Tag Archives: gaited dressage

Naturally gaited dressage duo receives US Humane Society Award

Naturally gaited dressage duo, Jennfer Klitzke and TWH Gift of Freedom, received an award and grant from The United States Humane Society “Now, That’s a Walking Horse” Program recognizing correct training of horse and rider without the use of artificial enhancements or aggressive shoeing techniques while focusing on the gymnastic development as a way to improve and establish the gaits of the Walking horse and through volunteer efforts to “spread the word” by sharing the good news about the natural Walking horse to the trotting as well as to gaited enthusiasts who have seen the limitless potential in the breed in new ways.

By Jennifer Klitzke

Exciting news arrived in the mail! I received a letter from The Humane Society of the United States announcing that my naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) and I have received an award and grant from The Humane Society of the United States “Now, That’s a Walking Horse” (NTAWH) program.

Cheryl Jacobson, Deputy Director,  Equine Protection of The Humane Society of the United States writes:

“Your application showcases the sort of approach to training of Tennessee Walking Horses that the NTAWH program hopes to promote. This includes correct training of horse and rider without the use of artificial enhancements or aggressive shoeing techniques while focusing on the gymnastic development as a way to improve and establish the gaits of the Walking horse.”

“We are further impressed by your volunteer efforts to “spread the word.” The best promotion for the breed is a good example. It is clear that you have provided that, sharing the good news about the natural Walking horse to the trotting as well as to gaited enthusiasts who have seen the limitless potential in the breed in new ways because of your efforts.”

A couple years ago The Humane Society of the United States began to offer an award program called “Now, That’s a Walking Horse” which recognizes individuals who demonstrate natural and humane ways of training their Tennessee Walking Horses(s). This year, I pulled the material together and applied for this recognition award and grant.

2 year old Tennessee walking horse
Gift of Freedom as a frolicking two-year-old filly.

I’ve been an avid dressage rider since 1988 with trotting horses and on Valentine’s Day 2007, my husband caved in a moment of weakness and said “yes” to one more horse. I purchased my first naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), just before she turned three years old. She had been selectively bred by a private family farm, imprinted and raised, and had 20 rides on her. Initially I was struck by her black beauty, and then her friendly “meet me at the fence” personality stole my heart.

I had no intentions of showing her—especially dressage—because I thought dressage was only for horses that trot. I just wanted a smooth horse to ride that would be easier on my aging body. However, since dressage had been the only riding style I had studied, that’s what became our training language.

TWH 3-gait Trail Pleasure Rail Class
Jennifer Klitzke riding Gift of Freedom at a TWH breed show in the 3-gait Trail Pleasure Rail Class

Later on I joined a local Tennessee Walking Horse association. They pleaded with members to show at the county fair for fear that classes would be cancelled due to a low number of entries. So being a good sport, I took my then four-year-old TWH mare to her first rail class show. To my amazement, Makana came alive in the show ring. We had so much fun I showed her at TWH rail classes for three years where she earned Trail Pleasure Champion in 2010 with the Minnesota Walking Horse Association. Makana has always been ridden and shown barefoot and in a mild snaffle bit or Imus Comfort Gait Bit.

versatility of the naturally gaited horse

encountering the moose obstacle
Jennifer Klitzke riding naturally gaited TWH Gift of Freedom at a Gaited Trail Trial encountering the moose obstacle.

In addition to showing Makana in Trail Pleasure rail classes at Tennessee Walking Horse breed shows, we had been a TWH demonstration horse/rider team for the Minnesota Horse Expo, gaited dressage demonstration team for a traditional dressage Ride-A-Test clinic, and a gaited western dressage demonstration team for a Western Dressage clinic. We have competed at a gaited trail trial, an orienteering race, novice endurance races, team penning and cow sorting leagues, ridden hunter over rails courses, lots of trail riding, gymnastic jumping and gaited dressage.

Video: Minnesota State Fair TWH Stakes Class
(the only barefoot horse competing in the class)

Video: Minnesota Horse Expo TWH Demonstration Team

Video: Gaited Dressage Demonstration at a Traditional Dressage Ride-A-Test Clinic

Video: Endurance Riding with a Gaited Horse

Video: Sorting Cows with a Gaited Horse

Video: Gymnastic Jumping with a Gaited Horse

Video: Gaited Dressage


Gaited Dressage: Training Level
Our first gaited dressage show in 2010.

Gaited Dressage
In 2010, I saw a post on craigslist.com advertising a schooling dressage show near my home. I called the show manager and asked if I could ride my gaited horse in flat walk instead of trot. The show manager agreed and that’s when we made the switch to showing gaited dressage. I never imagined that I’d be back in the dressage arena after a 16-year lapse on a horse that didn’t trot!

Since 2010, Makana and I have ridden over 55 gaited dressage tests at open USDF schooling dressage shows and have been the only gaited entry among the trotting horses. Being the odd ball at these events has sparked great conversations. Many people ask what breed my horse is and when I tell them she is a Tennessee Walking Horse they are wonderfully surprised to see a barefoot and naturally gaited TWH moving in a smooth four-beat gait without heavy shoes, artificial enhancements, or a harsh bit.

The main reason I bring my naturally gaited Walking horse to schooling dressage shows is to get feedback from a professional as to where we are at in our training. Plus, dressage tests force me and my horse to face all of the required movements ridden in both directions. The difficult ones would be easy to avoid if I were just hacking at home.

In 2014, my naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, Gift of Freedom, was named Champion in Training Level, Champion in First Level, and received the Highest Percentage Award in 2014 by Friends of Sound Horses (F.O.S.H.).

Flat walk
In First Level tests the horse must show bending through the corners at a flat walk, circle 10 meters at a flat walk, perform a 20 meter flat walk circle allowing the horse to stretch its head and neck down and out, and leg yields at a flat walk.

2015 Gaited Dressage Competitions
In 2015, my naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, Gift of Freedom, and I competed at five USDF open dressage schooling shows and rode 10 NWHA Training Level and First Level gaited dressage tests. We were the only gaited horse entry among trotting horses at these shows which always opens the door to wonderful conversation with fellow competitors and onlookers. Nine times out of ten, people say that they own a gaited horse for trail riding and it had never occurred to them that dressage training methods could actually improve their communication and partnership with their horse on the trail until seeing it in action!

My first recognized dressage show with my Trakehner/thoroughbred gelding in 1992.

Dressage Education
Beginning in 1988, I took 12 years of regular dressage lessons and showed my Trakehner/thoroughbred gelding SeilTanzer successfully at USDF recognized shows—Training Level through Second Level—until his retirement in 1996. Now with my Tennessee Walking Horse, I have resumed my dressage education by attending gaited dressage clinics with instructors who travel to my State, since no gaited dressage instructors teach nearby.

Riding at a Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in 2013.

Among the clinicians who I have ridden with are Larry Whitesell, Jennifer Bauer, Bucky Sparks, and I have coordinated two gaited dressage clinics with Jennie Jackson in Minnesota (2013 and 2014). In March 2015, I traveled to Tennessee to ride at a Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite clinic.

I also study the work of Mary Wanless riding biomechanics through her books and videos, Philippe Karl French Classical Dressage DVDs, and Lisa Maxwell Riding in Lightness DVD.

I am a member of Central States Dressage and Eventing Association and show my naturally gaited TWH at their schooling dressage shows and have been a member of Friends of Sound Horses (F.O.S.H.). My heart also aligns with the Cowboy Dressage values where I have made the pledge and given my word to the Cowboy Dressage “handshake” to:

  • become the person others can trust with a handshake and my word.
  • exemplify the Cowboy Dressage way of life and find the courage to chase my dreams.
  • not allow defeat when faced with setbacks in my life and my horsemanship.
  • treat all horses and people with integrity and kindness.
  • look for “the try” in my horses and always reward them.
  • look for “the try” in people as I travel  down my horsemanship path.

In addition to training and showing gaited dressage, I launched www.NaturallyGaited.com in 2010 as a means to promote natural and humane training methods for gaited horses using dressage. This blog features stories, photos, videos, and information about how dressage can improve the quality of natural four-beat gaits without the use of abusive handling, heavy shoes, harsh bits, and artificial gadgets or enhancements. I also participate and promote natural barefoot trimming.

Readers of www.NaturallyGaited.com learn that dressage can help their trotty or pacey gaited horses smooth out as they develop relaxation, balance, rhythm, collection, and impulsion. Dressage training improves the rider’s skills, sense of feel and timing of the aids in communicating with the horse, and develops more harmony between the horse and rider relationship. In fact, dressage training improves the horse’s natural gait whether that be flat walk, foxtrot, or trot. Indeed “dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in.”

Volunteer Work

As a volunteer instructor, I have introduced dozens of students, young and old, to the naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse and gaited dressage.

My naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse has introduced dozens of people—young and old—to the basics of gaited dressage as I offer lessons as a volunteer instructor at my hobby farm. I have also served as a volunteer foster care home and have trained and placed many horses for the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation. I also fostered and trained a three-year-old Arabian gelding and competed him at the 2010 Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse.

Over the last five years I have volunteered hundreds of hours providing graphic design, story writing, and photography for the Minnesota Walker publication for the Minnesota Walking Horse Association and cover designs for the Heritage Highlights publication for the International Heritage Walking Horse Society. Both non profit organizations are supporters of humanely treated naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horses.


piaffe en gaite
Jennie Jackson riding TWH stallion Champagne Watchout in piaffe en gaite.

The NTAWH award includes a grant to use in furthering my gaited dressage education with my mentor Jennie Jackson to which I am so grateful. Not only has Jennie Jackson accomplished what no other person in history has by training and showing a Tennessee Walking Horse to the highest levels of dressage, but Jennie and her husband Nate have been on the front lines for over 30 years fighting against the soring and abuse that has tarnished the TWH industry. I am humbled to know them as mentors and friends.

I am honored and so thankful to receive this recognition award by the United States Humane Society “Now That’s a Walking Horse” Program and am so thankful to obtain a grant to further my gaited dressage training with my mentor Jennie Jackson.


Gaited Cowboy Dressage: My Journey Begins

Did you know that Cowboy Dressage welcomes naturally gaited horses? Among the people I’ve met through cyber space since launching NaturallyGaited.com is Dollie Horst who just returned from the 2015 Cowboy Dressage World Finals with her naturally gaited Rocky Mountain mare, Annie. I asked Dollie if she would share her story with us about how she became involved with gaited horses and the path which led her to Gaited Cowboy Dressage. I think you’ll love what she has to say about Cowboy Dressage, its training philosophy, and the people who have taken the Cowboy Dressage “handshake” to live out its lifestyle. —Jennifer Klitzke

Cowboy Dressage: My Gaited Journey Begins
Dollie Horst on RMHA registered/certified mare MMR’s Cover Girl aka “Annie” at a Cowboy Dressage Clinic in Colorado. Photograph by Richard Horst.

Gaited Cowboy Dressage: My Journey Begins

By Dollie Horst, Guest Writer

My introduction to naturally gaited horses came five years ago when my husband and I were offered a management position at Mountain Magic Ranch, a private Rocky Mountain Gaited Horse ranch in Three Forks, Montana.

Before that, non-gaited horses like thoroughbreds, AQHAs, APHAs, and BLM mustangs filled my riding background—mostly for trail riding, packing, reining, and working with cows. Like most non-gaited horse people, I thought gaited horses were just, let’s say, different. But with my new job working with mountain gaited horses and my love for anything “horse,” I kept an open mind and willingness to learn.

Meeting the Mountain Gaited Horses
My husband and I have done a lot of mountain riding and pack trips. We immediately saw the value gaited mountain horses brought to “the hills.” These horses can cover country like no other breed we had worked with, and their cool temperaments are exactly what you need when you’re 33 miles into the wilderness.

When I began training the Rocky Mountain and Kentucky Mountain gaited breeds, their exceptional learning capacity really stood out. Overall, they have been the most willing, level headed, intelligent horses I have ever worked with. Not only do they learn twice as fast as the non-gaited breeds I’ve trained, but they seem to retain their schooling with less repetition.

Since gaited horses were new to me coming into this job, I held true to my training philosophy that “a horse is a horse first.” Whether gaited or non-gaited, my goals were the same: develop a soft, supple, relaxed partnership which is based on trust and mutual understanding. After that, I began to recognize the natural four-beat gait, and then train, develop, and certify the gait in the young horses and the horses newly started under saddle. I have found that most people who are interested in the gaited mountain breeds are looking for smooth, soft, willing trail partners.

Introduction to Cowboy Dressage
I don’t ride in a fancy saddle, just a well fitting one. I don’t use a special bit, just a snaffle or bitless bridle. I like to ride on a loose rein or light contact. I love to lope the gaited horses I ride. I respect the time it takes to build a solid foundation and master a maneuver before progressing to a more challenging one. I strive for the ultimate partnership and develop a seamless communication between me and my horse as if we become one in the same. While I love this method of training gaited horses to be trail partners, something seemed missing. I longed for a show venue which aligned with my training philosophies and would showcase the philosophies and would showcase the multiple talents of gaited mountain horses. Little did I know that what I had longed for had already been coined “soft feel” by Eitan Beth-Halachmy, the founder of Cowboy Dressage.

Then in June 2015, I learned of a Cowboy Dressage clinic taught by Dr. Jenni Grimmett, DVM and held at Sleeping Willow Ranch in Stevensville, MT. What I knew of Cowboy Dressage piqued my curiosity, so my husband and I made the 3-1/2 hour drive to audit. Little did I know, this decision would become life-changing.

Listening to Dr. Grimmett explain the Cowboy Dressage principles and philosophy, I couldn’t stop nodding and smiling. Cowboy Dressage is not just a riding discipline or competition; it is a way of life. Cowboy Dressage is a commitment in how we treat our horses, and how we treat each other—everyday, anywhere—regardless if anyone is around or not. It is a commitment to the development of the horse as an individual, at a speed the horse can grasp. Cowboy Dressage transcends training exercises; it is the fundamental relationships between you, your horse, and others.

Membership in Cowboy Dressage is represented in a virtual “handshake” instead of paying joiner’s fees. The Cowboy Dressage Handshake is your word to pledge to “try” to:

  • become the person others can trust with your handshake and your word.
  • exemplify the Cowboy Dressage way of life and find the courage to chase your dreams.
  • not allow defeat when faced with setbacks in your life and your horsemanship.
  • treat all horses and people with integrity and kindness.
  • look for the “try” in your horses and always reward them.
  • look for the “try” in people as you travel down your horsemanship path.

When you pledge this handshake, you become a member of the Cowboy Dressage World and you ride together with others who have also done the same, including its founders Debbie and Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Lyn Moe and Garn Walker.

4 The Girls
From Left to Right: Dr. Jenni Grimmett DVM, Dollie Horst, Trish Knight enjoying the comradery and friendship that is Cowboy Dressage. Photograph by Richard Horst.

I had finally found what I had been yearning for! The girls at Sleeping Willow Ranch must have noticed, because they graciously let me ride their horses just so that I could participate in the clinic. I will never forget their kind gesture. Seriously, who lends their horse to someone they had just met, so that they could ride, not just audit a clinic?! People who have pledged the Cowboy Dressage Handshake—that’s who! Thanks to Shannon, Debbie, and Dr. Grimmett, I left the clinic that day completely engulfed in Cowboy Dressage and couldn’t wait to share it with my gaited four-legged friends!

Annie's first ride
May 9, 2015 Annie’s first ride, Dollie Horst aboard. Val Geissler snubbing on his BLM mustang “Smoke.” Photograph by Richard Horst.

Returning home I began applying what I had learned at the clinic with my registered/certified Rocky Mountain mare, MMR’s Cover Girl (aka, Annie). She had been started under saddle in May, and what better foundation could there be for a green horse then one of “soft feel”? On top of that, Annie has a great mind and confirmation for Cowboy Dressage as well.

In September and October, I brought Annie to two different  Cowboy Dressage of Colorado clinics taught by the Cowboy Dressage founder himself, my new friend Eitan Beth-Halachmy. Eitan was happy to see a gaited horse at the clinics and welcomed us wholeheartedly, as did the other non-gaited riders!

Eitan and I
Dollie Horst and Annie pictured with Cowboy Dressage Founder, Eitan Beth-Halachmy. Photograph by Richard Horst.

At the clinics, Annie and I learned the ‘ins-and-outs’ of riding the Cowboy Dressage tests; as well as exercises we could do to improve our communication and relationship in order to thrive in any riding discipline. Eitan is an incredible teacher and someone I feel so grateful to work with. His vast knowledge is delivered humbly through whit, humor, and a go-getter mentality that is empowering. He makes everyone feel equal, and what he recognizes most, is not the ability, but the “try.”

Annie and I have reached new levels of trust and partnership. Cowboy Dressage has helped me develop a better seat as a means of communication with my horse, and soft contact helps Annie understand more clearly what I am asking of her. She is pliable and bendable to my slightest cues. Her movement and transitions are more fluid and understood. Her gaits are more balanced and rhythmic, with the ability to shorten and lengthen her strides without changing speed. Her natural four beat (intermediate) gait, is smooth and accomplished through light, soft contact. Annie knows what is expected of her and where she needs to be.

Through Cowboy Dressage, Annie and I have learned and accomplished so much in such a short period of time, as have the other gaited mountain horses I work with. In fact, gaited horses thrive with this concept of “soft feel,” and I strongly believe have the most to gain from Cowboy Dressage!

CO Show
Dollie Horst on RMHA registered/certified mare MMR’s Cover Girl aka “Annie” at a Cowboy Dressage Show in Brighton, CO. Photograph by Richard Horst.

Cowboy Dressage Shows
Not only did I travel to three Cowboy Dressage clinics in 2015; Annie and I competed at three Cowboy Dressage shows. Two shows were held in Colorado where Annie and I won the Amateur Gaited divisions.

The third, and most recent show was the 2015 Cowboy Dressage World Finals in Rancho Murieta, California, which drew over 900 entries. At first I hesitated to compete at the World Finals. I wondered if I was ready or if I was good enough, but Cowboy Dressage has helped me put aside those demons and give it a “try.” One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my horsemanship and life this year is that accomplishment begins with the decision to “try.” That we did. At the Cowboy Dressage World Finals, Annie and I won the Reserve Highpoint Champion in the Amateur Gaited Division.

5 CA Show
Dollie Horst riding RMHA registered/certified mare MMR’s Cover Girl aka “Annie” on the first day of the Amateur Gaited Classes – Cowboy Dressage World Finals 2015 in Rancho Murieta, CA. Photograph by Richard Horst.

As a participant at these events, I believe Cowboy Dressage is here to stay, and it is growing at an incredible rate—gaited, non-gaited, all breeds, all associations, all ages and people from all over the world of all walks of life. It is truly an inclusive group of liked-minded, kind, and supportive people who are in it for the horses, one another, and the betterment of horsemanship in general.

The Cowboy Dressage World Finals particularly, was unlike anything I had ever experienced in the horse show world. Not once did I meet someone in passing who didn’t say, “hello” or “how are you” or “nice ride.” Nowhere did I see harsh equipment or rough riding. Never did I see anyone “taking it out” on his or her horse at the barn, warm up arenas, and show areas alike. In fact, the show even had an official to make sure each horse was treated fairly and humanely. What I did see was a commitment to kindness toward one another, the slow, endless journey that is horsemanship and especially toward the love for horses – with patting, rubbing, hugging, smiling, and endless “talking” to their four-legged friends everywhere you looked.

6 CA Show
Dollie Horst thanking little Annie for a job well done after showing the second day at the Cowboy Dressage World Finals 2015 in Rancho Murieta, CA….This is what it is all about. Photograph by Richard Horst.

Annie and I have a long way to go, but we have started our Cowboy Dressage journey to which I am fully committed. For me, there is no other way than to “try.” Thank you Eitan, and thank you everyone committed to the Cowboy Dressage lifestyle.

I hope you enjoyed reading Dollie Horst’s story about how she became involved with gaited horses and the path which led her to Gaited Cowboy Dressage. If you have a naturally gaited horse you’ve developed a special relationship with and ride gaited dressage or versatility, and would like to share your story on NaturallyGaited.com, please contact me by completing the contact form. —Jennifer Klitzke