Tag Archives: riding gaited horse on the bit

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].


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

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