Wanless. Since then I have been studying her “Ride With Your Mind” video series and applying what I have learn to riding gaited dressage.
As for the rider position, I’ve been combining inner and outer body alignment, stillness, bearing down of the inside anatomy to lower my center of gravity, increasing my seat coverage on the saddle and snugging my inner thighs with the dressage saddle to distribute my weight and lighten the load on my horse’s back. Then I apply Mary’s “suspension bridge” analogy to keep from falling into the hollow of my horse’s back. It’s like my knees and hips are the pillars of a suspension bridge. I aim to expand the distance between my knees and hips over the hollow of the mare’s back which supports my weight across her back. This helps my mare move more forward, lifting her back, stepping deeper under her body, and reaching up from the wither to produce a higher headset and deeper head nod.
Now to memorize the feeling for when it is right so that I can correct myself when we need to hit the reset button.
Video: Flatwalk in regular and slow motion: The video below shows this riding position and its effect on the gaited horse.
For more about Mary Wanless and her “Ride With Your Mind” video series, visit: mary-wanless.com.