By Jennifer Klitzke
The seasons’ dark and cold was getting the best of me, and then winter socked us with another foot of snow—just when I have been planning for upcoming shows and clinics! I have had to figure out a way to enjoy winter before cabin fever burned me alive or before I lose last summer’s weight loss.
I live in the frozen tundra where winter imprisons us for up to six months. No indoor arena. No deep pockets to travel South. If I want me and Makana my Tennessee walking horse to stay in shape, I have to get creative.
Winter riding is not new to me, but using the snow to improve and condition my horse’s gaits is a new concept. The snow has encouraged my gaited horse to lift her shoulders and engage from behind, so much so that I now know what the rocking chair canter feels like. I’m hoping that winter riding will ingrain muscle memory in Makana and for me, the “feel” of the rocking chair canter.
The snow has also introduced Makana and me to the Tennessee trot. Yes, I know that I’m crossing the thresh holds of taboo, but I believe that my Walking Horse is established in her naturally smooth four-beat gaits enough to develop another gait on cue. So adding to the free walk, medium walk, flat walk, running walk, canter and counter-canter, we are tackling the trot. After all, I’ve enjoyed 25 years of riding traditional dressage horses, so trot is a welcomed gait. I believe that as long as the trot is trained on cue, it will not disrupt Makana’s naturally smooth four-beat gaits.
Here are my cues for flat walk and trot:
For flat walk and running walk, I encourage Makana to lift in the shoulders, and I follow her head nod with a light rein contact. At the same time, I lighten myself in the saddle by distributing my weight into my thighs. This allows Makana to neutralize instead of hollow her back.
For trot, I hold my weight in my thighs and hug my calves through the upward transition while holding a light steady contact with the reins. This holding the reins with a steady contact discourages the head nod and encourages the trot. Then I post instead of sit each trot step. Every stretch of trot on cue is followed up with flat walk and canter.
Not only is riding in the snow an utter blast, but it has been a good workout for both me and Makana (especially the posting trot). Who knows, if I can develop Makana’s trot on cue in and out of the snow, nothing will stop us from entering the traditional dressage shows!
Remember, dressage is more than trot (but gaited horses can learn trot on cue, too, and it won’t ruin their naturally smooth gait!)
Video: Walkin’ in Wonderland