Tag Archives: gaited horse over ground rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

By Jennifer Klitzke

Most owners of gaited horse who have a pacey horse or a horse that cross canters don’t refine the pace and cross canter, they work to break up the lateral gait for a four-beat gait and true canter.

My gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson taught me that the pace and the cross canter are lateral movements while the trot and true canter are diagonal movements. Using trot over one or two ground rails can help break up the lateral movement for a more diagonal movement.

For the pacey horse, one or two ground rails can help break up the pace and help the horse learn to trot. One ground rail can help correct cross canter any time the hind legs are traveling in the wrong lead. When the horse hops over the ground rail they often correct the hind legs to the true lead.

For me, the most important aspects of this exercise is to establish:

  • Introduce the rails and lunge whip so the horse isn’t afraid of them.
  • Encourage the horse to find relaxation, balance, rhythm and impulsion at the walk, trot, and canter. If the horse gets tense or loses its balance, bring the horse down to a walk or trot and start over.
  • Teach the walk, trot and canter on cue and in a quality way of going to build the correct muscles. Don’t let the horse decide its gait, blast off into tension, or travel continually in a hollow ewe neck frame. Seek to teach gaits that build the top line muscles, encourage a deeper stride under the body, are balanced, and a develop a relaxed rhythm.

Video: Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

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Video: Improving a Lateral or Four-Beat Canter

Exercises to break a lateral or four beat canter

By Jennifer Klitzke

Does your gaited horse struggle with a flat, four-beat or bumpy, lateral canter? You’re not alone. My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana wrestles with these issues, too. Over the last few years I’ve learned a few ways to improve her canter using dressage and gymnastic jumping.

Dressage to Break up a Lateral Canter
Dressage training has shown me that the rounder and more relaxed my naturally gaited Walking horse mare is in her back, jaw, poll, and top line, the smoother and less lateral her canter becomes. One of my favorite exercises is establishing a soft and round rein back before a canter depart. When the rein back is soft, non forced, and not rushed, it encourages my mare to bend her hindquarter joints and engage her abdominal muscles which lifts her back. This puts her in a wonderful posture most conducive for a quality canter depart and canter steps.

I learned an important lesson from my gaited dressage mentor, Jennie Jackson: Don’t practice a poor quality canter. As soon as my horse begins to feel flat, hollow, bumpy, bracey, or out of balance, I need to transition back to a walk, regroup, halt, rein back softly and ask again for a quality canter depart to quality canter steps. This means I need to learn to recognize the difference between the feeling of a quality and a poor quality canter so that I can ask for more of the former and reduce steps of the latter. If I continue riding a poor quality canter that’s what I am reinforcing to my horse. If I want a quality canter, I must first know what it feels like and practice more of it. That’s why talking lessons from a qualified instructor are so important to me. Instruction provides me with timely feedback so that I can associate how it feels with right or wrong.

Gymanstic Jumping to Break a Four-Beat Canter
While I will never become serious about show jumping my gaited horse, I enjoy schooling her over rails and small fences for gymnastic purposes and giving Makana variety in her training. I’ve noticed that when we ride over ground poles and small fences, it creates more lift and brings out a truer three-beat canter.

The other day I tried a new cantering exercise over two rails in an L-shape. First I let my horse walk over the rails before we cantered over them. The video below demonstrates the exercise.

Video: Exercises to Break up a Lateral or Four-Beat Canter

This is a super fun exercise for the rider and horse. I learned so much from this exercise: balance of my horse, my balance on my horse, my horse’s rhythm, keeping my horse forward yet relaxed, looking ahead to plan the arc of a turn and line to a rail, and getting a feel for how many canter strides to a rail.

The L-shape can also be used to school flying changes over the rail by alternating the direction over each pole. We’ll have to give that a try when we begin schooling flying changes.

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Gaited Dressage [and Jumping] at Northwoods

Gaited dressage and jumping at Northwoods

By Jennifer Klitzke

Thanks to the familiar faces, I felt like I was showing among friends at the Northwoods schooling show instead of me, Makana, and tripod.

Northwoods offered their first annual schooling dressage [and hunter] show on May 30, 2015. I took my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana—the only gaited horse/rider entry among 29 trotting horse tests ridden, Intro through First Level.

Nearing the arena I heard someone say my name. I turned to look and a woman introduced herself. We came to know each other through NaturallyGaited.com. I was delighted to connect with her face-to-face.

Then another woman I had met through the Western Dressage Association rode her Norwegian Fjord at her mare’s first dressage show. These women, among the other friendly spectators and competitors, made it feel like I was riding with friends instead of showing solo—me, Makana, and tripod.

Since Makana seems to run out of gas so quickly, I’ve been making a point to do more conditioning with her during our rides at home. It really paid off. We rode both First Level Tests One and Three back-to-back and Makana had enough energy to spare. The tests were held in Northwood’s spacious mirror-lined indoor arena with dust-free rubberized footing.

This show marked the first time Makana and I had ever ridden First Level Test Three which is filled with lots of new challenges: leg yield zig zag at a flatwalk, 10-meter flatwalk circles, counter canter, and simple changes of lead at X through the flatwalk, in addition to the running walk, canter lengthenings, and 15-meter canter circles.

To my amazement Makana scored 70.294% on First Level Test Three and received a respectable score of 65.926% on First Level Test One.

After our rides, Judge Colleen Holden remarked, “That was really fun to watch how you orchestrated all those variations of walk.” She said that we received an “OMG” on our free walk and medium walk because they were the best she had seen all day, and she was very impressed with our transitions, and the quality of our canter. Areas she encouraged us to work on are developing better bend which will improve the overall elegance of our tests.

After the dressage tests were completed, the outdoor arena was set for the hunter course. While I continue to school Makana over ground rails and small jumps at home to improve her canter, it had been a couple years since we entered a hunter course.

The last time we rode a course of ground rails, Makana spooked, refused, and hesitated getting near the strangely colored poles. The Northwoods schooling show promised to be a fun and beginner-friendly event, so I entered Makana in the hunter course over ground rails.

What a terrific course—eleven poles with lots of turns and canter stretches made it feel more like a cross country course. I was so proud of my girl. She confidently cantered the entire course of rails without a spook, refusal, or hesitation! In fact, I was tempted to enter her in the 18″ cross rail course.

Video: Naturally gaited (and barefoot) Walking horse over a hunter course of ground rails

Special thanks to Northwoods Stables for hosting their first annual dressage and hunter schooling show and for accommodating gaited dressage.


2014 Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite Clinic


By Jennifer Klitzke

2014 Jennie Jackson Clinic: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse

Coming from 28 years as a devoted dressage student riding trotting horses, dressage is not new to me. But applying dressage training methods to my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse has raised a few questions: How do I ride a head-shaking horse on-the-bit? Does the dressage training pyramid apply to the gaited horse? Can a gaited horse reach high levels of dressage? Is it possible to collect a gaited horse without trotting? What about rider position?

In January 2013 I stumbled upon Jennie Jackson’s Dressage en Gaite training DVDs and purchased them with my Christmas money in hopes of finding answers to these questions.

Jennie is the only person I’ve come to know IN HISTORY who has trained and shown a Tennessee walking horse to the highest levels of dressage: piaffe en gait, passage en gait, canter pirouettes, tempi changes, and has developed the full range of motion–collected through extended walks, gaits, and canters.

Watching Jennie’s DVDs began to answer my questions. That’s when I invited her to teach a Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in MN last year. The clinic was a huge success. So this year, I team with the Minnesota Walking Horse Association for the 2014 Jennie Jackson Clinic held Friday-Sunday, May 30-June 1 in Proctor, MN.

Not only is Jennie the pioneer of Dressage en Gaite, she is an international Walking Horse judge and clinician and has a full scope of knowledge and experience with Tennessee walking horses‒from breeding through breaking, training and finishing, in and out of the show ring: English, western, trail obstacle, driving, stadium jumping, cross-country, and dressage. Plus, Jennie and her husband Nate have been on the front lines fighting soring and abuse for 30 years. What an honor to have them in our midst!

Auditors, riders, gaited horses, and a gaited mule came to the clinic from various backgrounds: some from the Walking horse show world, others from the trail, some new to dressage, and a few returned for more advanced dressage teaching.

Clinic riders and auditors experienced the importance of: teaching the horse relaxation, stretching and seeking a snaffle bit contact; teaching the horse to move away from the rider’s lower leg, step across and under its belly with its inside hind leg, and into the outside indirect rein through leg yield, turn on the fore, and shoulder in exercises; using ground rails to break pace; using half halts to discourage trot and establish a smooth four beat gait; establishing correct canter leads over ground rails; using travere through counter canter to maintain lead; applying the freshening canter to establish a true three-beat canter; collected walk-canter-walk transitions; simple changes at “X”; transitions between collected, medium, flat walk, and running walk; turn on the forehand; turn on the haunches; walk pirouettes; leg yield to half pass; introducing the kinton noseband and its function; introducing a double bridle and the function of the curb vs. the snaffle bit; plus demonstration rides by Jennie on some of the student’s horses to help riders, horses, and auditors understand the exercises Jennie taught.

I hope everyone who attended the clinic enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you Jennie and Nate Jackson for traveling to MN and to the MWHA for sponsoring this clinic!

Photo gallery>

For more about Jennie Jackson and Dressage en Gaite, visit Jennie Jackson: Dressage En Gaite


2013 Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite Clinic


By Jennifer Klitzke

In January I purchased Jennie Jackson’s Dressage En Gaite DVD set with my Christmas money. She email me for feedback. After watching the DVD showing gaited horses moving in collection, engagement and forwardness, I was sold and asked, “Do you ever hold clinics in the Midwest? That’s how the Jennie Jackson Clinic: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse got started. Six months of preparation came together June 29-30, 2013.

So how was it? Stupendous! The Jennie Jackson Clinic: Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse exceeded my already high expectations. Horses ages three to thirteen, green to advanced, and riders new to dressage to experienced dressage riders were stretched beyond their comfort zones to bring home effective dressage methods and tools that address their riding goals—english and western.

Jennie drew from her 40 years of experience training and showing Tennessee walking horses. Both horse and rider received individual instruction as Jennie rode each horse and explained concepts to the horse and then coached the rider through the concepts.

If you’ve been following NaturallyGaited.com, you know the two main questions that I’ve been searching for answers are: “How do I ride a head shaking horse on contact?” and “How do I get my horse to go forward without rushing?” Jennie addressed both questions and set me on course with effective tools that will help me school Makana at home. In both lessons I experienced moments of “the feeling of right.” Connection, forwardness, and engagement in a medium walk, flat walk, and canter.

I’ve been an avid dressage rider since 1988 so the concept of inside leg to outside rein is not new. In fact, I believed that I had been riding this way, but not to the degree needed to ride effectively into contact. Jennie explained the proper use of my rein, seat and leg aids. She helped me tap into the power of the “heart-shaped muscle” and helped me understand why “hands together” equals “horse together” and the difference between direct rein and indirect rein.

In terms of forwardness, Jennie noticed that it took twenty-two cues of squeeze, cluck, tap, kick, throw myself forward, bump, and repeat before my horse finally did what I asked. Jennie said, “Your horse reads you faster than you read her.” Makana has duped me into believing she’s doing the best she can when she’s only been giving me 20% of what she is capable of! It is quite humbling and sobering to realize that for the last six years I had literally desensitized my horse to my leg aids.

Intervention was in order. Jennie showed me ways of retraining my horse to respond to my first cue and to establish myself as the leader in our relationship.

Riders and their Walking horses learned lateral exercises to break up pace or trot, engage the hindquarters, and to introduce, develop and improve the quality of the canter over cavalettis. Lateral exercises as pivoting around the fore, shoulder in, shoulder fore, and leg yield molded horses into exquisite, round and beautiful frames. Then we all got an adrenaline rush watching Jennie coach one of the riders in hand gallop to help develop the topline for collected canter. Both riders and auditors took pages of notes to jog their memories as they returned home.

One of my favorite sessions was watching Jennie ride a multi-gaited Tennessee walking horse through medium walk, flat walk, foxtrot, rack, and running walk and then coach the rider through the same series of gaits. Another session Jennie transformed a pacey horse into a natural four-beat gait using dressage methods and coached the rider in ways to maintain the smooth gait.

An enormous “thank you” to Walker’s Triple R for hosting the event, to riders and auditors that helped bring Jennie to Minnesota, and a huge “thank you” to Jennie and Nate Jackson who drove the 2,000-mile trek from Tennessee to Minnesota and back. We are already talking about when Jennie will be back!

In my quest for answers the last six years riding my Tennessee walking horse using dressage methods, I feel like I have finally connected with “the feeling of right” as it relates to riding a head-shaking horse on contact and forwardness.

For more about Jennie Jackson, visit Jennie Jackson: Dressage En Gaite.


Gaited dressage clinic photo gallery>

About Jennie Jackson
In the 1980s Jennie began applying and perfecting dressage methods of training to gaited horses, and in 1998 she introduced dressage as a humane training alternative to the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. In 2006, Jennie and her famous Tennessee Walking Horse stallion Champagne Watchout performed the first Dressage En Gaite Musical Freestyle at The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. The team demonstrated Prix St. George movements as canter pirouette, tempi changes, and piaffe and passage en gaite. In 2010, Jennie and Champagne Watchout were formally invited to exhibit their Dressage En Gaite Musical Freestyle at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games as the official breed representative of the Tennessee Walking Horse. For more about Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout, visit Jennie Jackson: Dressage En Gaite.