Tag Archives: Jennie Jackson

Tribute to a Legend: Champagne Watchout

Tribute to a Legend Champagne Watchout

By Jennifer Klitzke

With deepest and heartfelt sympathy to Jennie Jackson, Nate, and their family in the sudden loss of their legendary naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse stallion: Champagne Watchout, who passed away on July 17, 2017 at the age of 24.

In the 1980s Jennie Jackson began applying and perfecting dressage methods of training to gaited horses. Then in 1998 she introduced dressage as a humane training alternative for Tennessee walking horses. She began to apply dressage training methods with her naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse stallion Champagne Watchout. The two defied the critics and rose through the levels of dressage [en gaite].

spanish walk
Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout performing the Spanish Walk.

In 2006, Jennie and Champagne Watchout were the first duo in history to perform dressage en gaite at The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. The duo demonstrated never-seen-before Prix St. George movements en gaite as piaffe, passage, half pass, Spanish walk, as well as canter pirouette, and tempe changes.

Champagne Watchout at Alltech
Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout performing at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

In 2010, Jennie and Champagne Watchout were formally invited to exhibit their dressage en gaite musical freestyle at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Champagne Watchout became the official Tennessee walking horse breed representative.

Video: Jennie Jackson and 16-year old Champagne Watchout performing their dressage en gaite musical freestyle at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games at Lexington Kentucky Horse Park in 2010

As a life-long student of dressage, I have always longed to achieve piaffe, passage, canter half pass, pirouette, and tempe changes with my trotting horses and now with my naturally gaited horses. In my opinion, Jennie Jackson and Champagne Watchout are naturally gaited dressage legends! They performed these difficult movements en gaite with ease—something many claimed was impossible for a gaited horse.

In addition to his striking looks and athletic moves, Champagne Watchout has a powerful, jaw-dropping, head-shaking, natural flat walk and running walk that turns heads at the rail class events. Champagne Watchout earned the right to compete in the 1999 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration World Grand Championship class. He was the first and ONLY naturally gaited flat shod entry competing among the traditional Big Lick horses.

Video: Champagne Watchout—First flat shod horse to compete at the 1999 TWHBEA World Grand Championship Tennessee Walking Horse Class

Encounters with the Golden One

Champagne WatchoutI was fortunate to have met Champagne Watchout on two occasions. In 2015 I traveled to Tennessee to ride at a Jennie Jackson Dressage for the Gaited Horse Clinic and I got to meet this gentle, golden stallion. Even with his winter fuzzies, Champagne Watchout was a standout.

Jennie and Watchout
Jennie Jackson riding her gaited dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.

The next year, I returned to the South to ride with Jennie Jackson as a working student. While I was there I had the privilege of watching Jennie ride her barefoot, 22-year-old gaited dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.

Back then Champagne Watchout was the ONLY Tennessee walking horse still living among those he had competed against in the 1999 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration World Grand Championship class.

I was privileged to watch Jennie ride Champagne Watchout at Amazing Gaits, piaffe and passage along the ocean coast, and dance to the music during the Marti Gras parade.

Jennie and Watchout
How long do you think the beads will last on this head shaking stallion? Champagne Watchout and Jennie Jackson enjoyed throwing beads to the Marti Gras parade patrons.

Champagne Watchout was the first horse eager to step into the wavy coastline and gave the rest of the Amazing Gait’s horses confidence. In no time all of us were flat walking in the ocean.

And through the Marti Gras parade at 22 years old Champagne Watchout still had all the moves!

We will never forget you, Champagne Watchout. You have inspired multitudes and left an amazing legacy that will live on.

Videos

Early years: Champagne Watchout at play and under saddle with Jennie Jackson

2012 Champagne Watchout with Jennie Jackson at the TWHBEA World Versatility Show

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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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Showing Recognized Gaited Dressage from Home

centerlines

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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