Category Archives: Gaited Dressage Shows

Harvest Virtual Western Dressage Show


By Jennifer Klitzke

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.

Harvest Virtual Show results»

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Showing Recognized Gaited Dressage from Home


By Jennifer Klitzke

Finally a way to ride gaited dressage at recognized shows, and I don’t even have to leave home!

flatwalk jog fox trotNorth American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. This year they have included gaited dressage in their recognized Virtual shows.

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.”

first placeAreas 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.

first placeI 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.

fifth placeThe 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.

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Midsummer Celebration Virtual Show Results»

For more information about North American Western Dressage Virtual Shows, visit:


A Full Week: Western Dressage, Cow Sorting & Endurance

IJA Western Training 2 medium walk
Naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom performing IJA Western Training 2.

By Jennifer Klitzke

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.


NAWD Intro 2
Naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, in her easy gait while showing for the first time in NAWD Intro 2.
NAWD Basic 3 stretch trot 1
My Spanish Mustang Indian’s Legend showing a required movement in NAWD Basic 3, a jog allowing the horse to stretch its head and neck out and down.

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.

Cow Time!
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!)

Sorting cows with a gaited horse

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.

Endurance Ride
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.

Mosquito Run endurance ride

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!)

2016 Mosquito Run

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.)

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Video: Western Gaited Dressage – Our First Virtual Show

FOSH IJA Western Training 1 bending through the corners
Medium walk showing bend through the corners.

By Jennifer Klitzke

I felt like I was dressed up for a Halloween costume party wearing this get up, but I thought I’d give Western gaited dressage a try again. This time without leaving home. I saw a Facebook post for a virtual Western dressage show that was open to gaited horses. So my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana and I rode the FOSH IJA Training 1 Test which calls for regular walk, medium walk, free walk, intermediate gait (flat walk), and canter.

What’s nice about a virtual show is that you can ride from home—no need to trailer to the show grounds, as long as you have an arena marked off and someone to record your ride. No editing allowed, just the raw footage to capture the entire test, post it to youtube and wait for the results and feedback via email.

Then if you feel like it, you can share the video link with others and ask for their feedback as to how you and your horse could have ridden the test better.

Video: FOSH IJA Training 1

NAWD IJA TR1-first place
Always feels good to take home a blue (even if you’re the only one in the class).

One of the judge’s comments about our test was: “Excessive head nod.” Isn’t that what a Tennessee walking horse is known for?

Perplexed, I asked my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson for feedback on how to improve my Western riding.

Jennie gave me terrific feedback in regards to riding the medium walk, which makes up the majority of this test. She said that at times during the medium walk, my horse displays a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.”

“Head peck? What on earth is that?!” I asked. Jennie said that the head nod is where the Tennessee walking horse travels forward from the hindquarters through a neutral to round back into a connection with the rider’s seat and light rein contact (not loose, floppy reins). The head nod should lower down from the head and neck with each step of the hind legs.

The head peck, on the other hand, is a disconnected head motion from the hind leg steps where the horse simply flicks its nose upward.

To correct the head peck, Jennie said that I need to encourage my horse to step deeply under her body where I feel her back raise up under my seat and then travel through the shoulders,neck, and poll to the bit.

Video: Head Nod (or Head Peck)?

Jennie also mentioned that I need to “freshen up” Makana’s canter with hand galloping to get her back to a three-beat canter. It’s not enough to be satisfied with just getting the correct canter lead. I need to work on improving our canter to the quality of the trotting horses. Will we ever attain it? Maybe not, but it is something to aspire to.

Ah, yes! After reviewing the video, I see the nose flicking head peck at the medium walk and the rather flat canter.

Now that’s terrific feedback I can begin working on the next time I ride. I hope by sharing these videos and feedback will help you at home as you train your gaited horse in dressage.

Feel free to write to me any time with your comments, questions, and stories. I’d love to hear about your gaited dressage journey. Stay connected by subscribing to the Naturally Gaited youtube channel and join our community on

Photo gallery: (click to enlarge)


Humane Training Leads to National Championships

dressage s for gaited horses too

By Jennifer Klitzke

I’ve been a horse-crazy dressage rider for nearly 30 years. In 2007, my aching back gave up that bouncy sitting trot, and I bought Gift of Freedom (Makana), my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse. SMOOTH was all I had in mind. I wanted to ride a horse that would be easier on my aging body.

In fact, showing dressage wasn’t even a considered when I looked at Makana, because I thought dressage was only for horses that trot. But dressage had been the only riding style I knew, so that’s what became our training language.

I love dressage because of the connection and harmony it brings between me and my horse. I love the relaxation, rhythm, balance, and impulsion it creates. I love how natural and humane it is as a training method. Connection, harmony, relaxation, rhythm, balance, and impulsion works for all horses whether they trot or gait. Plus, I love how dressage challenges me to become a better rider and communicator to my horse through the use of my aids.

I live on a rural hobby farm with few dressage instructors nearby, so I’ve began coasting on the knowledge I had gained from 12 years of traditional dressage lessons.

Then I joined a local TWH association and began attending clinics whenever gaited dressage instructors traveled to Minnesota and Wisconsin. I learned from people like Jennie Jackson, Larry Whitesell, Jennifer Bauer, and Bucky Sparks.

Makana has been barefoot for as long as I’ve owned her, and so are the other horses at my farm. A few years ago I began to study natural barefoot trimming and the importance of a low carbohydrate diet. I keep all of my horses trimmed on a regular basis. My husband likes the cost savings, but I like the natural and holistic approach to hoof care. Trimming hooves is pretty good exercise, too!

Meanwhile, through the Tennessee walking horse association, I learned that down South some Tennessee walking horses are shod with heavy shoes, thick pads, and chains. Caustic substances are applied to their front feet to intentionally make them sore. All this is done to accentuate their movement in what is known as the “Big Lick.” This isn’t dressage, nor is it natural or humane. In fact, it is illegal to sore horses this way. Yet still goes on because it is hard to enforce.

Then I became introduced to FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses) and the NWHA (National Walking Horse Association). FOSH is on the front lines fighting against soring and abuse, and both organizations are firm supporters of natural and humane training methods.

In 2010, three years after Makana and I had began my backyard gaited dressage journey, I learned of a tradition schooling dressage show only 10 miles away. I contacted the show manager and asked if I could ride my Tennessee walking horse and replace trot with flat walk. The show manager agreed. Little did I know that the NWHA had already written tests which did exactly that.

Getting to the show that day, I wondered if fellow competitors would laugh at me for entering a horse that didn’t trot, but I didn’t care. I was curious what a trained dressage professional would have to say as to where we were at in our training in regards to rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, balance, and harmony. The feedback we received was meaningful, challenging, and affirming. It gave us something to work toward.

Through conversations with trotting horse riders, I was introduced to women who also owned gaited horses they rode on the trail. Up until that point, riding their gaited horses using dressage methods had not occurred to them. A couple of the women invited me to their next trail ride. I was thrilled to have someone to ride with.

During that first show, I learned of another schooling dressage show which offered gaited dressage entries using the FOSH tests. Then I learned that the NWHA had  worked with the USDF to replicate dressage tests using flat walk in place of trot.

Well, five years and fifty-five gaited dressage tests later, I’ve gotten over being the odd-ball at the traditional dressage schooling shows, because of the people we’ve met along the way. Makana and I get to  present a natural and humane alternative to the soring and abuse people hear about in the TWH industry. They get to see firsthand how dressage brings about rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, collection, harmony, and balance in a horse that doesn’t trot.

In 2015, Makana and I showed at five USDF open schooling shows as the only gaited horse among the trotting horses and rode 10 NWHA tests.

2015 Gaited Dressage Show Record

May 2, 2015
Wildfire Farms Schooling Dressage Show
Maple Lake, MN
Judge: Jodi Ely
NWHA Training Level Test 3: 68.2%
NWHA First Level Test 1: 70.4%

May 9, 2015
Arbor Hill Schooling Dressage Show
Stillwater, MN
Judge: Molly Schiltgen
NWHA Training Level Test 3: 67.27%
NWHA First Level Test 1: 65.56%

May 30, 2015
Northwoods Schooling Dressage Show
Corcoran, MN
Judge: Colleen Holden
NWHA First Level Test 1: 65.926%
NWHA First Level Test 3: 70.294%

August 2, 2015
Carriage House Farms Schooling Dressage Show
Hugo, MN
Judge: Jennie Zimmerman
NWHA First Level Test 1: 64.07%
NWHA First Level Test 3: 62.06%

August 15, 2015
Wildfire Farms Schooling Dressage Show
Maple Lake, MN
Judge: Nancy Porter
NWHA First Level Test 1: 66.5%
NWHA First Level Test 3: 63.9%

Naturally gaited TWH Gift of Freedom ridden by Jennifer Klitzke was named 2015 NWHA First Level Champion.

“This accomplishment demonstrates the commitment, consistency and communication of partnership.” —Dianne Little

With our 2015 dressage scores, my naturally gaited and barefoot Tennessee walking horse mare, Gift of Freedom, has been named the 2015 NWHA Gaited Dressage National Champion at First Level, 2015 FOSH Gaited Dressage National Champion at First Level and 2015 FOSH Gaited Dressage National Champion at Training Level.

Dianne Little, FOSH Gaited Dressage Program Director writes, “You are to be congratulated for riding eight tests at First Level with all scores over 62%.  Of these eight tests, four scores were over 65%.  This accomplishment demonstrates the commitment, consistency and communication of partnership.”

What will 2016 hold for us?
Whether we continue riding english gaited dressage or give western gaited dressage a try, we just want to keep encouraging people to recognize that dressage is for gaited horses, too, and it is a wonderful humane and natural alternative to soring and abuse.