Tag Archives: riding gaited horse on the bit

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!)

Stay connected by subscribing to the Naturally Gaited youtube channel and liking and following our community on facebook.com/naturallygaited.

Share

Corners of the Mouth vs Tongue: Does it Make a Difference?

 

lift hands up not back if horse leans on bit
Lift hands up, not back, if horse leans on bit and as soon as the horse lightens, lower the hands.

By Jennifer Klitzke

Recently I’ve been studying Philippe Karl’s Classical versus Classique and Classical Dressage DVDs. On these DVDs he talks about why it is important to ride the horse by engaging the corners of the horses mouth versus the tongue, and he points out how each affect the horse. This philosophy is making me rethink the frame I ride my gaited horse in.

Over a decade of dressage lessons on trotting horses schooled me to ride with low hands (which engages the tongue) and drive my horse forward using my seat and legs into a vertical frame. Adding to this, I rode with a tight nose band in order to keep my horse’s mouth from opening which was considered unsightly. Looking back, this produced a locked jaw and poll, grinding teeth, compression of the tongue, and my horse tended to evade the discomfort by dipping behind the vertical with the vertebrae behind the poll rising up as the highest point.

Karl’s method is the stark opposite. He raises his hands to engage the corners of the horse’s mouth. He loosens the nose band so that the horse is free to open it’s mouth, lick, chew, and swallow thus creating a happy mouth and relaxed jaw and poll. Karl allows the horse’s nose to be slightly ahead of the vertical which allows the poll to be the highest point of the horse. The use of the leg and seat aids remain separated from the rein aids instead of combined which produce lightness and self carriage.

As I think about the head shaking gaited horse, I’ve experimented with both techniques. The former technique seems to produce tense, shorter, quick strides, where I work harder to make my horse move forward with each step and half halt to increase depth of stride. While Karl’s method seems easier and more pleasant and brings about more harmony, lightness, balance, deeper steps, and forwardness without me having to “make” my horse move forward with each step.

After only a few sessions of experimenting with Karl’s methods, I am convinced that the head shaking gaited horse needs to be ridden ahead of the vertical and from the corners of the mouth so as not to compress the tongue, keep the horse comfortable in the mouth and relaxed in the jaw and poll, allow the horse to move in self carriage and balance, and allow the head shaking gaited horse the full range of motion.

Not all dressage philosophies are the same, but Karl says, “If the dressage is good, it will work on any horse” [even the gaited ones].

Share

Gaited Dressage: Convergence of Two Worlds

Gaited Dressage: Convergence of Two Worlds

By Jennifer Klitzke

There’s a convergence in gaited dressage: the traditional dressage rider who later applies what they have learned to the gaited horse and the rail class rider who later learns dressage methods of training.

The former describes me, and I can’t ride my gaited horse well without learning from the latter.

I believe gaited dressage has an equation: dressage + gaited equitation = correct. Both perspectives add value to complete this equation. Neither perspective holds the fullness of “correct,” yet each paradigm offers unique perspectives about what is “correct.” One perspective without the other is only half the gaited dressage equation.

Riders like me who have spent decades studying dressage on trotting horses understand the importance of rhythm, relaxation, connection, balance, impulsion, straightness, collection, harmony, rider position, and use of aids to develop the horse’s full range of motion in each gait equally in both directions to produce an ambidextrous horse.

Dressage was the only training language I knew at the time I bought Makana, my first naturally gaited horse. I quickly learned that what is “correct” on a trotting horse, is not the same as what is “correct” on a smooth-gaited Tennessee walking horse. Makana’s flat walk and running walk have a distinctly different “feel” than that of the trot and lengthening of my Trakehner/Thoroughred.

Riding a head-shaking horse on-the-bit has a distinctly different “feel” as compared to the stationary headset of a trotting horse. To help me in this difference, I’ve needed the perspectives of knowledgeable gaited riders to help me develop “correct feel.” And I’m still learning.

On the other hand, there are gaited rail class riders who are new gaited dressage. They know how to ride a head-shaking horse in a shank bit yet need to learn even contract through a snaffle bit. They know how to keep their gaited horse in a consistent four-beat gait along the rail, yet need to learn the concept of the inside leg to outside rein to establish bend and balance in the gait through circles, lateral exercises, transitions within and between gaits, and to develop the full range of walks, easy gaits, and canters on both reins, precisely on the letter. It takes the perspective of a knowledgeable dressage rider to learn this.

Dressage is challenging no matter how many years you’ve been at it, and riding a gaited horse consistently well is challenging. The goal for is not perfection, rather improvement. Dressage is a journey, not a destination.  So be part of the equation; you’ve got something to offer (and learn from) the other half!
Naturally Gaited

Promote Your Page Too

Share