Tag Archives: barefoot walking horse

Trail Challenge at Governor Knowles State Forest

Governor Knowles State Forest Trail ChallengeBy Jennifer Klitzke

Working cows with a gaited horseNext to the 2017 August Cow Sorting League with our personal best by leaps and bounds (5th of 17), I’d have to say that riding the Trail Challenge at Governor Knowles State Forest on September 3, 2017 with Stephanie, Brian, Indy, Lefty and Lady was one of the best memories of the summer.

The St. Croix River vista through the ears of Indy.
The St. Croix River vista through the ears of Indy.

Earlier this year, I made the heart-felt decision to sell my Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend back to his previous owner, Stephanie. My Dad had passed away after an illness and my life circumstances had changed. Indy wasn’t happy as a backyard dressage horse. He missed our weekend-get-aways.

As much as I miss him, my heart is happy and at peace  knowing that Indy is with Stephanie and Brian who love him like I do. Not only that, but Indy is living in his happy place and in the trail horse dream: miles and miles of mature forests and river crossings every weekend with lots of pasture space to goof off with his fellow Spanish Mustang comrades.

Stephanie had checked in with me a couple weeks prior to the Trail Challenge at Governor Knowles State Forest. I quickly got naturally gaited foxtrotting horse Lady up-to-date on a Coggins so that I could join her and Brian.

All three of us
Lady with two Spanish Mustangs–all barefoot and sound!

What an amazing day: enjoying their great company, great scenery, great horses, great weather, and challenging obstacles, with the added bonus of several river and bridge crossings to boot! A first for Lady.

Indy and Stephanie eating up the obstacle
Indy and Stephanie eating up the obstacle.

It was so fun to watch Indy and Stephanie eat up those trail obstacles. They gave Lady and five-year-old Spanish Mustang Lefty courage to give them a try. There were six obstacles along a 10-12 mile trail through scenic mature forest, ferns, wildflowers, butterflies, and songbirds. The footing was perfect for naturally barefoot horses like the three of us were riding. It was a comfortable temperature and the sun made its brilliant appearance mid-point of the ride.

There were two divisions, the just-for-fun and the jackpot. I entered Lady in the just-for-fun since this was her first obstacle challenge. Stephanie and Brian opted for the jackpot—why not—no doubt Indy was up for the challenge!

The first of six obstacles was opening and closing a gate without letting go. After closing the gate, then maneuvering to a barrel and  picking up a clanger. Then navigating through two poles and ringing the “come-an’-get-it-dinner-is-ready triangle three times in two minutes or less. I was amazed how afraid Lady was of the gate. At home, all she wants to do is open and close the gate herself! Dang! We danced around the gate until the two minutes ran out.

The jackpot level had to back out of the rails after clanging the triangle in the same amount of time. Indy and Stephanie did this obstacle really well.

The second obstacle was navigating the horse through a wooden ladder in two minutes or less. The horse had to step within the narrow ladder prongs, turn on the fore and return through the narrow ladder prongs. After Lady realized that the ladder wasn’t going to eat her, she killed this obstacle—even on a loose rein!

For those in the jackpot level, they had to side pass the ladder in the return. Indy rocked this obstacle! I wish I had video to show for it!

Me and Lady playing some broom ball, if we can only get close enough to the ball.
Me and Lady playing some broom ball, if we can only get close enough to the ball.

The third obstacle was broom balling a heavy soccer ball with a wispy broom through a goal in two minutes or less. Sound simple? Yes, in reality. Yet, it was very difficult. Lady as well as many of the horses seem to have ball phobia. (Peeps, practice makes perfect! Until next time. Right!)

The jackpot level had to WEAVE the ball through a set of cones and into the goal. Stephanie and Indy made it look easy and received the fastest time thus far. WAY TO GO!

Me and Lady at the ring toss
Me and Lady at the ring toss…better luck next time.

The fourth obstacle was a ring toss. The horse and rider needed to pick up rings placed on a barrel next to a super spooky skeleton. Then the rider needed to position the horse at a rail and toss a ring to loop onto a steer horn, then advance to the next rail and do the same.

The just-for-fun level had four rings and the jackpot level had eight rings to pick up and toss in two minutes or less.

I congratulate Lady for her effort. Me, on the other hand, ugh. I did not navigate the rings anywhere near the horn. Stephanie and Indy ringed several on the horn. Well done!

Me and Lady doing the dressage moves through the log obstacle.
Me and Lady doing the dressage moves through the log obstacle. One of two obstacles we crushed!

The fifth obstacle was a log maze. The just-for-fun level had to pivot through the log maze, do a turn on the fore and return through the log maze. Lady rocked this obstacle. We’ve been working on these exercises all summer and it paid off.

The jackpot level had to pivot through the log maze and then rein back through it. Stephanie and Indy killed this obstacle as well!

Harder than it looks!
Harder than it looks!

The final obstacle was picking up a pole where the end of it needed to remain in a hoop while the horse and rider rode in a circle and over two rails and back to the starting point in two minutes or less. Lady’s initial try didn’t go very well as she ran away from the pole that was chasing her. Since we had two minutes, we had time to give it another shot and we maneuvered our way through the obstacle with flying colors and time to spare.

The jackpot level had to do this obstacle with a turn on the fore after the first circle and then ride the opposite direction before returning to the starting point. Indy and Stephanie rocked it again! I was sure that they would be in the money!

Between obstacles the horses rode together terrifically. Spanish Mustang Lefty has such a large, scopey walk that Lady and I fox trotted the entire 3-1/2 hour JOY ride! (I don’t think that Stephanie minded trotting and cantering Indy to keep up!)

I know that there are strains of Spanish Mustangs that have a natural four-beat gait. I wonder if Lefty is one of them. He is a stunning example of the Spanish Mustang. Several riders along our route stopped and asked what breed of horse Brian and Stephanie were riding. I was so happy, none of them asked: “Is that a Norwegian Fjord?” (Really, I have nothing against this breed. I really do like them. It’s just that Spanish Mustangs are not Norwegian Fjords.)

One woman asked what type of horse I was riding. (Yes, it is clear that Lady is NOT a Norwegian Fjord). Of coarse, Lady is anyone’s best guess since she isn’t registered. When my friend bought Lady, she was told that she was a Tennessee walking horse (in part). This woman replied, “I think the horse you’re riding is a Tennessee walking horse/Morgan cross.” Hallelujah! This affirms my thoughts in movement, intelligence and temperament. When Jennie Jackson was in Minnesota giving us lessons, that was her thought, too.

It was a great time had by all—people and horses. Walking Lady back to the trailer, I could hear Indy whinnying through the trees, “Until next time, my friends, until next time!”

Photo Gallery: (Click to enlarge)

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2016 FOSH Gaited Western Dressage Winner

Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) is a non-profit that supports the sound and humane training of gaited horses and is on the front lines fighting against soring and abuse. FOSH publishes the Sound Advocate which is filled with informative, well-written articles and stories.

I was elated when I received the 2017 September/October issue of Sound Advocate and read the story written about me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) who were named the 2016 Western Dressage Champions.

In 2016, Makana and I gave Gaited Western Dressage a try through the North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) Virtual Shows.

Here’s our story: 2007 Sept/Oct Sound Advocate»

September/October 2017 Sound Advocate story: Western Yes, Old Cow Horse No!

IJA Western Training 2 canter
Jennifer Klitzke riding her naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom at one of three North American Western Dressage Association Shows.

While we have been gaited dressage award winners since 2014, this was the first time we have won in the Gaited Western Dressage division.


To be eligible for awards in the FOSH Gaited Dressage Program, three scores of 60% and over must have been recorded in any level of Dressage competitions with a recognized judge. Tests must have been specifically developed and written for gaited horses. Recognized tests include IJA, NWHA, WDAA and Cowboy Dressage.

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Twenty-two Years Later Still Applies

22 years later still applies

By Jennifer Klitkze

Twenty-two years ago Dominique Barbier traveled to Minnesota for a clinic and introduced me and my German warmblood, SeilTanzer, to the French dressage method of riding with lightness and harmony. Not only did I become acquainted with Barbier’s dressage methods, I came to know a fun-loving fellow and clinic participant named Fred Kappler, who traveled from Michigan with his American warmblood, Aden.

I never imagined that our paths would cross again. And when they did, Fred helped me see that Barbier’s methods still apply—even to a naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse. 

1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic
Jennifer Klitzke and her German warmblood SeilTanzer at the 1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic held at Jacqurei Oaks in Minnesota.

In 1995, I felt like a traitor attending Barbier’s clinic. You see, Seili and I had invested several years studying the German dressage system. That’s all that what was offered in my area. Yet my heart yearned for lightness, partnership, and harmony with my horse. I got a taste of this at the Barbier clinic.

The last few years I began studying the French dressage work of Philippe Karl and Jean Claude Racinet, and I have ridden at a few French dressage clinics with traveling clinician Susan Norman who has been a long-time student of both Karl and Racinet. I also rode with Nicole Walters at Cadbury Farm who has passed her first leg of certification in Philippe Karl’s School of Légèreté.

Flash forward 22 years after the Barbier clinic. (Yes, Seili is still alive at 33!) A Facebook friend informed me about a French dressage clinician coming to Minnesota named Fred Kappler. French dressage isn’t common around here, so I looked into it. Fred has studied Philippe Karl and Jean Claude Racinet’s teachings, has ridden with Dominique Barbier, and is familiar with gaited horses.

The clinic had filled quickly, but thankfully they made room for me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Makana. This would be the first non-gaited dressage clinic I have taken a gaited horse to. Turns out there were two other Tennessee walking horses riding at the clinic. (It’s a good thing Fred has had some knowledge with Walkers!)

During my first lesson, Fred mentioned that he rode with Dominique Barbier at Jacqurei Oaks. That’s the moment I realized Fred and I had ridden together at this clinic. Now 22 years later Fred is coaching me in Barbier’s methods of lunging and working in hand. Yes, 22 years later still applies—even with a gaited horse. What a moment!

Fred Kappler and Aden 1996 Dominique Barbier Clinic Jacqurei Oaks
Fred Kappler and Aden at the 1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic held at Jacqurei Oaks, MN. At that clinic, I knew Fred as a fellow student and a personable guy. I had no idea he had a training facility and was a traveling clinician!

I must confess that Barbier’s methods of lunging and working in hand are two things I haven’t continued with the gaited horses I work with. I tend to saddle up and ride. Fred helped me see the benefits of lunging and working the horse in hand before riding.

Lunging equipment:

  • One side rein attached to the snaffle ring and girth at the inside of the circle; allow the side rein to be long enough for the horse to stretch forward without bringing the nose behind the vertical and short enough to keep the horse from getting strung out
  • A lunge line looped through the snaffle ring and attached to the girth buckle on the inside of the circle
  • A lunge whip to encourage the horse forward with a “snap” if the horse ignores your “cluck”

We lunged long enough to loosen up the horse (about 3-5 minutes each direction) at a walk, trot (yes, quality trot on cue) and canter with lots of transitions between gaits. Our circle size was about 15 meters. A relaxed and forward rhythm is the goal.

Teaching the gaited horse how to trot on cue, in a quality way of going, on a lunge line and in saddle, will not ruin the gait. Trot on cue will improve rhythm, balance,  engagement, and strengthen the top line muscles. The benefits a quality trot on cue offers will break pace and improve the natural four-beat gaits and canter.

June 2017 Fred Kappler Clinic
Teaching the gaited horse how to trot on cue in a quality way of going on a lunge line and in saddle will not ruin the gait. Trot on cue will improve rhythm, balance, engagement, and strengthen the top line muscles. All of these benefits will improve the gaits.
shoulder in in hand
Shoulder in while working in hand.

The in-hand exercises are done in both directions. The exercises are shoulder in on a square; turn on the forehand where the horse pivots around me; halt along the wall, rein back, walk forward and repeat three times; and bring the horse to a square and balanced halt.

shoulder in
Shoulder in at a SLOW collected walk with no head nod.

The riding exercises we did are all exercises Philippe Karl uses in his training which I need to focus on more. After watching all of the riders (gaited and trotting) I realize that beautiful gaits come after working the horse through lateral exercises which supple the horse, bring the horse into balance, engagement, and into a round and connected frame onto the bit.

flatwalk
A smooth flowing flat walk after lateral exercises.

I tend to focus so much on depth of stride and head nod that lateral exercises have taken a back seat. After experiencing this clinc, my approach has been backwards! Fred’s clinic clearly demonstrated that the lateral exercises done in a SLOW collected walk improve the gait quality (whether it be trot or gait). This is a game changer for me!

Fred guided Makana and I through a course of fun and interesting exercises:

  • Broken lines
  • Leg yields
  • Changes of rein through the half circle
  • Changes of direction through bends—shoulder in to haunches in to shoulder out
  • Shoulder in to half pass to walk pirouette to half pass to reverse half pirouette to half pass

After Makana found her balance, softness, engagement, and suppleness through these exercises at a collected walk, Fred released us along a straight line into a flat walk and WOW it felt terrific!

The two lessons I had with Fred Kappler have set me on a new course of training gaited dressage. Going forward, I will spend more time riding lateral exercises at a collected walk before releasing Makana into flat walk along a straight line. I will add more transitions between exercises, more transitions between directions of bend, and more transitions between gaits. All of these exercises improve balance, engagement, connection, roundness, strength, and quality of movement.

Adding to the education was the amazing feeling of community I felt with the people who attended this clinic. Fred is unique when compared with most clinicians. He enjoys sharing his wealth of experiences outside of lesson time and is an entertaining storyteller. Deb, the owner of Amity West Stables, is an inspiring rider and trainer with amazingly talented horses. I watched her lessons with Fred and was impressed with witnessing piaffe and passage, canter pirouettes, tempe changes, extended trot, half pass, and more. Not to forget that Deb is a lot of fun to hang around with, as well as the many boarders there.

It was great to meet Facebook friend, Louisa, for the first time in person. She organized a marvelous matching set of four black Tennessee walking horses on a beautiful trail ride along Lester River the day before the clinic. I enjoyed reconnecting with a Walking horse friend, Becky and an eventing friend, Amy, and met new friends Nikki, Michelle, Pam, and the barn staff at Amity West Stables.

I hope it will be the first of many re-connections with this fun-loving group of dressage riders—both gaited and non-gaited. (As for Fred, will he and I live another 22 years for a reunion? Awe, maybe. Hopefully I will get a chance to ride with him sooner than later!)

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From Kindergarten to High School with Jennie Jackson

From Kindergarten to High School with Jennie Jackson
Jennifer Klitzke riding her naturally gaited mare Lady at a collected soft trot during a lesson with Jennie Jackson, pioneer of dressage en gaite.

By Jennifer Klitzke

Over the last 30 years I’ve ridden with lots of professional riding instructors—both local teachers and traveling clinicians—gaited and nongaited. No doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am today without quality instruction. My hope in attending each lesson and clinic is to learn new insights to help me become a better rider and communicate more effectively with my horses.

Gaited Dressage Legend Jennie Jackson is among my favorite instructors. She generously shares from her rich treasure chest of knowledge and decades of proven experience.

Since 2013, Jennie has imparted knowledge and pushed me beyond what I thought my horse(s) or I could do. She challenges us to the next level of difficulty—whether that is starting canter on a new horse, facing my fears, improving the quality of gait, or advancing to counter canter, simple changes, roll backs, and lateral exercises.

Lessons with Jennie have catapulted me and my horses to new heights quicker than any other dressage instructor (gaited and nongaited) I’ve ever ridden with in the 30 years I’ve been studying dressage.

June 2017 Jennie Jackson-flatwalk
Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse flat walk.

Not only that, Jennie is a national gaited horse judge, and over the last four years she has helped me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana) develop and improve a head-shaking, deep-striding flat walk and running walk.

How it all began
In December 2012, I purchased Jennie Jackson’s DVD set with my Christmas money. Watching the DVDs, I was impressed to witness gaited horses moving in collection, engagement, and forwardness—working the lateral exercises in softness and suppleness. It amazed me that Jennie had trained her Tennessee walking horse stallion Champagne Watchout to the highest levels of dressage and performed before a live audience. These are two things that are extraordinarily difficult to do, and to date, Jennie is the only one in history to have accomplished both. Jennie Jackson is a Living Legend!

After watching the DVDs, I asked Jennie if she has held clinics in the Midwest. She hadn’t, so that’s when I organized the 2013 Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic and 2014 Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in Minnesota.

The following years I flew to Tennessee to ride at a 2015 Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic, and I flew to Alabama to be Jennie’s working student in 2016.

This year, Jennie happened to be traveling through Minnesota on her way between clinics and that’s how this year’s lessons took shape. I had contacted nearly a dozen gaited riders who live near me to see if they would be interested in lessons. That didn’t work out, but no worries, Jennie gave me and my two naturally gaited horses, Lady and Makana, an inspiring and challenging education.

Lessons with Lady
Lady has been at my place for three years, and as of April 2017, she became my newly acquired naturally gaited horse. I have been thrilled with Lady’s progress this spring and summer and astounded with where Jennie took us in our lessons—moving from kindergarten to high school through connection, softness, lightness, balance, lateral exercises—and even canter under saddle!

Lady is moving more consistent in a light contact. She is more supple in her bending and is moving with more engagement in her easy gait.

Lady performing a collected soft trot working on lateral exercises for softness and suppleness.

To establish bend, suppleness, softness, and connection from the inside leg to the outside rein, we worked on lots of true bend and counter bend at a walk and collected soft trot. The soft trot is not a true two-beat diagonal gait. It is an easy gait somewhere between the fox trot and hard trot—yet smooth to ride.

Hard trot
Trotting the gaited horse on cue has many benefits. For Lady, it develops rhythm, engagement, forwardness, and strengthens the top line muscles.

We also worked Lady in a 20-meter circle and along the rail in a forward hard trot between true and counter bend. This improved her engagement and straightness.

Lady cantering right lead
Jennie cantering Lady in her right lead.

Then we introduced canter under saddle. I had been working on canter with Lady in the round pen over rails to break the cross canter. During our lesson, Lady was taking her left lead clean, so we focused on her right lead. Instead of cross cantering, she kept choosing counter canter. With Jennie’s determination, coaching and perseverance, Lady began taking the right lead canter in all three lessons.

I am thrilled to have both of my gaited horses cantering now thanks to Jennie.

Lessons with Makana
It’s been a few years since Jennie had last seen my naturally gaited walking horse Makana, and I was so happy that she confirmed the path we have been on in our flat walk. Not only that, but Jennie helped us increase the tempo while maintaining the reach and depth of stride.

How? Straight lines.

shoulder in
Me and Makana work the shoulder in and haunches in at a slow balanced, collected walk. It felt weird riding so slow without a head nod, but that’s normal for the collected walk. These exercises supple, strengthen, straighten, and balance the horse and will improve the flat walk.

There’s a place for dressage exercises on a circle with lateral movement and a place for straight lines to develop show gait. This was a light bulb moment for me.

We began our lessons with shoulder in, haunches in, true bend and counter bend on a 20-meter circle in a slow, short-strided, collected walk. Did you know that a collected walk is slower, has very little to no head nod, and the stride depth is shorter and more under the body? Yes, it’s true! If you are like me, and get used to flat walk with a head nod and deep stride, the collected walk feels very foreign, but there is a place for it in the lateral exercises and it will only improve the flat walk.

Circles and collected lateral exercises are wonderful for breaking up pace, suppling and softening the horse, and getting the horse to listen to the inside leg to the outside rein, but working on a circle limits the range of motion that only a straight line can offer. 

Makana flat walk
Me and Makana enjoying the ultimate glide ride! Once a horse has an even four beat gait, rail class show gait is best developed on straight lines to put the horse in a position conducive for maximum depth of stride.

Once a horse has an even four beat gait, rail class show gait is best developed on straight lines for maximum depth of stride.

That’s when we moved to the rail and allowed Makana freedom of her head and neck in a medium walk with maximum depth of stride. As soon as she became even in her rhythm and timing of her head nod, we increased the tempo while maintaining the deep steps. Alternating a tickle with my heel as Makana’s hind foot stepped under her body helped deepen her stride. If she rushed off in short strides, I applied a half halt and I would start again.

When Makana found her rhythm and timing at a faster tempo with deeper strides, I just enjoyed the glide ride.

In addition to working on show gait, Jennie coached us on canter, halt, rein back, canter transitions and canter, counter-canter transitions. Riding the canter on a 20-meter circle in counter bend before executing the counter canter really helped hold her together through a full figure eight and back to the true canter lead.

To book Jennie Jackson for lessons, clinics, and expos, visit www.4beatdressage.com.

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Harmony, Trust and Partnership

Harmony Trust and Partnership

By Jennifer Klitzke

For years I couldn’t understand why my horses didn’t want to go forward. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a new approach to dressage that I realized I had been riding with the gas pedal and brake pedal on at the SAME time each time I drove my horse with my seat and legs into closed hands.

I thirsted for harmony, partnership, trust, and lightness in my riding with my horses. I was tired of setting agendas for my horses and ready to invite them into a dance of relaxation, balance, harmony, and lightness—where ever that would lead us.

If you’ve been following Naturally Gaited for the last couple years, you know that classical French dressage has become my language of choice.

I’ve been studying books and DVDs by Philippe Karl, a DVD by Lisa Maxwell (a student of the late Jean Claude Racinet, who studied the work of Francois Baucher), taken lessons from Susan Norman, a student of both Philippe Karl and Jean Claude, and lessons from Nichole Walters, a student of Philippe Karl.

These teachings have rocked my world! Notably because they sharply contrast the German dressage training I had studied for the preceding decades. It wasn’t the contrast that made me switch. It was the truths in the contrast that made me switch. (Just watch the DVD: Classic vs. Classique where the French and German theories go head-to-head in a convincing demonstration.)

For me, I couldn’t understand why my horses didn’t want to go forward. It wasn’t until I began to open my mind to the French method that I realized I had been riding with the gas pedal and brake pedal on at the SAME time each time I drove my horse with my seat and legs into closed hands.

I was also tired of being a domineering micro-manager with my horses, and I thirsted for harmony, partnership, trust, and lightness in my riding. I was tired of “making” my horses DO and GO, and I was ready to “ask” my horses to dance with me—even if it meant giving up showing and my expectation of moving up in the levels each year.

If I was able to maintain harmony, trust, and partnership in the show ring, then I’d be open to showing, but if showing became a demand at every letter, then it was time to recheck my motives.

Last year my Dad grew gravely ill, and I didn’t have time to travel to shows. It was more important to be with my family. This is when I discovered virtual shows. Currently, the only organization that offers virtual shows is the National Western Association of America (NWAA). Many of their virtual shows are open to gaited horses. Not only could I ride and record my test from my own backyard, I could ride my test within the relaxation, harmony, trust, and partnership that I felt was essential in our dressage training.

I hope to get out to a show or two this summer (virtual and/or live). If not, I will for sure enjoy riding my horses with harmony, trust, and partnership.

Video: Separating the gas pedal from the brake pedal

For a list of gaited dressage tests, see “Links” in the right sidebar.

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