By Jennifer Klitzke
It’s interesting how experiences have a way of preparing us for what’s next. I never would have imagined that I’d be back showing dressage after a 15-year break. And even stranger, that I’d be showing dressage on a horse that doesn’t trot!
I never got into this “gaited thing” to show. In fact, I only wanted a smooth horse to ride that would be gentler on my aging body.
When I bought my Tennessee walking horse mare Makana in 2007, dressage became our default language. It’s all I knew. Yet the “feel” on a Walking Horse is so different from that of a trotting horse. And Walking Horses do unusual things that I had not encountered before: the faster they travel the smoother they get, their ears flop, their head nods, and their teeth sometimes click with each stride. That’s when I joined a local Walking horse association in hopes to learn more about riding this unique breed.
Shortly thereafter, I took my mare to the B.L.E.S.S. Your Walking Horse Clinic with Bucky Sparks who trains Walking Horses with dressage methods. Later that year, I rode at a Larry Whitesell Gaited Dressage Clinic. Indeed my worlds were colliding.
In 2008 the Walking horse association sent out a request for more riders at the Washington County Fair to preserve future shows. “Well, okay, we’ll give it a try,” I said and off we went. It wasn’t ribbons that kept us returning to Walking Horse shows. My horse came alive while away from home. She seemed to enjoy the people and other horses, so we’ve kept it up.
Now that I was officially riding dressage on a gaited horse and showing in rail classes, I entered my Walking horse at a local schooling dressage show the fall of 2010. We were the only gaited team and because of this it drew the attention of two women who owned gaited horses. We exchanged phone numbers and began to ride together at state parks. Up to this point I had lost the nerve to be a trail rider. I preferred the security of an arena, the fenced enclosure, and the cushy footing in the event I fell off. However, I gave trail riding a try and was hooked. My horse enjoyed the fresh air, arresting scenery, and varied terrain as much as I did.
Trail riding prepared us for the next step. If it weren’t for the dozens of trail rides we had been on with the women I had met at the schooling dressage show, I would have never considered riding the 2011 Gaited Trail Trials which proved to be the most fun I’ve ever had on horseback!
So what’s next? I’m tinkering with the notion of eventing my gaited horse.