By Jennifer Klitzke
If you’ve been to a Larry Whitesell Gaited Horsemanship Clinic, you know what I mean when I say, “It is a lot to take in.” I have audited four of Larry’s clinics and ridden in three, and the last two clinics included Jennifer Bauer, a beautiful rider and a wonderful horsewoman. At each clinic a few more dots are connected in my understanding of Larry’s training philosophy which focuses entirely on what the horse needs and teaches riders how to lead their horses into balance, relaxation and engagement.
For me, the August 2013 clinic held at RNR Ranch in St. Croix Falls, WI was all about unlocking the braces in my horse’s back and hindquarters for engagement and discovering what braces I have in my riding position that say “stop” to my horse.
Larry explained the “escalation of aids” in this metaphor. He said, “What if for the rest of the clinic, I speak in French and if you didn’t understand, I speak louder and louder, would you understand me then? How would you feel about my teaching method? Confused? Frustrated?”
I have struggled to get my mare to go forward and know the escalation of aids all too well: squeeze, cluck, tap, and repeat louder and louder until my horse goes forward. It had never occurred to me that perhaps I have been speaking French to my horse.
Larry and Jennifer helped me discover braces in my riding position that say “stop” to my horse, such as my inside rein was saying “go this way” but my outside rein was saying “no”; my legs were saying “go”, but my locked hip joints were saying “whoa”; and my saddle which fit my mare beautifully in the cross ties touched her wither as soon as I sat in the saddle which says “ouch.” Adding squeeze, cluck, tap and repeat louder and louder only sent my horse forward in tension with a hollow back.
Larry and Jennifer worked with my mare and discovered that she had braces in her hindquarter joints and her back was hollow. They showed me a few places to massage Makana each day to release the tension. Then they switched out my saddle with Larry’s Freedom endurance saddle, and Larry and Jennifer demonstrated riding exercises that will help strengthen Makana’s abdominal muscles to lift her back and flex her haunch joints for engagement. Among the exercises are turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, three repetitions of three steps forward followed by three steps reinback, and switching up a riding session with lots of transitions in gaits and between gaits every 5-10 steps and changes of direction. Most importantly, reward often.
Now that I am back home, I’m riding in a well fitting saddle and putting into practice what I learned. And none of it includes French.