By Jennifer Klitzke
If gaited dressage isn’t enough of a paradigm shift for many traditional dressage riders, what about gaited western dressage? Being a good sport, I rode my naturally gaited Walking horse mare in her western outfit at the last horse women’s gathering at Judy Conger’s farm. Our special guest was Karen Meyers who is the president of the newly formed Western Dressage Association of Minnesota. Turns out, Karen grew up with Tennessee walking horses and showed them in the 1970s when the classes were the main draw at the Minnesota State Fair horse show.
Knowing this, I couldn’t help asking Karen for feedback on how to establish contact with a western curb, improve the head nod, and develop the flat walk (western dressage style). Karen suggested that I take up the slack and shorten my reins to have a light contact with the curb bit, hold my arms at my sides with a 90-degree angle from my shoulder to my hand, and keep my arms and hands still without being stiff. My hands are positioned as if I’m holding two ice-cream cones and my fingers slightly open and close with the head-nod motion. Make sure the curb chain has 3-4 fingers between the chin and chain so that it encourages the horse to move without feeling punished or stopped by the bit or chain.
Instructor Judy Conger helped me establish a more correct western dressage position. It kind of feels like if someone punched me in the gut to fill out the arch in my lower back, and then the feeling of pushing my inside anatomy down into the saddle while sitting tall, and stretching my thighs down and back. (Now if I can remember to breath, stay relaxed, and for goodness sake, SMILE!)
Putting together tips I learned from last week’s lesson with this week’s feedback from Judy and Karen looks something like this:
- Begin with long and low on a loose rein to get the horse stretching and stepping deep under its body.
- After 10-15 minutes, then gradually begin taking up contact and transition to a flat walk without losing the deep steps.
- Return to long and low if the horse begins to rush with scampering, small steps.
- Mix in transitions from flat walk to halt and rein-back to an immediate forward and engaged flat walk.
- Throw in some canter both directions with transitions to walk or halt.
Good luck if you keep your body in that contorted position (and extra bonus points if you remember to breath and smile)!
Who knows, maybe I’ll be riding Makana gaited Western Dressage style at the next Walker’s Triple R schooling dressage show held Sunday, September 25. Entries will be taken through Wednesday, September 21. See you there!