Tag Archives: french dressage for gaited horses

Collection and its effect on stride length

Collection and its effect on stride lengthBy Jennifer Klitzke

Dressage for the gaited horse: Developing a naturally gaited horse’s full range of motion by teaching big striding pushing gaits and balanced and engaged carrying gaits that improve the former.

Do you like the idea of training your naturally gaited horse for more relaxation, rhythm, balance, connection, and engagement?

I know I do.

I love training my natural gaited horse with humane training methods without pads and heavy shoes, mechanical devices, and artificial enhancements.

Don’t you?

Yet, if we are using dressage as our natural training method, how many of us realize that as we move into the carrying gaits of collection that build balance and engagement, that the naturally gaited horse’s stride shortens.

stride length: pushing power vs carrying power
Pushing power vs carrying power: Notice the biomechanics between flat walk (pushing gait) and collected walk (carrying gait). The pink line indicates the amount of disengagement beyond the tail. Increasing engagment and collection shortens the stride.

Look at the photo above which shows some of the walks called for in dressage. Notice as the horse steps into a collected walk, the hind leg doesn’t push from behind the tail. Rather it carries weight. Without the hind leg pushing from behind the tail, the stride is shorter. In the collected walk the horse compresses its frame by bending its hindquarter joints and engages its abdominal muscles which rounds its back. While the horse engages the hindquarters it lifts the whither, head and neck. The horse moves more poised and elegant. The collected walk is also a much slower tempo than the flat walk and the head doesn’t nod.

Just as the naturally gaited horse can learn to develop maximum stride length with a head nod in the flat walk and running walk, the horse can learn the collected walk. There are many benefits in doing so.

Training through the levels of dressage doesn’t mean that the collected gaits replace the big striding gaits. The horse gains a full range of motion as it develops the long, low, ground covering pushing gaits as well as the engaged, compressed and elegant carrying gaits of collection which produce balance. It is as simple as applying a set of cues, training and conditioning to direct the horse into a desired posture of movement.

Lateral exercises at a collected walk
Lateral exercises at a slow collected walk help the naturally gaited horse develop balance.

Even better, the carrying gaits of collection along with lateral exercises produces balance, suppleness, and strength which in turn improve the quality of the pushing gaits as the flat walk and running walk.

I own and train a naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse. I’ve shown her successfully at rail class events, so I know how big strides and head nods are deeply prized at breed shows.

I am also passionate about dressage. As one advances in the levels of dressage training they will come face-to-face with the requirements of the collected walk and lateral movements.

While naturally smooth gaits like the running walk “push” from behind to create big strides, collected gaits “carry” from behind to produce balance and engagement which in turn can improve the quality of the pushing gaits.

For the rail class competitor, the thought of slower, shorter strides, with little to no head nod produced by the collected walk may seem pointless. Yet teaching the naturally gaited horse the collected walk and lateral exercises such as shoulder in will improve balance and engagement which in turn can improve the quality of the flat walk and running walk.

As a gaited dressage rider, I’ve labored to develop a big striding, head nodding flat walk and running walk. Then I began schooling Second Level lateral exercises like the shoulder in. I tried REAL hard to maintain the same depth of stride and head nod when introducing collection and lateral exercises, but realized that the flat walk and the collected walk are not the same gait.

For the collected walk in the naturally gaited horse, it means SLOWING down and SHORTENING the stride to introduce lateral exercises. The collected walk and lateral exercises improve balance, engagement, softness, and strength to further gymnasticize the horse.

In the last few years while studying French dressage, I realized this demand for maximum depth of stride in the collected walk isn’t realistic. Lessons with gaited dressage master Jennie Jackson and French classical dressage clinician Fred Kappler have confirmed this. Carrying gaits and pushing gaits are two different things. Working in the slower, compressed, engaged collected gaits will build balance and strength which then improve the quality of the pushing gaits of flat walk and running walk with maximum head nod.

Jean-Claude Racinet, a classical French dressage master of Baucher’s theories describes engagement and disengagement in a horse’s stride. He says that engagement is the amount of stride under the horse’s belly and disengagement is the amount of stride behind the horse’s tail. He also said that a horse’s head and neck become STILL when in the “collected” FOUR-BEAT gaits of walk.

Think this through with me in light of what Classical French Dressage Master Racinet is saying: For the Tennessee walking horse, the flat walk and running walk both seek to reach a maximum length of stride. This stride length counts both the stride length under the belly (engagement) as well as the stride length behind the tail (disengagement). And a radical head and neck nod with every stride is highly prized.

This got me thinking about the biomechanics of collection and the biomechanics of a head nodding, deep striding flat walk. To me it is clear: The biomechanics are different and will produce different effects.

Yes, I want a soft, harmonious, round horse, with a maximum stride length, and a pronounced head nod. Yet it is not a realistic expectation when applying the aids for the collected walk. For me this was freedom. I realized that I needed to change my expectations about collection and how it impacts the movement in the naturally gaited horse.

Working in a slow, collected walk through shoulder in, haunches in, and half pass doesn’t mean abandoning all of the other work that has been accomplished up to that point. It just means that I don’t combine the expectation of big strides and head nod to the collected walk. I believe the collected walk is just one more posture I can ask of my naturally gaited horse to make her more athletic.

The collected walk has helped my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse find balance. The tempo is slow and deliberate enough for her to learn lateral exercises which have strengthened her for more beautiful gaiting. After we apply moments of collection in shoulder in, I turn her loose along the rail into her deep striding, head shaking flat walk and WOW. These transitions between collection and gait are improving her quality of flat walk and running walk!

Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse flatwalk
Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse flatwalk.

If you’ve ever seen the DVD of classical French dressage master Philippe Karl training High Noon, you’ll see how he trains him like he would play an accordion. He works the horse in a long and low frame for a few strides and then gathers the horse up for more collection and engagement in lateral exercises and then releases the horse to more strides of a long and low frame. This is what is known as gymnasticizing the horse to develop its full range of motion: pushing and carrying gaits.

Attaining the higher levels of dressage with collection and engagement doesn’t mean we never ride with maximum stride length and a head-banging nod again. I believe our horses can learn a full range of motion from long and low, to maximum depth of stride and head nod in a flat walk and running walk, to slow, engaged shortened steps of the collected walk in order to learn lateral exercises for balance and suppleness.

For now, applying transitions between the collected walk and moments of expressive flat walk along the rail have been a perfect recipe for me and my naturally gaited walking horse Makana.

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Six reasons why two whips are better than one to improve your gaited dressage

6 reasons why two whips are better than one

By Jennifer Klitzke

If you show gaited dressage, you know that you’re only permitted to ride your test with one dressage whip. But, did you know that there are benefits to riding with two dressage whips while schooling your naturally gaited horse between shows?

If you’re like me, you might be thinking, “You can’t show that way, so why would you want to do that?”

Well, that was my reaction when Dominique Barbier presented the idea to me in a 1995 French dressage clinic. So I gave it a try.

Ultimately you’re training your horse to be light and responsive to your hand, seat and leg aids and each use of the whip is purely reinforcement for when the leg aid is ignored.

Recently at the last French dressage clinic I rode at with Fred Kappler, he encouraged schooling my horse with two whips as well as recent lessons with my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.

Here’s why…

Six reasons why riding with a dressage whip in each hand can improve your gaited dressage training:

  1. Switching the whip from side-to-side each time you change rein can get cumbersome. If you ride with a whip in each hand, there is no switching back and forth.
  2. When switching the whip from side-to-side with each change of rein, you can miss timely cueing moments.
  3. By carrying a whip in both hands, you can cue the right side and the left side of the horse at the same time.
  4. Riding with a whip in each hand helps the horse and rider learn straightness. One whip can be used on the inside of the bend to activate the inside hind leg in order to step deeper under the body, while the other can be used on the outside of the bend to keep the outside shoulder from popping out like a jack-knifed semi and help the horse stay straighter. This was one of my take-a-ways from Jennie Jackson at my last lesson. Teaching the horse straightness helps the rider establish a “feeling” of straightness more quickly. If you get accustomed to riding a crooked horse, crooked becomes the feeling of normal and it becomes more difficult to discern the feeling of straight.
  5. Another reason for carrying a dressage whip in each hand, is that the horse can’t evade or learn to anticipate the whip when there is a whip that may be applied at any moment from either side. By training your horse with two whips, you’re teaching him muscle memory of a correct way of moving its body that when you’re in the show ring, that training can lead to greater chances for success.
  6.  Riding with a dressage whip in each hand is not meant to replace your leg aids. They are meant to reinforce them if needed. Ultimately you’re training your horse to be light and responsive to your hand, seat and leg aids and each whip is purely reinforcement for when a leg aid is ignored. If you’re schooling your horse well at home using two whips, your horse is learning to listen to your aids more and more so that your whip aids are needed less and less. This means that when you get to the show, the second whip won’t be missed.

I hope you found this helpful. Feel free to contact me with your gaited dressage questions by completing the contact form.

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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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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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Life and Random Thoughts about Gaited Dressage

By Jennifer Klitzke

I hope your Spring is off to a great start! After six month of winter’s dark and cold, I was chompin’ at the bit for sunshine and ridable terrain to be back in the saddle and riding my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and my friend’s naturally gaited fox trotting mare Lady. Thankfully, I’m back riding again. I hope you are, too!

Lady FoxtrotFirst off, I have great news: Lady, my friend’s fox trotting horse, has officially become a part of my family. Lady has been boarded at my place the last three years and my friend feels called to other time commitments in life. She has turn Lady over to my care, yet she knows that any time she wants to ride, she is more than welcome!

At the same time, due to my aging parents, a full time job, and the demands of life, I had to part with my once-in-a-lifetime Spanish Mustang, Indy, who had made many of my life-long dreams come true: cross country, endurance, stadium jumping, trail obstacles, dressage, and more.

NAWD Basic 3 stretch trot 1
My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend showing a jog by allowing the horse to stretch its head and neck out and down.

Indy was missing our continual weekend adventures that I no longer had time for during my Dad’s grave illness and my Mom’s need for our assistance on the weekends. I sold him back to the owner I purchased him from. Now Indy is living the trail horse dream. Here’s Indy’s story»

050617 Lady jumpingOn the bright side, Lady possesses many of Indy’s brave qualities, so who knows, after we get her canter consistently well established on both leads, maybe we’ll be back competing at these same events–only as a gaited duo!

So, now that it’s been Spring, here’s what’s been percolating since I began riding…So much of my focus has been on the depth of stride from behind. Lately I’ve been contemplating about fore stride in addition to the hind leg stride as it relates to head nod, throughness, connection, balance, engagement, rhythm, shoulder scope, and following the horse’s natural movement with my arms and seat.  It seems the more I follow the natural motion of the horse, the more freedom I’m seeing in the horses I ride.

Video: Naturally Gaited Tennessee Walking Horse Flat Footed Walk

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