Tag Archives: improve flatwalk

From Kindergarten to High School with Jennie Jackson

From Kindergarten to High School with Jennie Jackson
Jennifer Klitzke riding her naturally gaited mare Lady at a collected soft trot during a lesson with Jennie Jackson, pioneer of dressage en gaite.

By Jennifer Klitzke

Over the last 30 years I’ve ridden with lots of professional riding instructors—both local teachers and traveling clinicians—gaited and nongaited. No doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am today without quality instruction. My hope in attending each lesson and clinic is to learn new insights to help me become a better rider and communicate more effectively with my horses.

Gaited Dressage Legend Jennie Jackson is among my favorite instructors. She generously shares from her rich treasure chest of knowledge and decades of proven experience.

Since 2013, Jennie has imparted knowledge and pushed me beyond what I thought my horse(s) or I could do. She challenges us to the next level of difficulty—whether that is starting canter on a new horse, facing my fears, improving the quality of gait, or advancing to counter canter, simple changes, roll backs, and lateral exercises.

Lessons with Jennie have catapulted me and my horses to new heights quicker than any other dressage instructor (gaited and nongaited) I’ve ever ridden with in the 30 years I’ve been studying dressage.

June 2017 Jennie Jackson-flatwalk
Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse flat walk.

Not only that, Jennie is a national gaited horse judge, and over the last four years she has helped me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana) develop and improve a head-shaking, deep-striding flat walk and running walk.

How it all began
In December 2012, I purchased Jennie Jackson’s DVD set with my Christmas money. Watching the DVDs, I was impressed to witness gaited horses moving in collection, engagement, and forwardness—working the lateral exercises in softness and suppleness. It amazed me that Jennie had trained her Tennessee walking horse stallion Champagne Watchout to the highest levels of dressage and performed before a live audience. These are two things that are extraordinarily difficult to do, and to date, Jennie is the only one in history to have accomplished both. Jennie Jackson is a Living Legend!

After watching the DVDs, I asked Jennie if she has held clinics in the Midwest. She hadn’t, so that’s when I organized the 2013 Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic and 2014 Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in Minnesota.

The following years I flew to Tennessee to ride at a 2015 Jennie Jackson Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic, and I flew to Alabama to be Jennie’s working student in 2016.

This year, Jennie happened to be traveling through Minnesota on her way between clinics and that’s how this year’s lessons took shape. I had contacted nearly a dozen gaited riders who live near me to see if they would be interested in lessons. That didn’t work out, but no worries, Jennie gave me and my two naturally gaited horses, Lady and Makana, an inspiring and challenging education.

Lessons with Lady
Lady has been at my place for three years, and as of April 2017, she became my newly acquired naturally gaited horse. I have been thrilled with Lady’s progress this spring and summer and astounded with where Jennie took us in our lessons—moving from kindergarten to high school through connection, softness, lightness, balance, lateral exercises—and even canter under saddle!

Lady is moving more consistent in a light contact. She is more supple in her bending and is moving with more engagement in her easy gait.

Lady performing a collected soft trot working on lateral exercises for softness and suppleness.

To establish bend, suppleness, softness, and connection from the inside leg to the outside rein, we worked on lots of true bend and counter bend at a walk and collected soft trot. The soft trot is not a true two-beat diagonal gait. It is an easy gait somewhere between the fox trot and hard trot—yet smooth to ride.

Hard trot
Trotting the gaited horse on cue has many benefits. For Lady, it develops rhythm, engagement, forwardness, and strengthens the top line muscles.

We also worked Lady in a 20-meter circle and along the rail in a forward hard trot between true and counter bend. This improved her engagement and straightness.

Lady cantering right lead
Jennie cantering Lady in her right lead.

Then we introduced canter under saddle. I had been working on canter with Lady in the round pen over rails to break the cross canter. During our lesson, Lady was taking her left lead clean, so we focused on her right lead. Instead of cross cantering, she kept choosing counter canter. With Jennie’s determination, coaching and perseverance, Lady began taking the right lead canter in all three lessons.

I am thrilled to have both of my gaited horses cantering now thanks to Jennie.

Lessons with Makana
It’s been a few years since Jennie had last seen my naturally gaited walking horse Makana, and I was so happy that she confirmed the path we have been on in our flat walk. Not only that, but Jennie helped us increase the tempo while maintaining the reach and depth of stride.

How? Straight lines.

shoulder in
Me and Makana work the shoulder in and haunches in at a slow balanced, collected walk. It felt weird riding so slow without a head nod, but that’s normal for the collected walk. These exercises supple, strengthen, straighten, and balance the horse and will improve the flat walk.

There’s a place for dressage exercises on a circle with lateral movement and a place for straight lines to develop show gait. This was a light bulb moment for me.

We began our lessons with shoulder in, haunches in, true bend and counter bend on a 20-meter circle in a slow, short-strided, collected walk. Did you know that a collected walk is slower, has very little to no head nod, and the stride depth is shorter and more under the body? Yes, it’s true! If you are like me, and get used to flat walk with a head nod and deep stride, the collected walk feels very foreign, but there is a place for it in the lateral exercises and it will only improve the flat walk.

Circles and collected lateral exercises are wonderful for breaking up pace, suppling and softening the horse, and getting the horse to listen to the inside leg to the outside rein, but working on a circle limits the range of motion that only a straight line can offer. 

Makana flat walk
Me and Makana enjoying the ultimate glide ride! Once a horse has an even four beat gait, rail class show gait is best developed on straight lines to put the horse in a position conducive for maximum depth of stride.

Once a horse has an even four beat gait, rail class show gait is best developed on straight lines for maximum depth of stride.

That’s when we moved to the rail and allowed Makana freedom of her head and neck in a medium walk with maximum depth of stride. As soon as she became even in her rhythm and timing of her head nod, we increased the tempo while maintaining the deep steps. Alternating a tickle with my heel as Makana’s hind foot stepped under her body helped deepen her stride. If she rushed off in short strides, I applied a half halt and I would start again.

When Makana found her rhythm and timing at a faster tempo with deeper strides, I just enjoyed the glide ride.

In addition to working on show gait, Jennie coached us on canter, halt, rein back, canter transitions and canter, counter-canter transitions. Riding the canter on a 20-meter circle in counter bend before executing the counter canter really helped hold her together through a full figure eight and back to the true canter lead.

To book Jennie Jackson for lessons, clinics, and expos, visit www.4beatdressage.com.

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Quality Step to Quality Steps

quality step to quality steps

By Jennifer Klitzke

Do you have a naturally gaited horse and wonder why it doesn’t have a consistently smooth natural gait?

Lots of people buy a gaited horse thinking that they automatically gait. While they are all born with the ability to perform naturally smooth gaits, it takes time to develop those gaits through consistent training. Over time the horse will develop balance, rhythm, and strength to carry a rider in gait which will engrain muscle memory.

Developing a consistenly smooth natural gait requires a rider to develop the sense of “feel” to discern the difference between a quality step from an unbalanced, rushed, hollow, or disengaged step. This is why I continue to take lessons, attend clinics, study DVDs, read books, and record my rides for feedback in becoming a better rider.

In this video I share what I’ve learned about developing quality gaits —one step at a time. This is very important: Don’t practice poor quality steps, because that’s the muscle memory you’ll create. When the horse loses rhythm, becomes unbalanced, rushes, hollows or becomes disengaged, simply transition down to a slower gait, establish quality steps. Then transition to the next level of tempo and refine a quality step to quality steps. Over time, steps will turn into circles and then a longer duration of time.

Video: Quality Step to Quality Steps

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Naturally Gaited Dream Ride

Balanced flatwalk

By Jennifer Klitzke

Have you ever had a special ride with your naturally gaited horse that you replay in your memory as one of those “dream rides”?

I had one of those “dream rides” today. Yes, it happened to be on a sunny, spring day after a week of gray rainy, no-ride days.

Never-the-less, my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Makana, was as happy to be ridden as I was riding her.

She had all of the ingredients for a dream ride: naturally balanced, relaxed, and forward with rhythm, and a beautiful head nod. We had harmony in our engaged, deep striding even four beat flat-footed walk. Makana felt soft and supple; relaxed yet energetic, and maneuverable and responsive to my leg, seat, and rein aids. She felt lifted in the head, neck, and withers with each deep-swinging head nod in timing with her hind leg steps.

Her head and neck nod came from thoroughness and connection: from the hindquarters, through her engaged abdominals which lifted her back and whither to lighten her forehand and free her shoulders and through my seat and following arms and hands with her head and neck motion to the bit.

I embraced every euphoric moment.

Yet, the exquisite steps didn’t last forever. No worry, each time I felt Makana lose her balance, by beginning to rush or lean into my hands, I would regroup with a half halt by stilling my seat and lower back and squeezing my hands on the reins to slow down her tempo. Then I lifted her head and neck with my hands massaging the reins upward with my palms facing up. As soon as she was no longer leaning on the bit, I asked for engagement from behind and tickled her belly with my heels to lift her back in a frame of balance, and sent her off into a proud flat-footed walk.

What an amazing feeling!

Video: Flat-footed Walk

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Following Arms & Rubber Band Fingers

Following the Head and Neck Motion

Following the Head and Neck of the Gaited Horse with Relaxed Arms & Rubber Band Fingers

By Jennifer Klitzke

When I returned from my Seattle vacation last Fall, I was excited to try out all I learned from Nichole Walters, a student of Philippe Karl, as it relates to following the motion of the head and neck of the naturally gaited horse.

Granted, I rode trotting horses at Nichole’s farm, but while the trotting horse walks, it expresses an even four-beat gait where the head and neck nod with each step. This is where Nicole encouraged me to relax my shoulders, back, and arms to follow the horse’s motion.

It got me thinking. This seemed like a direct take-a-way I ride  my Tennessee walking horse. It was critical that I learn to follow the motion of the head shaking naturally gaited horse while maintaining an even contact with the right and left rein.

After publishing the video: Following the Motion of the Head Shaking Horse, I received a great tip from someone on the Naturally Gaited Facebook page. Along with following the motion of the head and neck with relaxed arms, a women encouraged to open and close my fingers with each head nod. This is what I call “rubber band fingers.”

I began giving this idea a try with both my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse and my friend’s fox trotting mare now that Winter is over and I’m back in the saddle again.

Along with following the head and neck motion with relaxed arms and rubber band fingers are the importance of relaxation (of mind and body within the horse), skeletal balance (not to be confused with collection), rhythm for the naturally gaited horse, and engaging the hind leg steps deeper under the body.

I am seeing great results from combining these elements. My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse’s head nod is more defined and regular in timing with the hind leg steps. Her rhythm is more even, and she seems more forward and engaged from behind.

Video: Following the Motion of the Head & Neck

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How dressage improves movement in naturally gaited horses

how-dressage-improves-movement-in-naturally-gaited-horses

How Dressage Improves Movement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

In 2007, I began searching for a smooth horse that would be easier on my aging body. That’s when I bought my first naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Makana, as a three-year-old filly.

I had been an avid dressage student of the trotting horse variety since 1988 and showed my Trakehner/thoroughbred gelding successfully through second level. I was familiar with the three distinct gaits he offered which were walk, trot, and canter.

Makana had these gaits, too—and a myriad of new gaits I needed to get a feel for and put cues to such as the flat walk, running walk, fox trot, and rack. She also came with a few gaits I needed to discourage: the pace, stepping pace, lateral canter and four-beat canter.

I thought a Tennessee walking horse was born to do a smooth flat walk and running walk! Well, yes, these gaits are natural and inherent, BUT I soon discovered that it was up to me to identify which gait was the one I had cued, help her maintain consecutive steps of it, and help her refine the quality of each gait.

Adding to this, dressage requires riding with an even contact. I knew that I needed to earn Makana’s trust with my hands in order for her to accept contact with the snaffle bit. Riding with even contact is a lot easier at a trot when the horse’s head and neck remain stationary. What about the flat walk, running walk, and fox trot? How do I maintain an even contact while the horse’s head and neck nod with each step?

These were the big questions I wrestled with as we began our gaited dressage journey. One thing I knew for sure is that dressage would teach Makana rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection. I have found that these attributes improve the quality of movement in naturally gaited horses.

  • By relaxing the horse’s mind, the horse was in a more trainable state of mind.
  • By relaxing the jaw and back, pace can be replaced with a natural four-beat gait.
  • With suppling exercises, the naturally gaited horse can develop a deeper stride beneath its body.
  • By riding with even contact and connection from back to front, the naturally gaited horse can develop a consistent head nod in the flat walk, running walk, and fox trot.

Dressage also helps improve a rider’s balance, confidence, and riding position, as well as clarifies the rider’s use of aids in communicating with the horse which produces greater trust and harmony.

Most of all, naturally gaited horses flourish when ridden using dressage methods that build partnership, trust, and respect as compared with domination training methods or the use of severe bits, heavy shoes, chains, pads, artificial enhancements, and mechanical devices.

Over the years, it is clear that dressage has improved the quality of Makana’s gaits. Her medium walk, free walk, flat walk, and canter are well established now. We are still working on improving depth of stride in the running walk, and I know this will come with time.

Makana and the people we have met over the last ten years have introduced us to many new experiences that I never imaged we’d be doing, such as moving cows in team penning events and cow sorting leagues, enjoying the beauty of our State Parks by horseback which has led us to endurance rides, orientation events, and trail challenges, to riding in the snow, to giving stadium jumping a try. Dressage has been the common language through the versatility of experiences we are enjoying together!

Video: How dressage improves the movement of naturally gaited horses

If you are on this gaited dressage journey, I’d love to hear from you. Contact us»

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