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.
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.
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.
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
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.).
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!
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.