By Jennifer Klitzke
It was our first 75-degree Spring day after a long winter. I couldn’t wait to get Makana, my naturally gaited Walking horse mare saddled for an afternoon ride.
I had thought that the gale-force winds would be our greatest riding challenge as I negotiated Makana past the disco tree dancing to and fro at the corner of the arena. I had no idea we’d be riding 100 yards from our new neighbor’s artillery range practice plus a steady flow of overzealous motorcyclists roaring by!
The frenzied sights and sounds gave us plenty of opportunity to practice riding bio-mechanic techniques I have learned from Mary Wanless that helped me maintain a secure riding position each time my explosive horse reacted to unexpected gun fire. Among Mary’s riding tactics include breathing deep into my stomach, bearing down of my internal anatomy to lower my center of gravity, holding my weight in my inner thighs to distribute my weight across my horse’s back instead of my weight resting on my horse’s spine, and pressing my fists forward toward the bit instead of pulling back.
The distractions challenged me to practice what I learned from Larry Whitesell about becoming a trusted leader. Whenever my horse gets tense, nervous, and distracted it is my job to lead her back to balance and relaxation, and while doing she becomes a safer horse to ride. The best way to lead Makana back to balance and relaxation is through many transitions and lateral exercises.
So I practiced the suppling and lateral exercises I learned from Jennie Jackson and Outrageous, the gaited dressage school horse I rode while I was at the March 2015 Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in Tennessee. These lateral exercises such as pivot the fore, shoulder in, and haunches in break up tension, lead to balance and relaxation, and improve the communication between me and my horse. As Makana realized that I was helping her find balance and relaxation through a harried situation, she learned to trust me more as a reliable leader.
In addition to riding bio-mechanics and leading my horse back to balance and relaxation with suppling exercises, we also practiced what I’ve been learning from the Philippe Karl Classical Dressage DVD series regarding separation of the rein and leg aids, riding my horse in balance, and working Makana from the less sensitive bars of the mouth vs. from tongue pressure. These elements help to produce relaxation, expression, and harmony within my horse.
Although it wasn’t the joyous and relaxing Spring ride I had hoped for, it was a successful milestone for me and my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana. I faced my riding fears, trusted the skills my mentors have imparted, remembered to breath, (prayed a bunch that I didn’t get shot by stray bullets), and managed to work Makana through the distractions as they were happening. We managed to end our ride with quality flat walk possessing good rhythm, balance, over stride, and impulsion.
Video: Riding through Distractions