Tag Archives: overcoming riding fear

Gaiting the Coast before Marti Gras

riding the ocean coast

By Jennifer Klitzke

Have you ever dreamed about riding along the ocean coast? It’s been a dream of mine, and it came true—but there was a catch. I had to ride in a Marti Gras parade on a horse that had never been in one.

In January I had a week free before beginning my new job and learned that Jennie Jackson was training at Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center near Mobile, Alabama. So I took a spontaneous four-day trip South to briefly escape the arctic blast.

“Make sure you stay through Saturday,” Jennie said, “so that you can ride the ocean coast and in the Dauphin Island Marti Gras parade.”

Ocean coast? Wow! Not only would I be Jennie’s working student and ride several Tennessee walking horses at various stages of training each day, but I would be riding the ocean coast—a dream come true!

I didn’t realize how special this opportunity was until I arrived. Dauphin Island only allows horses on the beach once a year and that’s only for horses that are trailered in for their Marti Gras parade.

Speaking of Marti Gras, Like most people, I thought Marti Gras was an annual event exclusive to New Orleans. Turns out Marti Gras originated in Mobile, Alabama and is celebrated for several weeks throughout the South until Lent begins.

On the third day of riding with Jennie, I met Abbie, a six-year-old Tennessee walking horse mare who reminded me of my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana. Abbie would be the horse I’d ride on the beach and in the parade. Neither she nor I had ever ridden the ocean coast or in a parade, so I did my best to establish trust and team work.

Abbie and I took a nice trail ride with one of the boarders while Jennie taught lessons. We rode up and down hills, alongside a beautiful aqua marine lake with rust colored sand, through the woods, over felled trees, and through creeks. Back at the Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center, Abbie and I negotiated their extensive trail obstacle course . I felt like we had connected well.

The next morning a group of us trailered to Dauphin Island through the grey skies and rain. Thankfully the sun broke through the clouds for our beach ride and parade.

Jennie and Watchout
Jennie Jackson riding her famous TWH dressage stallion Champagne Watchout.
Abbie and I riding on the ocean coast.
Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center’s TWH Abbie and I riding on the ocean coast.

The first one in the ocean was Jennie Jackson and her famous stallion Champagne Watchout. He LOVES the water and gave the rest of the horses confidence to step into the wavy shoreline. In no time we were flat walking the ocean coast. It wasn’t as romantic as I had pictured in my mind—galloping carefree through the water in a long flowing gown—but it was FUN!

Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center fosters a community of wonderful people who enjoy a variety of disciplines with their gaited horses: dressage, trail riding, competitive trail obstacles, jumping and cross country, parades, mounted patrol, and more.

Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center
Our group from Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center.

After our beach ride, our group dressed up in purple, green and gold, adorned in beads, and rode four miles along the city streets to the beginning of the parade route.

Cremelo TWH
The large beads are called sugar beads.
Blues band between the ears
Not your typical between the ears shot.
Abbie and I
Abbie seemed to like the music and danced to the beat.
Jennie and Watchout
How long do you think the beads will last on this head shaking horse?
Large crowds ahead.
Large crowds ahead anxiously awaiting beads, coins and moon pies.
Parade patron
Parade patrons caught flying strings of beads.
She's got the bead technique mastered.
This young parade patron has got the bead technique mastered.
Baby's first Marti Gras.
Baby’s first Marti Gras.
Parade patron
Front row seat.
Parade patron
Parade patrons of all ages having a wonderful time!
Parade patron
Love the hat!
Madison
Kathee’s TWH mare Madison leading our group in the Marti Gras Parade.
Parade patrons caught flying strings of beads.
Parade patrons caught flying strings of beads.
Parade patrons
Parade patrons getting a better view!
Parade patron
Parade patron festively dressed for the parade.
Parade patron
Love the hair!
Festively dressed horse and rider
Festively dressed horse and rider.

Thanks to Abbie and the great group of people from Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center, I not only rode on the ocean coast, but I also rode eight miles through cheering crowds, horns, loud music and flying beads and couldn’t stop smiling the entire time!

Getting ready to for the Marti Gras parade
Getting back to the trailers after four hours of riding, my face hurt from smiling about as much as my body hurt from riding!

For more information about Amazing Gaits Equestrian Center, visit their blog or subscribe to the Amazing Gaits Facebook group.

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Video: Riding through Distractions

Riding through Distractions

By Jennifer Klitzke

It was our first 75-degree spring day after a long winter. I couldn’t wait to get Makana, my naturally gaited Walking horse mare, saddled for an afternoon ride.

I had thought that the gale-force winds would be our greatest riding challenge as I negotiated Makana past the disco tree dancing to and fro at the corner of the arena. I had no idea we’d be riding 100 yards from our new neighbor’s artillery range practice, plus enduring a steady stream of overzealous motorcyclists roaring by!

The frenzied sights and sounds gave us plenty of opportunity to practice riding bio-mechanic techniques I have learned from Mary Wanless that helped me maintain a secure riding position each time my explosive horse reacted to unexpected gun fire, thundering motors, and swaying bushes. Among Mary’s riding tactics include breathing deep into my stomach, bearing down of my internal anatomy to lower my center of gravity, holding my weight in my inner thighs to distribute my weight across my horse’s back instead of my weight resting on my horse’s spine, and pressing my fists forward toward the bit instead of pulling back.

The distractions challenged me to practice what I learned from Larry Whitesell about becoming a trusted leader. Whenever my horse got tense, nervous, and distracted it was my job to lead her back to balance and relaxation, and while doing she became a safer horse to ride. The best way to lead Makana back to balance and relaxation is through many transitions and lateral exercises.

So I practiced the suppling and lateral exercises I learned from Jennie Jackson and Outrageous, the gaited dressage school master I rode while I was at the March 2015 Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic in Tennessee. Lateral exercises, such as pivot the fore, shoulder in, and haunches in break up tension, lead to balance and relaxation, and improve the communication between me and my horse. As Makana realized that I was helping her find balance and relaxation through this harried situation, she learned to trust me more as a reliable leader.

In addition to riding bio-mechanics and leading my horse back to balance and relaxation with suppling exercises, we also practiced what I’ve been learning from the Philippe Karl Classical Dressage DVD series regarding the separation of the rein and leg aids, riding my horse into balance, and encouraging Makana to open and close her mouth, salivate and swallow by making my connection with the less sensitive bars of her mouth instead of from tongue pressure. These elements help to produce relaxation in the jaw and poll which help to produce a relaxed body which makes for a more trainable horse.

Although it wasn’t the joyous and relaxing spring ride I had hoped for, it was a successful milestone for me and my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana. I faced my riding fears, trusted the skills my mentors have imparted, remembered to breath, (prayed a bunch that I didn’t get shot by stray bullets), and managed to work Makana through the distractions in real time. We managed to end our ride with quality flat walk possessing good rhythm, balance, over stride, and impulsion.

Video: Riding through Distractions

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A Gift of Freedom

A Gift of Freedom

By Jennifer Klitzke

Galloping through an open field is something that I have always longed to do, yet paralyzing fear had imprisoned me.

My Tennessee walking horse mare was a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband in 2007. (Well, actually, I pleaded with him for two weeks when he buckled on Valentine’s Day and said, “Okay!”) She came with the registered name “Gift of Freedom” which is ironically symbolic.

My first ponyAs a child, I rode my spring-loaded plastic pony through the wild, wild West of my imagination and dreamed for the day of owning a horse. That day finally arrived 24 years later after a friend said to me, “Jennifer, you’re going to be saying ‘Someday I’ll buy a horse’ for the rest of your life. You need to make it happen or ‘someday’ will never come.”

She was right, so that’s what I did. I saved enough money for my first horse and 29 years later, I think I’m more horse-crazy than ever! Bringing horses into my life was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I was born for this.

Horseman Buck Brannaman says, “Horses are a mirror to your soul,” and I’ve found that to be true. I believe that God has used horses to expose the broken and misguided pieces of my life that are in need of restoration. Once I courageously acknowledge and work through these broken areas, God has blessed me with a gift of freedom.

In fact, the real gift of freedom came at Easter time in 1996.

Leading up to this, horses had become a god of sorts. Horses had become my source of life, my source of purpose, and my source of identity. Anytime horses fell short of the god-role I had placed them in, I became more demanding to the point that control, perfectionism, and domination began to replace what once had been team-driven harmony.

When horses rebelled and I felt out of control, then hyper-ventilating panic attacks began to consumed me. I became so imprisoned with paralyzing riding fear that I could only ride in a 20-meter circle, traveling to the left, on a calm day, with no distractions, in an indoor arena, at a walk.

Then one day I faced a cross roads: It was time to quit riding horses, the very thing I love, or face the fear in humility, with courage and an open mind in hopes of overcoming it?

Yes, I believe Buck Brannaman is right when he says, “Horses are a mirror to your soul.” I am thankful that they have humbled me to realize that riding horses isn’t about controlling them; it is about building a trusted partnership.

And horses were not meant to be my source of life, either. Horses are a gift from God—not a god. I believe that God had allowed this cross roads in order that I would ultimately find what I had been searching for— an identity, a purpose, and meaning for life in Him.

Not only that, God has given me the courage to face my fears and over come them. Through daily prayer and perseverance, He has given me a gift of freedom to do what I never imagined I would be doing.

Today, me and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom, enjoy many adventures I only dreams of doing: riding in the beauty of nature outside of the four walls of an arena, participating in endurance rides, moving cows in sorting leagues, gymnastic jumping, and more.  All without the straps of fear.

Enjoy your journey!

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