Tag Archives: freewalk on a long rein

Video: Importance of “Long & Low” to Break Pace and Improve Gait

Importance of long and low to break pace

By Jennifer Klitzke

How many times have you heard riders of gaited horses ask, “How do I stop my gaited horse from pacing?” or “How do I improve the quality of my horse’s natural four beat gait?” These questions have come up at every gaited dressage clinic I’ve been to. They’ve been addressed on every naturally gaited horse video I’ve watched and book I’ve read since I bought my Tennessee walking horse Makana in 2007.

In each instance gaited dressage and naturally gaited experts such as Jennie Jackson, Larry Whitesell, Jennifer Bauer, Bucky Sparks, Gary Lane, Anita Howe, Ivy Schexnayderand the late Brenda Imus and Lee Ziegler have talked about the importance of lowering the horse’s head and neck to aid in relaxing the poll, neck, and back.

Stepping Pace
Transform a hard pace or stepping pace (as shown) into a smooth natural four beat flat walk with long and low.

Why? Because relaxation is essential in transforming a high-headed, hollow-backed, pace into a smooth and natural four-beat gait. A great place to start is with long and low at walk. Not only will relaxation in a long and low frame break up the pace, it can lengthen the depth of stride and improve the quality of your horse’s gait.

In dressage terms, a long and low walk is called the free walk on a long rein. This is a required movement in all dressage tests—Introductory through Advanced.

The free walk on a long rein produces many terrific benefits in the horse including rhythm, relaxation, balance, forwardness, and building the top line muscles. Most importantly, it breaks up the foot falls of pace into four individual steps—the sequence of gait at a slow tempo, and it positions the horse to be successful in taking longer and deeper steps.

Video: Free Walk on a Long Rein

The free walk on a long rein is a terrific way to begin and end every ride, as well as reward your horse throughout a training session.

If your horse needs to learn how to lower its head and neck, here’s an exercise I learned from naturally gaited clinician Bucky Sparks which he calls “Stretch the Bit.” This exercise teaches a horse to discover relaxation for itself. Once a horse finds relaxation, they are likely to seek more of it.

How to Stretch the Bit
1. Begin this exercise at a halt.
Each time my horse’s head is too high, I lift my hands up and stretch my reins out to the side without pulling back. This engages the less sensitive bars (corners) of the horse’s mouth. Low hands apply bit pressure on horse’s tongue which is more painful and can cause tension in the mouth and jaw. As I draw my arms out to the side, I feel a pull in my triceps which helps me to remember not to pull back.

Stretch the bit with Lady

2. Release to reward: As soon as the my horse begins dropping its head and neck, I release the reins.

Release and reward with Lady

3. Repeat the exercise: I will repeat the exercise each time the horse’s head pops back up. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a couple minutes before the horse lowers its head or if the horse lowers and then pops its head back up. This is common for horses new to the exercise or for horses that are tense or resistant. After a few tries most horses discover relaxation and prefer it over tension and hollowness because it is more comfortable. Eventually the horse will remain in a lowered headset for longer periods of time.

4. Stretch and release at a walk: When the horse gets consistent with this exercise at a halt, I begin stretching the bit at a walk on a large 20-meter circle. I find that it is easier for my horse to find relaxation in the long and low exercise on an arc than when traveling on a straight line.

5. Add transitions and changes of direction: After a few circles, I will repeat the exercise traveling in the opposite direction and switch directions every 3 or 4 circles. Then I will add some walk-halt-walk transitions to keep it interesting and “stretch the bit” and “release to reward” at a halt before transitioning to a walk. The transitions also help to improve the horse’s balance.

Video: Stretch the Bit and Release and Reward

As my horse advances in its training, like to replace the “stretch the bit” with a more traditional dressage application I call “squeeze and release.”

How to Squeeze and Release
1. Squeeze and release with the rein: On a 20-meter circle at a walk, I gently squeeze the inside rein with my fingers and hold my fingers closed until my horse gives. Then I immediately release the inside rein by opening my middle, ring and pinky fingers to reward the horse. I don’t drop the rein. I keep a hold of the rein with my thumb and index fingers. Each time the horse’s head pops up, I’ll repeat the “squeeze and release.”

2. Application of the inside calf after the squeeze and release: Once the horse is relaxed and understands this concept, I will touch and release my inside calf at the girth as my horse steps its inside hind leg forward. This encourages my horse to step deeper under its body with its inside hind leg. It is important to separate the squeeze of the fingers on the inside rein and the application of the inside calf. I like to apply the inside calf just after I release my fingers of the inside rein. Combining my rein and leg aids is like driving a car with my foot on the break and gas pedal at the same time. It isn’t efficient. I have found that by separating my rein and leg aids by milliseconds, it produces much greater softness and lightness in my horse.

4. Inside leg to outside rein: Then I capture the forward energy into an ounce of contact with the outside indirect rein which I place lightly against my horse’s neck. The inside leg to outside indirect rein combined with the softening inside rein helps keep my horse in a consistent long and low frame on a 20-meter circle.

Video: Squeeze and Release to Reward

When my horse is consistent in the long and low frame, then I ask for a few deeper, more ground covering steps and more impulsion from the hind quarters to begin the free walk on a long rein.

freewalk on a long rein

How to Improve the Free Walk
1. Awareness: Improving the free walk on a long rein begins by becoming aware of how the free walk feels and looks when it is moving well and when it needs improvement. Finding a riding coach who can provide timely feedback is a great way to learn this “feel.” This takes time, patience and consistent training, but free walk offers such wonderful benefits to the horse. The free walk teaches the horse to maintain a consistent relaxed tempo, maximum stride depth, even four-beat rhythm, and a long and low frame which helps to develop the top line muscles.

2. Cueing deeper strides: While traveling at a relaxed long and low walk, the timing of my cue is critical. I press and release my right calf at the girth as the horse steps forward with its right hind leg (or as I feel the horse’s barrel sway left). Then I apply and release my left calf as the horse steps forward with its left hind leg (or as I feel the horse’s barrel sway right). The application of my calf should encourage a deeper step beneath the body.  It is important not to apply my calf with every step or the horse will become as they say “dead to the leg.” It is also important not to use both calves at the same time as that shortens the stride. I stop cueing as soon as my horse increases its depth of stride, and I will follow the motion with my hips along with the rise and fall of the barrel of the horse.

If the horse ignores my calf aid, I will follow it up with a tap of a dressage whip applied to the same side I applied my calf to activate that hind leg while it is stepping forward.

Another way to encourage more energy and deeper strides in the free walk is to make a kissing or clucking sound as the hind leg steps forward. As soon as the horse increases the energy and depth of stride, stop the sound. Since I show gaited dressage, using my voice as a training aid isn’t my best option since voice is not allowed during a test, but I have found that it motivates the horse forward and produces a deeper stride.

3. Following the movement with my seat: After cueing my horse for deeper strides, I follow (not drive) my horse’s forward movement with my seat. I allow each hip joint to walk with each hind leg as it steps beneath the horse. I become aware of the feeling of the horse’s rib cage lift on one side and lower on the other.  I keep my body still from the core but not stiff or locked in the joints. I find that it is more effective to follow the horse’s movement versus drive the horse forward with my seat. It seems less noisy to the horse and my horses are able to hear my cues better.

4. Circles and straight lines: I find that it is easiest for the horses I ride to learn the free walk on a long rein on the arc of a large circle versus a straight line. Once the horse is consistent on a 20-meter circle, I will add serpentines, figure eights, and moments of straight lines. As soon as the horse’s head pops up, the back gets hollow, or the gait gets pacey, I’ll return to the arc of a circle. Over time, the horse will learn to travel in straight lines in a consistent free walk on a long rein which is the required movement in dressage tests.

Gait and Canter on a Long Rein
As the horse develops a consistent free walk on a long rein, then I begin asking the horse for a few steps of flat walk or easy gait in a long and low frame. As soon as the horse begins to pace or trot, I slow the horse back down to a walk and begin again with relaxation at a long and low free walk before transitioning up to the gait again.

flatwalk on a long rein

After the horse is established in canter, I like to warm up my gaited horse in a canter on a long rein. A long and low canter on a 20-meter circle is a great way to relax the horse’s back, build the horse’s top line muscles, as well as help break up a lateral canter. After cantering I’m amazed with how much better my horse flat walks!

Video: Flat Walk on a Long Rein

Video: Cantering on a Long Rein

At every clinic I have attended since I began my gaited dressage journey, I have witnessed dozens of gaited horses transformed from a hard pace to a smooth, four-beat gait by replacing a tense, high-headed, hollow back frame with a relaxed long and low frame.

I hope you find this information helpful. Feel free to contact me and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you!

—Jennifer Klitzke, Makana and Lady

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Video: Hard Trot to Easy Gait

 

Hard trot to easy gait
Lady is ridden barefoot and in a snaffle bit with no artificial gadgets.

By Jennifer Klitzke

Do you have a gaited horse that has a bouncy trot instead of an easy gait?

Meet Lady. She’s a Walking horse cross my friend has encouraged me to ride the last two summers. When I first began to work with Lady, she had two distinct gaits: a dog walk and a hard bouncy trot, so I began to increase the speed of her dog walk in order to develop a flat walk. Then I increased her tempo just before she broke into a trot so that I could bring out a naturally smooth fox walk and fox trot.

Over the last year Lady has developed four distinct easy gaits: a medium walk, a flat walk, a fox walk, and a fox trot. While her gaits aren’t fancy, nothing beats Lady on the trail. She’s bold, smooth, and extremely efficient in her gaits. She can ride for a couple hours without breaking a sweat. While my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana can hardly keep up without breaking into a canter!

Lady’s Easy Gaits
The medium walk
is a even four-beat gait and the horse’s head and neck nod with each step. All horses, whether they gait or trot, can perform the medium walk. Ideally the horse’s hind hoof print should meet or overstep the front hoof print.

The free walk is also an even four beat gait where I allow the horse freedom to reach down and out with its head and neck and take maximum ground covering steps. I use the free walk as a great stretching exercise to begin and end every ride and several times within a riding session as a reward to the horse. An active balanced free walk is a great way to start the flat walk.

The flat walk is an even four beat gait where the horse’s head and neck nod with each step of the hind legs. Ideally the horse’s hind hoof prints should overstep the front hoof prints. Lady is naturally short strided, and we are working to increase her depth of stride through developing an active free walk on a long rein. The flat walk feels even smoother than the medium walk and free walk.

The fox walk which is a smooth, uneven four beat gait with a 1-2–3-4 timing. The horse’s legs on one side will lift up and set down independently. The front leg and its diagonal hind leg will move forward together, but the front hoof will meet the ground before the hind hoof.

The fox trot is my favorite of Lady’s gaits. Like the fox walk, it is a diagonal easy gait where the diagonal pairs of legs lift off the ground and move forward together, but the front hoof sets down before the hind hoof. In motion, the fox trot gait sounds like “ka-chunck, ka-chunck,” because the hind foot fall occurs moments after the fore footfall.  The horse’s head and neck also nod with the motion of the hind legs. The fox trot feels like a gentle rocking forward and backward in the saddle. It is comfortable and fun.

Now that Lady is set in her easy gaits, I’ll start dabbling with canter. In the meantime, I continue to ask her to increase speed in her fox trot just before she breaks into a hard trot, and I allow her to move actively forward in a free walk to increase her depth of stride as she further develops her flat walk.

So if you have a gaited horse with a hard trot, don’t be discouraged, with a little patience and consistent training, you might find out that you have a handful of easy gaits ready to be discovered!

 

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Gaited Dressage [and Jumping] at Northwoods

Gaited dressage and jumping at Northwoods

By Jennifer Klitzke

Thanks to the familiar faces, I felt like I was showing among friends at the Northwoods schooling show instead of me, Makana, and tripod.

Northwoods offered their first annual schooling dressage [and hunter] show on May 30, 2015. I took my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana—the only gaited horse/rider entry among 29 trotting horse tests ridden, Intro through First Level.

Nearing the arena I heard someone say my name. I turned to look and a woman introduced herself. We came to know each other through NaturallyGaited.com. I was delighted to connect with her face-to-face.

Then another woman I had met through the Western Dressage Association rode her Norwegian Fjord at her mare’s first dressage show. These women, among the other friendly spectators and competitors, made it feel like I was riding with friends instead of showing solo—me, Makana, and tripod.

Since Makana seems to run out of gas so quickly, I’ve been making a point to do more conditioning with her during our rides at home. It really paid off. We rode both First Level Tests One and Three back-to-back and Makana had enough energy to spare. The tests were held in Northwood’s spacious mirror-lined indoor arena with dust-free rubberized footing.

This show marked the first time Makana and I had ever ridden First Level Test Three which is filled with lots of new challenges: leg yield zig zag at a flatwalk, 10-meter flatwalk circles, counter canter, and simple changes of lead at X through the flatwalk, in addition to the running walk, canter lengthenings, and 15-meter canter circles.

To my amazement Makana scored 70.294% on First Level Test Three and received a respectable score of 65.926% on First Level Test One.

After our rides, Judge Colleen Holden remarked, “That was really fun to watch how you orchestrated all those variations of walk.” She said that we received an “OMG” on our free walk and medium walk because they were the best she had seen all day, and she was very impressed with our transitions, and the quality of our canter. Areas she encouraged us to work on are developing better bend which will improve the overall elegance of our tests.

After the dressage tests were completed, the outdoor arena was set for the hunter course. While I continue to school Makana over ground rails and small jumps at home to improve her canter, it had been a couple years since we entered a hunter course.

The last time we rode a course of ground rails, Makana spooked, refused, and hesitated getting near the strangely colored poles. The Northwoods schooling show promised to be a fun and beginner-friendly event, so I entered Makana in the hunter course over ground rails.

What a terrific course—eleven poles with lots of turns and canter stretches made it feel more like a cross country course. I was so proud of my girl. She confidently cantered the entire course of rails without a spook, refusal, or hesitation! In fact, I was tempted to enter her in the 18″ cross rail course.

Video: Naturally gaited (and barefoot) Walking horse over a hunter course of ground rails

Special thanks to Northwoods Stables for hosting their first annual dressage and hunter schooling show and for accommodating gaited dressage.

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Gaited Dressage at Wildfire

Gaited Dressage at Wildfire

By Jennifer Klitzke

Medium Walk
Medium Walk

I took my barefoot, naturally gaited Walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), to our first schooling dressage show of the 2015 season on May 2 at Wildfire Farms in Maple Lake, MN. You couldn’t ask for better weather and a more organized show. Makana and I rode the new 2015 NWHA Training Level 3 and First Level 1 Tests among the 40 tradition dressage tests ridden — Intro through Third levels.

Free walk
Free Walk

Getting to the show late with 30 minutes before our first ride was pushing it. Then my boot zipper broke. Rats! Now what?! Duct tape. Why, yes! So here I am dressed in my formal dressage outfit with duct tape wrapped around my left calf. I just had to laugh!

Cantering the gaited horse
Canter

Makana and I were given five minutes to school in the arena before our test to get acquainted with the judge’s stand, the letters, and the flower boxes. She wasn’t so sure of the flowers wiggling with the wind, and I wasn’t so sure how well our rides would be since flowers were placed at most of the letters.

Halt
Halt

Before a couple dozen onlookers (including my first riding instructor of 12 years) I man handled Makana past the flower boxes. It wasn’t exactly the introduction to gaited dressage I had hoped to present to those who had never seen it (which included my riding instructor).

Then whistle blew for our test.

Down the center line we rode—determined, straight, and square. Makana snapped into dressage mode and seemed to forget about the dancing plants. She and I pulled off a remarkable Training Level 3 Test with a score of 68.2%. Even the judge was surprised after watching the difficulty we had just moments before.

Flat Walk
Flat Walk

Twenty minutes later we re-entered the arena for our First Level 1 Test. Makana was a trooper. Her flat walk, lengthened flat walk, free walk, and canter work were terrific.  Judge Jody Ely commented on how seamless our transitions were with barely noticeable cues. With her dressage background Jody said she knew firsthand how challenging it is as she has trained several TWHs and Missouri Foxtrotters.

Areas the judge pointed out where we can improve are for me to be more precise in my delivery of aids at the letters and help Makana be more consistent in her rhythm at a flatwalk.

I was tickled that we completed our First Level 1 Test with a score of 70.4%.

Video: NWHA 2015 Training Level Test Three

Video: NWHA 2015 First Level Test One

Thank you to Wildfire Farms for hosting this schooling dressage show at your beautiful facility and for accommodating gaited dressage. I hope there will be another!

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Video: Gaited Dressage: Second Thoughts about Long and Low

 

freewalk on a long rein

By Jennifer Klitzke

Next to “how do I get my horse to gait?” is another common question I hear gaited horse owners ask: “How do I stop my gaited horse from pacing?” This question comes up at every gaited dressage and gaited horsemanship clinic I’ve attended. Among the use of ground rails and transitions, every clinician I’ve heard agrees that working your gaited horse in a long and low position is essential in transforming a high-headed, hollow and stiff-backed pace into a relaxed, smooth, four-beat gait.

In dressage terms, long and low is called freewalk on a long rein. It is required in all dressage tests—Introductory through Advanced—and it is the way riders are asked to leave the arena after the final halt and salute.

Freewalk on a long rein is more than just allowing the horse a long rein to stretch its head and neck out and down. The freewalk has great purpose: it stretches and strengthens the top line muscles, it develops rhythm and depth of stride as the horse reaches beneath its body with its hind leg and over tracks the fore footprint, and the lowered head and neck position stimulates endorphins to relax the horse. The freewalk is a great way to begin and end every ride with a couple stretch breaks in between—as long as the horse is in balance.

Recently I’ve had the great privilege of auditing two great clinicians who came to my region: International riding bio-mechanics coach Mary Wanless and Grand Prix dressage rider Heather Blitz. Both clinicians challenged riders to not only become aware of riding in a balanced position, but to become aware of the horse’s balance so that they are more proactive in maintaining it. While both clinics taught riders of trotting horses, the principles of rider position and balance certainly apply to gaited horses.

Heather explained the feeling of a horse’s balance in this metaphor. While riding, imagine if your horse had a medicine ball which freely moves around its insides. Where does the weight of the medicine ball feel like is rests most? Does it feel like it rests in the horse’s chest or beneath your seat? The former indicates that the horse is more on the forehand and the latter indicates that the horse is more in balance with the rider.

Thinking about this, what if I were to release my horse into a long and low frame while her balance is on the forehand? What quality of freewalk would we produce? Likely my horse would begin pulling herself forward with her front legs, and her hind legs would be trailing behind instead of stepping deep beneath her body and creating over track with the fore hoof prints.

Now that I’ve become aware of how it feels when my horse is in and out of balance, it is important to correct her balance BEFORE releasing the reins for freewalk on a long rein.

Heather’s metaphor has really helped me discover the feeling of balance and what to do about it when I lose it. Each time it feels like the medicine ball rolls into my horse’s chest, I begin with a half halt or transition from walk to halt to walk. If the medicine ball still feels like it is in my horse’s chest, then I transition from walk to halt, take a couple steps of rein back until I feel the medicine ball roll beneath my seat, and that’s when I allow my horse to take the reins long and low for a freewalk and feel her hind legs step deeply beneath her body like pictured above.

Freewalk on a long rein is a great way to break up pace for a smooth, four-beat gait. It also improves depth of stride, rhythm and relaxation. Just remember to establish balance before releasing the reins to maximize your efforts.

Video: A Balanced Freewalk on a Long Rein

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