By Jennifer Klitzke
Schooling dressage shows are a terrific way to get feedback from a dressage professional as to where we are at with balance, rhythm, connection, impulsion, relaxation, harmony, submission, accuracy of the required movements, gait quality, and rider’s position and effective use of aids. The score sheets provide feedback as to where we have improved, areas we still need to work on, and when we are ready to move to the next level of training.
After a 16-year break from competitive dressage, I never imagined that I’d return to the dressage arena on a horse that didn’t trot!
In 2007, I purchased Gift of Freedom, a just turning three-year-old Tennessee walking horse filly with 20 rides on her. I knew nothing about gaited horses. All I knew is that I wanted SMOOTH and out of default dressage became our method of communication. I wasn’t sure if dressage and gaited horses went together‒we would just have to give it a try.
Then in 2010, I learned of a schooling dressage show in my area, so I contacted the show manager and asked if I could ride my gaited horse using the National Walking Horse Association tests which are patterned after the United States Dressage Federation tests with flat walk in lieu of trot. Thankfully the show manager and the judge accommodated us and gave us the feedback I was seeking on where we were at in our training.
Since 2010 I’ve ridden 45 dressage tests at various schooling dressage shows. These low key, beginner-friendly shows are a terrific way to get feedback from a dressage professional as to where we are at with balance, rhythm, connection, impulsion, relaxation, harmony, submission, accuracy of the required movements, gait quality, and rider’s position and effective use of aids. The score sheets provide feedback as to where we have improved, areas we still need to work on, and when we are ready to move to the next level of training.
If showing dressage with your gaited horse is something you’d like to try, below are a few ways to get it started in your area.
Where to show gaited dressage in your area:
- Take dressage lessons: If you’re lucky enough to live by a gaited dressage instructor, start taking regular lessons. If not, join a local dressage club to connect with dressage riders and start taking lessons with your gaited horse by an open-minded dressage instructor who will teach you rider position and effective use of aids and help you establish balance, rhythm, connection, bending, and impulsion in gait. A dressage instructor can help you connect with local schooling shows.
- Find traditional schooling dressage shows in your area through a local dressage club. Contact the show manager in advance and ask if you can enter your gaited horse using FOSH or NWHA gaited dressage tests. Then mail the tests with your entry so that the judge can get familiar with the tests before the show. (I have found that the NWHA tests have been easier to accommodate for open dressage shows since they are patterned after the USDF test which the judges are already familiar with.)
- Find a gaited horse show and volunteer to help coordinate dressage classes. Ask a gaited breed show manager if they would be open to offering gaited dressage classes and then get a few friends to help you organize it. Details include setting up the dressage ring with letters and ropes or chains and a judge table with two chairs, hiring an “r” judge, finding volunteers to scribe, be the ring steward, organize the order of ride times in advance, tally the score sheets after each test ridden and post the percentages.
- Organize a schooling dressage show in your area that is open to gaited, western dressage and traditional dressage riders. If you have a riding facility, this can be a money-making opportunity for you and a way to reach new boarders and students.
- Submit your video to virtual schooling shows: Here’s an exciting collaboration between Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) and North American Western Dressage (NAWD) which allows for inclusive competition with other gaited horse and rider teams worldwide without ever leaving your backyard! Last year, FOSH introduced a Gaited Dressage program for live showing where you submit copies of your tests at the end of the year for awards. In addition to the Traditional live show category, FOSH has expanded the Gaited Dressage program to include a “Virtual” category using the NAWD Virtual Schooling Show “Gaits Wide Open” platform. The FOSH Gaited Dressage rules apply to both the Traditional and Virtual categories. Each category will be awarded separately, yet you may choose to participate in both. The FOSH Virtual Schooling Show “Gaits Wide Open” category is open to Western (and English) gaited dressage using any of the tests included in the FOSH Independent Judges Association Manual for Gaited Dressage (pdf). All Virtual Gaited Dressage tests will be judged by licensed IJA dressage judges. For more information about the FOSH Gaited Dressage Program, visit Friends of Sound Horses Gaited Dressage Program. For more information about the NAWD Virtual Schooling Shows, visit North American Western Association Virtual Schooling Shows.
I long for the day when I’m not the only gaited dressage entry riding among the trotting horses in my area. My hope is that this longing will soon be satisfied as dressage for the gaited horse grows in popularity.