Tag Archives: rein back

Northwoods Dressage Clinic features Gaited Dressage


Northwoods Dressage Association Gaited Dressage Demonstration
Northwoods Dressage Association Gaited Dressage Demonstration

Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom and Jennifer Klitzke were featured as one of the demonstration teams at the Northwoods Dressage “Ride-A-Test” Clinic in Proctor, MN. The team demonstrated how gaited dressage training can improve the natural movement of the gaited horse and rode through NWHA First Level, Test Two before a couple dozen onlookers.

Dressage is More than Trot

I was honored to bring my seven-year-old naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare, Gift of Freedom, to the Northwoods Dressage “Ride-A-Test” Clinic in Proctor, MN to demonstrate the benefits of gaited dressage training.We were among five demonstration horse/rider teams over the lunch hour. Other informative and well-executed demonstrations included gymnastic grid training over fences, dressage driving, tandem driving, and an encapsulation of Training-Fourth Level frames, gaits, and movements.

gaited horses can piaffeAfter a bouncy, three-hour trailer ride along 35W road construction, Makana, my saintly husband, and I made it safely to the Dirt Floor Arena with an hour to spare before our NWHA First Level, Test Two gaited dressage demonstration. There were the usual Proctor race track distractions such as a model airplane show to our right, heavy equipment prepping the race track behind us, and a well-used port-a-potty relieving spectators to our left, plus cones,  jumps, and carts chasing horses around the warm up arena. My husband even caught on camera some impromptu port-a-potty inspired piaffe between restroom visitors.

Makana rode a respectable test–gaited dressage style–demonstrating the range of gaits: medium walk, free walk, flat walk, running walk, canter, medium canter, and halt. Afterwards we demonstrated suppling exercises that help establish balance, bending, engagement and range of motion. These exercises included the leg yield, shoulder in, haunches in, rein back, transitions between flat walk and canter, serpentines, and 10- and 15-meter canter circles. In case you are wondering, these exercises are not intended to train the gaited horse to trot. Rather, these dressage exercises are meant to bring out the best natural, innate smooth gaits your horse can achieve!

While USEF tests require a trot, dressage as a training method is not measured by whether your horse trots or not. The essence of dressage is to produce balance, rhythm, relaxation, connection, harmony and engagement. These qualities improve the movement of all horse breeds, whether they trot or gait, and to help any horse be the best it can be and a joy to ride.

Whether you intend to show gaited dressage at schooling shows, recognized dressage shows that offer gaited dressage classes or just ride for pleasure, dressage training builds teamwork with your horse and improves your horse’s movement without the use of mechanical devices, harsh bits, and expensive shoes. I’ve witnessed dozens of pacey horses transformed into four-beat, smooth mounts with the use of dressage training–and not one of them trots!

Photos: Gaited dressage demo»


Rein back

Back and forth to better movement

By Jennifer Klitzke

Back in the days when I rode classical dressage on hard trotting horses, rein back was commonly not introduced until the horse reached second level. And even when it was introduced, I had never used it as a means of improving engagement until Bucky Sparks introduced its application at a B.L.E.S.S. your walking horse clinic. He encouraged riders with horses of all ages and training levels to use it.

I like to introduce the rein back to the horse from the ground to help the horse get the concept. Afterwards I teach the horse rein back while in the saddle.

There are numerous methods to get the horse to step backward. Among the most effective is the method which I learned at a B.L.E.S.S. clinic.

How to produce a soft and round rein back
At a halt, get the horse soft and round on the bit, then raise your front seatbone off the saddle and tap on the horse’s sides in front of the girth while saying  “back.” As the horse offers a step back, stops cuing and let the horse think about it. Then try it again a few times before asking the horse for consecutive steps. Then alternate your leg cue with the corresponding hind leg of the horse.

After the horse is consistent with rein back, I ask for larger steps backward and tap my riding crop on the horse’s shoulder to encourage the backward movement. Soon, the larger steps can be accomplished without the encouragement of the riding crop.

In November 2008, I audited the Larry Whitesell clinic held in Minnesota which was hosted by the Rocky Mountain Horse Club. His application of rein back cues was unlike anything I had seen before. After he gets the horse on-the-bit at a halt, he sits up straight and applies the lower leg behind the girth, and then he taps the riding crop on the horse’s croup. At first, the horse wanted to move forward, but ran into the soft contact of the rider’s hands. After a few tries, the horse grasped the concept and produced a beautifully engaged rein back.

If you’re interested in showing Walking Horses, the rein back is a required movement in most classes. So get good at it and while you do, you’ll discover just how much the rein-back improves the roundness and engagement of the forward gaits.