Tag Archives: gaited dressage

The Counted Walk and the Gaited Horse

Counted Walk for the Gaited Horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

The counted walk isn’t talked much about in the German dressage circles I’ve been involved with the last thirty years, but it is an exercise I learned recently while studying the French classical dressage philosophy.

The counted walk is more of a balancing exercise than a gait. Each time my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse gets out of balance by leaning on the bit or feeling heavy in her chest, I ask for a few steps of the counted walk. This gets her engaged from behind, lighter in front, and softer in the jaw. Then I resume the medium walk, flat walk or canter.

I have seen some videos demonstrate the counted walk as a mini piaffe, which is a trot sequence of diagonal pairs instead of a walk sequence of four even steps. In either case, a counted walk or mini-piaffe (or piaffe), both are excellent exercises to help improve balance and engagement in a horse whether it trots or gaits.

Cues for the counted walk
1. First I want relaxation in the horse’s mind and jaw and a light contact to a snaffle bit.

2. Then I place my horse along the fence and encourage the slowest possible walk she is able to do with the smallest possible steps. While my horse is walking, I encourage her to raise her head and neck while she steps under her body from behind. It feels like the back raises and the withers grow higher while the hindquarters lower. Each step feels softer.

3. If I need more engagement. I will halt and ask for a few steps of rein back to encourage my horse’s back to lift and the hindquarters to engage. Then I will ask for a few more steps of the counted walk.

4. When I feel my horse is in balance, I will move up to a medium walk, flat walk or canter from the counted walk.

I hope this exercise helps you as much as it has helped me. The counted walk might not look like much compared with the deep striding flat walk we are accustomed to, but when you feel the balance of the counted walk and experience how the balance improves the flat walk, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Please write and let me know the difference the counted walk is making for you and your gaited horse.

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TWH Head Nod (or Head Peck)?

060416 Makana head nod canter.00_39_48_05.Still002
By Jennifer Klitzke

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the Tennessee walking horse head nod and head peck? “Head Peck?” you ask. Well, you’re not alone. That was my question after getting some cyber coaching from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.

I’ve always been an English dressage rider so whenever I give Western-style gaited dressage a try, I feel like a Cowboy in Spandex.

I recently rode my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom in our first FOSH IJA Western Training 1 Test, and after I received my Test results, I asked my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson for feedback on how we can improve our Western gaited dressage riding.

For some reason, I had always thought that riding Western meant riding with longer, looser reins. Maybe they do on the traditional, jogging variety, but according to national Tennessee walking horse judge, Jennie Jackson, the mechanics of a head nod require connection from the hindquarters, through the body, through the rider’s legs, seat and rein aids, and through the shoulder, neck, and head to the bit.

Jennie gave me terrific feedback in regards to riding the medium walk, which makes up the majority of this test. The medium walk is an active, even, four-beat walk with a head nod. The rider’s seat follows the motion of the belly sway as the hind legs alternately step under the body. The head nod needs to be in connection with the hind leg steps through the rein, seat, and leg aids of the rider. Jennie said that at times during the medium walk of my Test, my horse displayed a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.”

Head peck? Huh? What on earth is that?! Jennie explained that the head peck is an evasion where the Tennessee walking horse’s head simply flicks upward and is not connected with the hind leg steps of the horse.

The head nod is where the Tennessee walking horse travels forward from the hindquarter steps through a neutral to round back into a connection with the rider’s seat and rein contact—not loose, floppy reins. The head and neck should lower down with each step of the hind legs.

Jennie said that I need to feel the engine of my horse’s hind legs through her body, lifting her back to a neutral to round position, and forward into a rein connection with the snaffle bit. This will connect her back to front so that my horse’s hind legs step boldly under her body, through my aids, through her shoulders, neck, and head to the bit.

Video: Head Nod (or Head Peck)?
This video shows and describes the difference between the Tennessee walking horse head nod and the head peck I learned from Jennie Jackson. It is far too valuable for me to keep to myself. I hope it is helpful to you as well.

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Western Gaited Dressage: Our First Virtual Show

 

FOSH IJA Western Training 1 bending through the corners
Medium walk showing bending through the corners.

By Jennifer Klitzke

I felt like I was dressed up for a Halloween costume party wearing this get up, but I thought I’d give Western gaited dressage a try again. This time without leaving home. I saw a Facebook post for a virtual Western dressage show that was open to gaited horses. So my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and I rode the FOSH IJA Training 1 Test which calls for regular walk, medium walk, free walk, intermediate gait (flat walk), and canter.

What’s nice about a virtual show is that you can ride from home—no need to trailer to the show grounds, as long as you have an arena marked off and someone to record your ride. No editing allowed, just the raw footage to capture the entire test, post it to youtube and wait for the results and feedback via email.

Then if you feel like it, you can share the video link with others and ask for their feedback as to how you and your horse could have ridden the test better.

Video: FOSH IJA Training 1

NAWD IJA TR1-first place
Always feels good to take home a blue (even if you’re the only one in the class).

One of the judge’s comments about our test was: “Excessive head nod.” Isn’t that what a Tennessee walking horse is known for?

Perplexed, I asked my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson for feedback on how to improve my Western riding.

Jennie gave me terrific feedback in regards to riding the medium walk, which makes up the majority of this test. She said that at times during the medium walk, my horse displays a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.”

“Head peck? What on earth is that?!” I asked. Jennie said that the head nod is where the Tennessee walking horse travels forward from the hindquarters through a neutral to round back into a connection with the rider’s seat and light rein contact (not loose, floppy reins). The head nod should lower down from the head and neck with each step of the hind legs.

The head peck, on the other hand, is a disconnected head motion from the hind leg steps where the horse simply flicks its nose upward.

To correct the head peck, Jennie said that I need to encourage my horse to step deeply under her body where I feel her back raise up under my seat and then travel through the shoulders,neck, and poll to the bit.

Video: Head Nod (or Head Peck)?

Jennie also mentioned that I need to “freshen up” Makana’s canter with hand galloping to get her back to a three-beat canter. It’s not enough to be satisfied with just getting the correct canter lead. I need to work on improving our canter to the quality of the trotting horses. Will we ever attain it? Maybe not, but it is something to aspire to.

Ah, yes! After reviewing the video, I see the nose flicking head peck at the medium walk and the rather flat canter.

Now that’s terrific feedback I can begin working on the next time I ride. I hope by sharing these videos and feedback will help you at home as you train your gaited horse in dressage.

Feel free to write to me any time with your comments, questions, and stories. I’d love to hear about your gaited dressage journey. Just click the Contact button on the menu above.

Photo gallery: (click to enlarge)