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 all automatically gait. While they are all born with the ability to perform naturally smooth gaits, it takes time to train the gaits. It takes time for the horse to develop balance, muscle memory, rhythm, strength to carry a rider in gait, and for the rider to develop the sense of “feel” to discern the difference between a quality step from an unbalanced, rushed, hollow, or disengaged step.
In this video I share what I’ve learned about developing quality gaits —one step at a time. Don’t practice poor quality steps, just transition down and restart with a quality step and build upon that.
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.
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
I hope you find this video helpful. Please let me know your thoughts by completing the contact form.
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»