Tag Archives: natural 4 beat gait

Twenty-two Years Later Still Applies

22 years later still applies

By Jennifer Klitkze

Twenty-two years ago Dominique Barbier traveled to Minnesota for a clinic and introduced me and my German warmblood, SeilTanzer, to the French dressage method of riding with lightness and harmony. Not only did I become acquainted with Barbier’s dressage methods, I came to know a fun-loving fellow and clinic participant named Fred Kappler, who traveled from Michigan with his American warmblood, Aden.

I never imagined that our paths would cross again. And when they did, Fred helped me see that Barbier’s methods still apply—even to a naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse. 

1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic
Jennifer Klitzke and her German warmblood SeilTanzer at the 1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic held at Jacqurei Oaks in Minnesota.

In 1995, I felt like a traitor attending Barbier’s clinic. You see, Seili and I had invested several years studying the German dressage system. That’s all that what was offered in my area. Yet my heart yearned for lightness, partnership, and harmony with my horse. I got a taste of this at the Barbier clinic.

The last few years I began studying the French dressage work of Philippe Karl and Jean Claude Racinet, and I have ridden at a few French dressage clinics with traveling clinician Susan Norman who has been a long-time student of both Karl and Racinet. I also rode with Nicole Walters at Cadbury Farm who has passed her first leg of certification in Philippe Karl’s School of Légèreté.

Flash forward 22 years after the Barbier clinic. (Yes, Seili is still alive at 33!) A Facebook friend informed me about a French dressage clinician coming to Minnesota named Fred Kappler. French dressage isn’t common around here, so I looked into it. Fred has studied Philippe Karl and Jean Claude Racinet’s teachings, has ridden with Dominique Barbier, and is familiar with gaited horses.

The clinic had filled quickly, but thankfully they made room for me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Makana. This would be the first non-gaited dressage clinic I have taken a gaited horse to. Turns out there were two other Tennessee walking horses riding at the clinic. (It’s a good thing Fred has had some knowledge with Walkers!)

During my first lesson, Fred mentioned that he rode with Dominique Barbier at Jacqurei Oaks. That’s the moment I realized Fred and I had ridden together at this clinic. Now 22 years later Fred is coaching me in Barbier’s methods of lunging and working in hand. Yes, 22 years later still applies—even with a gaited horse. What a moment!

Fred Kappler and Aden 1996 Dominique Barbier Clinic Jacqurei Oaks
Fred Kappler and Aden at the 1995 Dominique Barbier Clinic held at Jacqurei Oaks, MN. At that clinic, I knew Fred as a fellow student and a personable guy. I had no idea he had a training facility and was a traveling clinician!

I must confess that Barbier’s methods of lunging and working in hand are two things I haven’t continued with the gaited horses I work with. I tend to saddle up and ride. Fred helped me see the benefits of lunging and working the horse in hand before riding.

Lunging equipment:

  • One side rein attached to the snaffle ring and girth at the inside of the circle; allow the side rein to be long enough for the horse to stretch forward without bringing the nose behind the vertical and short enough to keep the horse from getting strung out
  • A lunge line looped through the snaffle ring and attached to the girth buckle on the inside of the circle
  • A lunge whip to encourage the horse forward with a “snap” if the horse ignores your “cluck”

We lunged long enough to loosen up the horse (about 3-5 minutes each direction) at a walk, trot (yes, quality trot on cue) and canter with lots of transitions between gaits. Our circle size was about 15 meters. A relaxed and forward rhythm is the goal.

Teaching the gaited horse how to trot on cue, in a quality way of going, on a lunge line and in saddle, will not ruin the gait. Trot on cue will improve rhythm, balance,  engagement, and strengthen the top line muscles. The benefits a quality trot on cue offers will break pace and improve the natural four-beat gaits and canter.

June 2017 Fred Kappler Clinic
Teaching the gaited horse how to trot on cue in a quality way of going on a lunge line and in saddle will not ruin the gait. Trot on cue will improve rhythm, balance, engagement, and strengthen the top line muscles. All of these benefits will improve the gaits.
shoulder in in hand
Shoulder in while working in hand.

The in-hand exercises are done in both directions. The exercises are shoulder in on a square; turn on the forehand where the horse pivots around me; halt along the wall, rein back, walk forward and repeat three times; and bring the horse to a square and balanced halt.

shoulder in
Shoulder in at a SLOW collected walk with no head nod.

The riding exercises we did are all exercises Philippe Karl uses in his training which I need to focus on more. After watching all of the riders (gaited and trotting) I realize that beautiful gaits come after working the horse through lateral exercises which supple the horse, bring the horse into balance, engagement, and into a round and connected frame onto the bit.

flatwalk
A smooth flowing flat walk after lateral exercises.

I tend to focus so much on depth of stride and head nod that lateral exercises have taken a back seat. After experiencing this clinc, my approach has been backwards! Fred’s clinic clearly demonstrated that the lateral exercises done in a SLOW collected walk improve the gait quality (whether it be trot or gait). This is a game changer for me!

Fred guided Makana and I through a course of fun and interesting exercises:

  • Broken lines
  • Leg yields
  • Changes of rein through the half circle
  • Changes of direction through bends—shoulder in to haunches in to shoulder out
  • Shoulder in to half pass to walk pirouette to half pass to reverse half pirouette to half pass

After Makana found her balance, softness, engagement, and suppleness through these exercises at a collected walk, Fred released us along a straight line into a flat walk and WOW it felt terrific!

The two lessons I had with Fred Kappler have set me on a new course of training gaited dressage. Going forward, I will spend more time riding lateral exercises at a collected walk before releasing Makana into flat walk along a straight line. I will add more transitions between exercises, more transitions between directions of bend, and more transitions between gaits. All of these exercises improve balance, engagement, connection, roundness, strength, and quality of movement.

Adding to the education was the amazing feeling of community I felt with the people who attended this clinic. Fred is unique when compared with most clinicians. He enjoys sharing his wealth of experiences outside of lesson time and is an entertaining storyteller. Deb, the owner of Amity West Stables, is an inspiring rider and trainer with amazingly talented horses. I watched her lessons with Fred and was impressed with witnessing piaffe and passage, canter pirouettes, tempe changes, extended trot, half pass, and more. Not to forget that Deb is a lot of fun to hang around with, as well as the many boarders there.

It was great to meet Facebook friend, Louisa, for the first time in person. She organized a marvelous matching set of four black Tennessee walking horses on a beautiful trail ride along Lester River the day before the clinic. I enjoyed reconnecting with a Walking horse friend, Becky and an eventing friend, Amy, and met new friends Nikki, Michelle, Pam, and the barn staff at Amity West Stables.

I hope it will be the first of many re-connections with this fun-loving group of dressage riders—both gaited and non-gaited. (As for Fred, will he and I live another 22 years for a reunion? Awe, maybe. Hopefully I will get a chance to ride with him sooner than later!)

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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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Life and Random Thoughts about Gaited Dressage

By Jennifer Klitzke

I hope your Spring is off to a great start! After six month of winter’s dark and cold, I was chompin’ at the bit for sunshine and ridable terrain to be back in the saddle and riding my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and my friend’s naturally gaited fox trotting mare Lady. Thankfully, I’m back riding again. I hope you are, too!

Lady FoxtrotFirst off, I have great news: Lady, my friend’s fox trotting horse, has officially become a part of my family. Lady has been boarded at my place the last three years and my friend feels called to other time commitments in life. She has turn Lady over to my care, yet she knows that any time she wants to ride, she is more than welcome!

At the same time, due to my aging parents, a full time job, and the demands of life, I had to part with my once-in-a-lifetime Spanish Mustang, Indy, who had made many of my life-long dreams come true: cross country, endurance, stadium jumping, trail obstacles, dressage, and more.

NAWD Basic 3 stretch trot 1
My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend showing a jog by allowing the horse to stretch its head and neck out and down.

Indy was missing our continual weekend adventures that I no longer had time for during my Dad’s grave illness and my Mom’s need for our assistance on the weekends. I sold him back to the owner I purchased him from. Now Indy is living the trail horse dream. Here’s Indy’s story»

050617 Lady jumpingOn the bright side, Lady possesses many of Indy’s brave qualities, so who knows, after we get her canter consistently well established on both leads, maybe we’ll be back competing at these same events–only as a gaited duo!

So, now that it’s been Spring, here’s what’s been percolating since I began riding…So much of my focus has been on the depth of stride from behind. Lately I’ve been contemplating about fore stride in addition to the hind leg stride as it relates to head nod, throughness, connection, balance, engagement, rhythm, shoulder scope, and following the horse’s natural movement with my arms and seat.  It seems the more I follow the natural motion of the horse, the more freedom I’m seeing in the horses I ride.

Video: Naturally Gaited Tennessee Walking Horse Flat Footed Walk

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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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Relaxation, Softness & Engagement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

relaxation softness and engagement in the naturally gaited horse

Relaxation, Softness & Engagement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

Wowzers, was she ever a hot tamale! After five months of Minnesota winter off, this was Lady’s second ride of the Spring.

Lady is my friend’s naturally gaited fox trotting horse. She is ridden barefoot and in a snaffle bridle. In this riding session, we focused on relaxation (of mind and body), softness in the jaw, and engagement (stepping deeper under the body).

With a little persistence, gentleness, and encouragement, Lady settled into some rather nice fox trotting that was relaxed, soft, and balanced, with good rhythm and engagement.

Video: Relaxation, Softness & Engagement in the Naturally Gaited Horse

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