Tag Archives: Jennie Jackson

Showing Recognized Gaited Dressage from Home

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By Jennifer Klitzke

Finally a way to ride gaited dressage at recognized shows, and I don’t even have to leave home!

flatwalk jog fox trotNorth American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. This year they have included gaited dressage in their recognized Virtual shows.

My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) and I gave it a try in May. Since then, I have been practicing the feedback I received from the judge’s remarks and from coaching I received from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson. I couldn’t wait for the next Virtual show to check our progress.

There have been several schooling dressage shows this spring and summer, but my Father has been terminally ill and in hospice care. I decided to put traveling shows on hold so that I can spend more time with my Dad. Virtual shows have made it possible for me to squeeze in a few showing opportunities without ever leaving home! All I need is for my adoring husband to widget some time between is golf games to record our rides.

In July NAWD offered the Midsummer Celebration Virtual Show (which doubled as a successful fundraiser for autism) and was their biggest show to date with over 150 entries! I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy), and my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady. It was Indy’s first Western Dressage show and Lady’s very first show. All three horses competed in the same Recognized Dressage Show without leaving home!

Video: Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom in IJA Western Training Level 2

I am very happy in how the medium walk and canter felt over the last test—more fluid and forward. Her canter was noticeably more impulsive and clearly three beat instead of a sluggish rather four beat canter. I was especially pleased with our improvement in connection from back to front and its effect on the head nod. Makana moved forward in her medium walk with deep steps from behind and a clear head nod instead of a nose flicking head peck. The judge noticed it too, and remarked, “It was a pleasure to watch the degree of reach with the hind legs and steadiness of the nod.”

first placeAreas the judge encouraged us to work on are more distinction between regular walk, medium walk and intermediate gait; more roundness in canter right; straightness; and squareness and balance at the halt.
Score: 64.091% (1st of 1)


Video: My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend in NAWD Basic 3 in his first Western Dressage Test

This was Indy’s first Western Dressage Test. Although I feel like I’m dressed for a Halloween costume party, I am very pleased with how Indy looks in his Western get up. I could be hooked on this Western dressage after all!

Riding the test, I liked how balanced Indy felt overall and how he reached down and out in the freewalk. The judge remarked. “Yeah, baby!!!” Although Indy was busy in his mouth, he wasn’t heavy on the bridle or forehand; I think it was the bit. I usually ride him in a full-cheek snaffle and it isn’t legal for Western Dressage, so I switched to a bit he wasn’t used to.

The judge felt we rode the test well and with accuracy, balance and bend. Areas of improvement are for us to work on improving softness in the bridle. She felt Indy was impulsive and balanced in the jog and needs to work on more impulsion in the canter and softness in the transitions to halt.

first placeI had to giggle when the judge remarked how much she loved my “Fjordie.” We get this all of the time! Don’t get me wrong. I love Fjords, it is just that my Indy is a Spanish Mustang.
Score: 69.844% ( 1st of 3)


Video: Naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, showing for the first time in NAWD Intro 2

This is Lady’s very first show and I am tickled with how well she did considering that riding with contact is something rather new to her and arena riding is something she’s not fond of. Trail riding is her gig.

fifth placeThe judge remarked that she can see how this horse can be a bit difficult—like she might be all ‘go’ and very little ‘whoa.’ The judge said, “I think you are doing a very nice job bringing her along. Movement #4 (KXM change rein at easy gait) showed the real horse: relaxed, engaged and brilliant.” Which really helps me move towards more of that in our training.

Score: 60.357% (5th of 9)


This feedback is so helpful, and the reason I show dressage. I need unbiased feedback from an educated professional as to where I’m at in my training.

From the judges’ comments in all three rides, I feel like we are heading in the right direction in this Western Dressage ‘thang.’ The feedback has given us something to work on until we check our status next time.

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Midsummer Celebration Virtual Show Results»

For more information about North American Western Dressage Virtual Shows, visit: www.NorthAmericanWesternDressage.org

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Balanced Lightness for the Gaited Horse

Balanced lightness for the gaited horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

What does it mean to ride with lightness? Is there more to it than riding with looped reins? What about connection and its role in the dressage training pyramid to bring about balance and rhythm?

Last month I took one of my horses to a classical French dressage clinic with Susan Norman. Susan had been a 15-year student of the late Jean Claude Racinet and a three-year student of Philippe Karl. Both Racinet and Karl are highly acclaimed French classical dressage thinkers of our modern era and have studied the work of Baucher.

Well-meaning riders are releasing their horses to lightness before their horses have learned balance and self carriage.

Susan holds dear the principle of riding with lightness, and when she said that she sees people riding their horses on loose reins when they shouldn’t, all of us at the clinic were braced for her next words. She went on to say that well-meaning riders are releasing their horses to lightness before their horses have learned balance and self carriage.

That really resonates with me as it relates to recent feedback I received from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.  A month ago, I had asked Jennie for feedback on ways to improve my Western gaited dressage with my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana. Jennie said that I need to ride my mare with MORE contact to establish forward balance into the correct mechanics of the head nod.

Jennie explained that Makana wasn’t traveling through from behind to the bit, and it showed in the presence of a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.” A head peck is an upward nose flicking evasion which is disconnected from the hind leg steps. Whereas the head nod is when the head and neck bob downward in sequence with each hind leg as it steps deep under the body.

After studying French classical dressage for the last year, my initial reaction to Jennie’s comment was, “What? Ride with MORE contact?!” But blending Jennie’s feedback with what Susan Norman said in her clinic put it into perspective.

Yes, ride with more contact UNTIL my horse learns to travel in a relaxed, balanced, forward rhythm with the correct mechanics of a head nod. THEN I can offer a release to a lighter contact and reward her AS LONG AS she remains in balance with the same quality of head nod. That’s what training for self carriage and lightness is all about.

Riding on floppy reins wasn’t training my gaited horse to move in balance or in self carriage. Training my horse to lightness offers her a release whenever she travels forward in relaxed, rhythmic balance with the correct mechanics of a head nod.

If my horse leans on the bit, that’s when I briefly lift both reins upward with equal contact on the corners of my horse’s mouth with gentle vibrating fingers, and then lowering my hands to a neutral position as soon as my horse lightens.

“There is no intimacy in long reins.” —Susan Norman

During the clinic Susan said, “There is no intimacy in long reins.” This was another profound statement coming from a dressage clinician who teaches lightness. What Susan meant is that short reins don’t mean pulling back reins. Short reins are communicating reins which are an ongoing dialogue with the horse. Short reins allow my fingers to have an even light feeling with the corners of the horse’s mouth to ask for softness and preparation for what’s coming next.

Another benefit to riding with short reins is that they allow me to keep my balance over my horse’s back, because short reins keep my elbows at my sides where my ear, shoulders, elbows, hip and heel align in balance. As soon as my reins grow long, my elbows extend forward and soon thereafter I begin to lean forward and lose my balanced alignment. Then my horse loses her balance, and she falls onto the forehand in response.

How do you know when your horse is in balance or not? That’s the tricky part. Balance is something that takes time to develop a feel for and balance feels different from one horse to the next. How balance feels on a Tennessee walking horse is different from that of a trotting horse.

The best way to learn the feeling of balance is through regular lessons with an educated dressage instructor who can coach you as you ride your horse. Over time, you’ll be able to feel balance more instinctively as you ride on your own.

Video: Balanced Lightness for the Gaited Horse
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Video: TWH Medium Walk or Flat Walk

Tennessee walking horse Medium Walk or Flat Walk

By Jennifer Klitzke

How do you tell the difference between the naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse’s medium walk and flat walk? Both walks are natural even four beat gaits with a head nod.

For me, it is very apparent in how it feels as a rider. Riding my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana’s medium walk has a lot of motion to follow. In the flat walk, not so much. Something happens in her body where the flat walk gets really smooth.

In either case, whether I ride the medium walk or flat walk, I want as much over stride as possible. That means I want the hind leg foot print to step over the forefoot hoof foot print when it leaves the ground. My seat, leg, and rein aids connect with the driving power of the hindquarter steps under the body, through shoulder, neck and head, to the bit. It is a back to front movement and the horse’s head and neck nod downward in regular timing with each hind leg step.

While riding the medium walk and flat walk, I become aware of the rise and fall of the horse’s belly sway with each step. (The belly sway is much more noticeable in the the medium walk than it is in the flat walk.) When the belly sway dips down, that’s when the hind leg is stepping under the body. If I want to encourage an even deeper step under the body it is important that I apply my calf aid at the girth at the moment the belly sway dips down. That timing in conjunction of the hind leg as it steps under the body will affect a deeper step. (Be careful not to apply both calves at the same time as that will encourage the horse to go faster.)

I find it important to ride with short reins and an even contact with the snaffle bit and to keep my elbows at my sides. Short reins don’t mean pulling back. It just means maintaining a light feeling of the horse’s mouth evenly on both reins. Keeping my elbows at my sides helps me stay in balance—ear, shoulder, elbows, hip and heel. If my elbows creep forward, I find that my upper body soon leans forward where I find myself out of balance which causes my horse to fall onto the shoulders.

Hind sight is 20/20. I think there is great value in developing a solid, even four-beat medium walk with as much over stride as possible before moving the horse up to the flat walk. In my early years of training my naturally gaited TWH, I made the mistake of rushing her into the flat walk which produced a short strided and rushed flat walk. This certainly was not the quality of gait she is capable of. But thanks to my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson who pointed this out to me four years ago in my first lesson. Jennie said, “Don’t let your horse flat walk in a tight skirt!” Lessons with Jennie are golden and I’ve learned so much from her. So, I believe time well spent developing a solid medium walk can improve the quality of the flat walk.

Video:  TWH Medium Walk or Flat Walk

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Video: TWH Head Nod (or Head Peck)?

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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.

Thanks for watching. Stay connected by subscribing to the Naturally Gaited youtube channel and join our community on facebook.com/naturallygaited. Subscribe to Jennie Jackson: Dressage en Gaite on Facebook.

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Half Halt Awakening

half halt awakening

By Jennifer Klitzke

What is a half halt? Why is it used? When do you apply it? Does the half halt serve a purpose for the naturally gaited horse? Can a half halt improve the quality of gait?

When I flew to Alabama in January to be Jennie Jackson’s working, the half halt wasn’t one of the questions I had on my mind. Instead I was interested in learning how to lengthen the stride of a running walk without rushing. I was soon to learn that the half halt was the secret ingredient to do just that.

The half halt is a broad term used to rebalance the horse, and as a dressage rider, I’ve been acquainted with the half halt for decades. Yet, I had not understood its application with the naturally gaited horse. My focus had been establishing a head nodding even rhythm and a SMOOTH gait. Beyond that I hadn’t developed an awareness for the need of half halts that could lead to gait quality.

That is, until I traveled to Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center and rode with Jennie. Each day I rode several naturally gaited Tennessee walking horses of various training levels. Some were green, others were well schooled, and one was being rehabilitated from Big Lick. Within each level of training, some horses rushed, others leaned on the bit, some took small quick steps, and some barged through the outside shoulder in a lateral exercise. In each case, Jennie taught me the importance and application of the half halt.

From Jennie’s coaching, I had a half halt awakening that taught me three important keys to its effectiveness. The first key is to become aware of when a half halt is needed; the second key is knowing and consistently applying the half halt aids at the right time; and the third key is knowing when to release the half halt.

Applying half halts with the naturally gaited horse

  • Awareness of need: Now that the ice has melted and it’s safe to ride again, I’ve been putting half halts into practice with the horses I ride. I’m amazed with how many half halts are applied within a riding session and how many reasons a half halt is needed. I’m using half halts to prepare my horse for a transition, whenever my horse leans on the bridle, or rushes, or becomes distracted, or feels heavy on the forehand and needs to re-shift its balance onto the hindquarters. Whenever my horse takes short quick steps, and whenever my horse bulges through the shoulder in a lateral movement.
  • Aids of the half halt: After I recognize the need for a half halt, I simultaneously freeze my lower back, still my hip joints from following my horse’s movement, and squeeze my fingers on the reins without pulling back. I hold this position until the release.
  • Timing of the release: Riding several horses of various training, along with Jennie’s coaching, really pointed out that the release of a half halt is not a one-size-fits-all. Sensitive horses will respond to the half halt quicker than less sensitive horses. One horse I rode tended to rush and a two-second half halt was applied before the horse responded. Another horse I rode also rushed, but she was much more sensitive so the half halt was released in a half second. As soon as the horse responds to the half halt by slowing down, or rebalancing, or straightening through the outside shoulder, or taking a deeper stride under its body, it is important to release the half halt. This means opening my fingers without letting the reins slip through, relaxing my lower back and resume following the horse’s motion through my hip joints alternating to the rise and fall of the belly sway which is in sync with the hind legs as they step under the body.

Sometimes a half halt and release is followed up with another half halt and release because the horse responded to the first half halt, took a couple balanced steps, and then rushed off again. Over time, with consistent half halts and releases in response to the rushing, the horse will rush less.

One horse I rode was barn sour. Every time we headed away from her friends, the horse began moving sideways. I tried to overcome this by riding with a fixed outside rein against her neck. It wasn’t working. Instead, Jennie encourage me to apply the outside rein like a half halt, then lift both reins up and over to the other side, and release. For this mare, the release made all the difference.

I am becoming more aware through the sense of feel just how half halts are rebalancing my horse to shift more weight onto the hindquarters, helping my horse become lighter on the bridle and rounder in the frame, and slowing my horse whenever she rushes to encourage deeper strides under her body.

This half halt awakening has opened my eyes to many benefits the half halt brings to the naturally gaited horse and in improving the gait quality of the horses I ride.

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