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 all automatically gait. While they are all born with the ability to perform naturally smooth gaits, it takes time to train the gaits. It takes time for the horse to develop balance, muscle memory, rhythm, strength to carry a rider in gait, and for the rider to develop the sense of “feel” to discern the difference between a quality step from an unbalanced, rushed, hollow, or disengaged step.
In this video I share what I’ve learned about developing quality gaits —one step at a time. Don’t practice poor quality steps, just transition down and restart with a quality step and build upon that.
Following the Head and Neck of the Gaited Horse with Relaxed Arms & Rubber Band Fingers
By Jennifer Klitzke
When I returned from my Seattle vacation last Fall, I was excited to try out all I learned from Nichole Walters, a student of Philippe Karl, as it relates to following the motion of the head and neck of the naturally gaited horse.
Granted, I rode trotting horses at Nichole’s farm, but while the trotting horse walks, it expresses an even four-beat gait where the head and neck nod with each step. This is where Nicole encouraged me to relax my shoulders, back, and arms to follow the horse’s motion.
It got me thinking. This seemed like a direct take-a-way I ride my Tennessee walking horse. It was critical that I learn to follow the motion of the head shaking naturally gaited horse while maintaining an even contact with the right and left rein.
After publishing the video: Following the Motion of the Head Shaking Horse, I received a great tip from someone on the Naturally Gaited Facebook page. Along with following the motion of the head and neck with relaxed arms, a women encouraged to open and close my fingers with each head nod. This is what I call “rubber band fingers.”
I began giving this idea a try with both my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse and my friend’s fox trotting mare now that Winter is over and I’m back in the saddle again.
Along with following the head and neck motion with relaxed arms and rubber band fingers are the importance of relaxation (of mind and body within the horse), skeletal balance (not to be confused with collection), rhythm for the naturally gaited horse, and engaging the hind leg steps deeper under the body.
I am seeing great results from combining these elements. My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse’s head nod is more defined and regular in timing with the hind leg steps. Her rhythm is more even, and she seems more forward and engaged from behind.
Video: Following the Motion of the Head & Neck
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It has been a rainy summer. I was lucky to have one dry day to film our rides for the Harvest Virtual Western Dressage Show before another storm swamped the arena.
Since the last virtual Western dressage show, I’ve been working on improving engagement with my friend’s naturally gaited horse Lady and it paid off. Lady was the only gaited horse shown in NAWD Intro 2 and placed second out of 11 horses with a score of 64.821%.
Video: NAWD Western Dressage Intro 2
Lady ridden in her easy gait.
This show was the first time my Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend (Indy) and my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) competed against each other in the same show, riding the same test.
Indy placed first in NAWD Basic 3 with a score of 66% and Makana placed third with a score of 58.857%. She was the only gaited horse among the three horses riding NAWD Basic 3.
Video: NAWD Western Dressage Basic 3 TWH-style
Makana demonstrating a flat walk.
Video: NAWD Western Dressage Basic 3 Spanish Mustang-style
Indy being ridden on a 20 meter circle allowing the horse to stretch.
The show had a good turnout with 127 entries ranging from Intro through Basic, Freestyle, Therapeutic, Working in Hand and Versatility for Youth, Adult Amateur, and Open.
My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) and I gave it a try in May. Since then, I have been practicing the feedback I received from the judge’s remarks and from coaching I received from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson. I couldn’t wait for the next Virtual show to check our progress.
There have been several schooling dressage shows this spring and summer, but my Father has been terminally ill and in hospice care. I decided to put traveling shows on hold so that I can spend more time with my Dad. Virtual shows have made it possible for me to squeeze in a few showing opportunities without ever leaving home! All I need is for my adoring husband to widget some time between is golf games to record our rides.
In July NAWD offered the Midsummer Celebration Virtual Show (which doubled as a successful fundraiser for autism) and was their biggest show to date with over 150 entries! I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy), and my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady. It was Indy’s first Western Dressage show and Lady’s very first show. All three horses competed in the same Recognized Dressage Show without leaving home!
Video: Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom in IJA Western Training Level 2
I am very happy in how the medium walk and canter felt over the last test—more fluid and forward. Her canter was noticeably more impulsive and clearly three beat instead of a sluggish rather four beat canter. I was especially pleased with our improvement in connection from back to front and its effect on the head nod. Makana moved forward in her medium walk with deep steps from behind and a clear head nod instead of a nose flicking head peck. The judge noticed it too, and remarked, “It was a pleasure to watch the degree of reach with the hind legs and steadiness of the nod.”
Areas the judge encouraged us to work on are more distinction between regular walk, medium walk and intermediate gait; more roundness in canter right; straightness; and squareness and balance at the halt.
Score: 64.091% (1st of 1)
Video: My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend in NAWD Basic 3 in his first Western Dressage Test
This was Indy’s first Western Dressage Test. Although I feel like I’m dressed for a Halloween costume party, I am very pleased with how Indy looks in his Western get up. I could be hooked on this Western dressage after all!
Riding the test, I liked how balanced Indy felt overall and how he reached down and out in the freewalk. The judge remarked. “Yeah, baby!!!” Although Indy was busy in his mouth, he wasn’t heavy on the bridle or forehand; I think it was the bit. I usually ride him in a full-cheek snaffle and it isn’t legal for Western Dressage, so I switched to a bit he wasn’t used to.
The judge felt we rode the test well and with accuracy, balance and bend. Areas of improvement are for us to work on improving softness in the bridle. She felt Indy was impulsive and balanced in the jog and needs to work on more impulsion in the canter and softness in the transitions to halt.
I had to giggle when the judge remarked how much she loved my “Fjordie.” We get this all of the time! Don’t get me wrong. I love Fjords, it is just that my Indy is a Spanish Mustang.
Score: 69.844% ( 1st of 3)
Video: Naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, showing for the first time in NAWD Intro 2
This is Lady’s very first show and I am tickled with how well she did considering that riding with contact is something rather new to her and arena riding is something she’s not fond of. Trail riding is her gig.
The judge remarked that she can see how this horse can be a bit difficult—like she might be all ‘go’ and very little ‘whoa.’ The judge said, “I think you are doing a very nice job bringing her along. Movement #4 (KXM change rein at easy gait) showed the real horse: relaxed, engaged and brilliant.” Which really helps me move towards more of that in our training.
Score: 60.357% (5th of 9)
This feedback is so helpful, and the reason I show dressage. I need unbiased feedback from an educated professional as to where I’m at in my training.
From the judges’ comments in all three rides, I feel like we are heading in the right direction in this Western Dressage ‘thang.’ The feedback has given us something to work on until we check our status next time.
This year I’ve pretty much put showing on hold, because its been so touch and go with my Dad who is in hospice care. But, I thought I could sneak in a few local events: a Virtual Western Dressage Show (that I can do without leaving home), a Cow Sorting League (only minutes from my house) and the Mosquito Run Endurance Ride (held once a year at a local park).
Only I didn’t seem to notice that all three events were held in the same week until the week of. Working full time with an ailing father in hospice, what was I thinking?!
Virtual Western Dressage
North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. Makana and I gave it a try a couple months ago and we couldn’t wait for the next one. We have been practicing the feedback I had received from the judge’s remarks and from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.
When I saw that NAWD was having another Virtual Show, my over zealous enthusiasm overtook my sense of available time. I registered three horses for the show. Most challenging was finding time to squeeze in the rides between working full time, visits with my Dad, the cow sorting league, endurance rides, filming the tests around my husband’s schedule, the week’s inclement weather, and forcing my grandma brain to memorize three new Western dressage tests!
For this Western Dressage Virtual Show I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, and my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy). It was Lady’s very first show and Indy’s first Western Dressage show.
Our window for recording our rides just happened to be at the same time our neighbor took down his trees next to our arena with the brush hog. This stirred up an arsenal of repellent-resistant biting flies that came in for the attack!
Despite the distractions, we made the best of it. I rode Makana in IJA Western Training Level 2, Lady in NAWD Intro 2, and Indy in NAWD Basic 3.
A couple weeks back I saw a last minute opening for the July Cow Sorting League. I knew Makana was due for some cow time, because it’s her favorite thing to do. (My theory: since she’s lowest on the pecking order, cows give her something to push around!)
We finished our first week getting all ten cows sorted in order within 70 seconds! Not the fastest by far (which was an amazing 46 seconds) but it felt good to officially achieve this milestone.
On Sunday, I entered Makana in a ten-mile Mosquito Run novice endurance ride at Crow Hassan Park Reserve. That morning we were hit with ANOTHER thunderstorm. Many riders had packed up and headed for home just before Makana and I arrived. So many riders had left that I thought the event had cancelled. (At least it made it easy to find a parking spot!)
The novice ride headed out with two large groups of seven. The footing was slick in spots with lots of puddles, but the storms cooled down the temperature for a comfortable ride.
The week’s thunderstorms had taken a toll on the park. We passed hundreds of mature trees that had fallen during the storms. Many thanks to the Park Reserve staff who worked hard to clear the trails so that the endurance ride could go on.
Our group was composed of three Tennessee walking horses, a Rockie, and three Arabians. It was wonderful to ride with other gaited horses. While our gaited horses outpassed the nongaited horses at a walk, the speed required of the ride in order to make time forced our gaited horses to trot, speed rack (or canter) the majority of the ride. I asked Makana for a speed rack. She held it for a while, but waffled between the rack, the trot, and canter.
Three miles before the finish line we all cooled off in the lake. Makana and I took our first swim! We walked in the water until her entire body submerged and all that surfaced the water was her ears, nostrils, and eyeballs. Thank God horses are intuitively good swimmers!
Makana and I made the optimum time and took sixth place out of 12 entries. (We even surpassed the Arabians!)
I’ll see you soon Dad. Hang in there! I love you! (Next time I’ll double check my calendar before committing to these events.)