Category Archives: How-to

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

By Jennifer Klitzke

Most owners of gaited horse who have a pacey horse or a horse that cross canters don’t refine the pace and cross canter, they work to break up the lateral gait for a four-beat gait and true canter.

My gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson taught me that the pace and the cross canter are lateral movements while the trot and true canter are diagonal movements. Using trot over one or two ground rails can help break up the lateral movement for a more diagonal movement.

For the pacey horse, one or two ground rails can help break up the pace and help the horse learn to trot. One ground rail can help correct cross canter any time the hind legs are traveling in the wrong lead. When the horse hops over the ground rail they often correct the hind legs to the true lead.

For me, the most important aspects of this exercise is to establish:

  • Introduce the rails and lunge whip so the horse isn’t afraid of them.
  • Encourage the horse to find relaxation, balance, rhythm and impulsion at the walk, trot, and canter. If the horse gets tense or loses its balance, bring the horse down to a walk or trot and start over.
  • Teach the walk, trot and canter on cue and in a quality way of going to build the correct muscles. Don’t let the horse decide its gait, blast off into tension, or travel continually in a hollow ewe neck frame. Seek to teach gaits that build the top line muscles, encourage a deeper stride under the body, are balanced, and a develop a relaxed rhythm.

Video: Breaking Pace & Cross Canter Using Trot & Ground Rails

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Video: TWH Medium Walk or Flat Walk

Tennessee walking horse Medium Walk or Flat Walk

By Jennifer Klitzke

How do you tell the difference between the naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse’s medium walk and flat walk? Both walks are natural even four beat gaits with a head nod.

For me, it is very apparent in how it feels as a rider. Riding my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana’s medium walk has a lot of motion to follow. In the flat walk, not so much. Something happens in her body where the flat walk gets really smooth.

In either case, whether I ride the medium walk or flat walk, I want as much over stride as possible. That means I want the hind leg foot print to step over the forefoot hoof foot print when it leaves the ground. My seat, leg, and rein aids connect with the driving power of the hindquarter steps under the body, through shoulder, neck and head, to the bit. It is a back to front movement and the horse’s head and neck nod downward in regular timing with each hind leg step.

While riding the medium walk and flat walk, I become aware of the rise and fall of the horse’s belly sway with each step. (The belly sway is much more noticeable in the the medium walk than it is in the flat walk.) When the belly sway dips down, that’s when the hind leg is stepping under the body. If I want to encourage an even deeper step under the body it is important that I apply my calf aid at the girth at the moment the belly sway dips down. That timing in conjunction of the hind leg as it steps under the body will affect a deeper step. (Be careful not to apply both calves at the same time as that will encourage the horse to go faster.)

I find it important to ride with short reins and an even contact with the snaffle bit and to keep my elbows at my sides. Short reins don’t mean pulling back. It just means maintaining a light feeling of the horse’s mouth evenly on both reins. Keeping my elbows at my sides helps me stay in balance—ear, shoulder, elbows, hip and heel. If my elbows creep forward, I find that my upper body soon leans forward where I find myself out of balance which causes my horse to fall onto the shoulders.

Hind sight is 20/20. I think there is great value in developing a solid, even four-beat medium walk with as much over stride as possible before moving the horse up to the flat walk. In my early years of training my naturally gaited TWH, I made the mistake of rushing her into the flat walk which produced a short strided and rushed flat walk. This certainly was not the quality of gait she is capable of. But thanks to my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson who pointed this out to me four years ago in my first lesson. Jennie said, “Don’t let your horse flat walk in a tight skirt!” Lessons with Jennie are golden and I’ve learned so much from her. So, I believe time well spent developing a solid medium walk can improve the quality of the flat walk.

Video:  TWH Medium Walk or Flat Walk

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Video: The Counted Walk and the Gaited Horse

Counted Walk for the Gaited Horse

By Jennifer Klitzke

The counted walk isn’t talked much about in the German dressage circles I’ve been involved with the last thirty years, but it is an exercise I learned recently while studying the French classical dressage philosophy.

The counted walk is more of a balancing exercise than a gait. Each time my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse gets out of balance by leaning on the bit or feeling heavy in her chest, I ask for a few steps of the counted walk. This gets her engaged from behind, lighter in front, and softer in the jaw. Then I resume the medium walk, flat walk or canter.

I have seen some videos demonstrate the counted walk as a mini piaffe, which is a trot sequence of diagonal pairs instead of a walk sequence of four even steps. In either case, a counted walk or mini-piaffe (or piaffe), both are excellent exercises to help improve balance and engagement in a horse whether it trots or gaits.

Cues for the counted walk
1. First I want relaxation in the horse’s mind and jaw and a light even contact to a snaffle bit.

2. Then I place my horse along the fence and encourage the slowest possible walk she is able to do with the smallest possible steps. While my horse is walking, I encourage her to raise her head and neck while she steps under her body from behind. It feels like the back raises and the withers grow higher while the hindquarters lower. Each step feels softer.

3. If I need more engagement. I will halt and ask for a few steps of rein back to encourage my horse’s back to lift and the hindquarters to engage. Then I will ask for a few more steps of the counted walk.

4. When I feel my horse is in balance, I will move up to a medium walk, flat walk or canter from the counted walk.

I hope this exercise helps you as much as it has helped me. The counted walk might not look like much compared with the deep striding flat walk we are accustomed to, but when you feel the balance of the counted walk and experience how the balance improves the flat walk, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Please write and let me know the difference the counted walk is making for you and your gaited horse.

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Video: TWH Head Nod (or Head Peck)?

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By Jennifer Klitzke

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the Tennessee walking horse head nod and head peck? “Head Peck?” you ask. Well, you’re not alone. That was my question after getting some cyber coaching from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.

I’ve always been an English dressage rider so whenever I give Western-style gaited dressage a try, I feel like a Cowboy in Spandex.

I recently rode my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom in our first FOSH IJA Western Training 1 Test, and after I received my Test results, I asked my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson for feedback on how we can improve our Western gaited dressage riding.

For some reason, I had always thought that riding Western meant riding with longer, looser reins. Maybe they do on the traditional, jogging variety, but according to national Tennessee walking horse judge, Jennie Jackson, the mechanics of a head nod require connection from the hindquarters, through the body, through the rider’s legs, seat and rein aids, and through the shoulder, neck, and head to the bit.

Jennie gave me terrific feedback in regards to riding the medium walk, which makes up the majority of this test. The medium walk is an active, even, four-beat walk with a head nod. The rider’s seat follows the motion of the belly sway as the hind legs alternately step under the body. The head nod needs to be in connection with the hind leg steps through the rein, seat, and leg aids of the rider. Jennie said that at times during the medium walk of my Test, my horse displayed a “head peck” instead of a “head nod.”

Head peck? Huh? What on earth is that?! Jennie explained that the head peck is an evasion where the Tennessee walking horse’s head simply flicks upward and is not connected with the hind leg steps of the horse.

The head nod is where the Tennessee walking horse travels forward from the hindquarter steps through a neutral to round back into a connection with the rider’s seat and rein contact—not loose, floppy reins. The head and neck should lower down with each step of the hind legs.

Jennie said that I need to feel the engine of my horse’s hind legs through her body, lifting her back to a neutral to round position, and forward into a rein connection with the snaffle bit. This will connect her back to front so that my horse’s hind legs step boldly under her body, through my aids, through her shoulders, neck, and head to the bit.

Video: Head Nod (or Head Peck)?
This video shows and describes the difference between the Tennessee walking horse head nod and the head peck I learned from Jennie Jackson. It is far too valuable for me to keep to myself. I hope it is helpful to you as well.

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Video: Cues to a Softer Halt

Cues to a softer halt

By Jennifer Klitzke

Back in the days before owning horses, I looked forward to the hour long trail rides I had each summer. Before our group mounted up, the trail guide would give us these handy instructions: “kick” to go and “pull” on the reins to stop.

Now that I’ve been a horse owner for a few decades, I’ve learned better approaches than “kick” to go and “pull” to stop which produce softer and rounder responses. The cues are a blend of tips I have learned from classical French dressage and natural horsemanship philosophies.

Halt and salute
Each test begins and ends with a halt and salute where the horse stands square and immobile for three seconds.

I ride my naturally gaited and barefoot Tennessee walking horse in a mild single-joint snaffle bit and have been competing with her at schooling dressage shows since 2010. We consistently earn scores of “8” on our center line halt and salute.

Below is a sequence of cues that I have found which produce a soft, round, and relaxed halt without the use of force or pulling on the reins.

How to produce a soft, round and relaxed halt:

  1. Well fitting equipment: Beginning with a practical note, an uncomfortable horse will not be able to perform a soft, round, and relaxed halt. So it is important to ride your horse with a saddle and bit that fit properly. Also have your horse’s teeth checked and floated regularly by an equine dentist or qualified veterinarian.
  2. Following seat: The next thing I do is develop a following seat (versus a driving seat). I encourage my horse forward with my seat, followed up with the use of my voice, a bump and release of my lower calf, and a tap of the dressage whip if needed. Then I follow the motion of my horse’s walk (in a toned sort of way) as if my hip joints walk with my horse’s hind legs. I do not drive my horse forward with my seat (by thrusting my pelvis forward and backward) as I believe this annoys my horse and eventually causes her to tune me out.
  3. Stilling seat: When I am about to come to a halt, I gently squeeze and release the reins with my middle, ring and pinky fingers to soften and round my horse. At the same time I still my seat and no longer follow the motion of my horse. If the horse is listening to my seat, the horse will stop.
  4. Alternating squeeze and release of the rein: Plan B: If my horse doesn’t halt with the stilling of my seat, then I follow it up with an alternating squeeze and release of each rein in sequence with each hind step of the horse as if to say, “Stop your foot. Now stop your other foot.” I will keep alternating the squeeze and release of each rein with each step combined with a stilled seat until the horse slows to a stop.

    I have found that this approach produces a softer, rounder, more relaxed and square halt than when squeezing with both reins at the same time and definitely better than pulling back on the reins.

  5. Repeat the exercise: If the horse didn’t stop by my seat, I will return to a forward walk and repeat the exercise a few times before moving on to something else. Then I’ll come back to the exercise a couple more times during our riding session.
  6. Practice: I practice this exercise each time I ride. Every horse I ride becomes more and more responsive to my seat, softer, rounder, and more relaxed with the halting, less dependent upon the reins for stopping, less depended upon the voice, legs, and whip to move forward and more responsive to the seat.

Video: Cues to a Softer Halt

A square halt from the medium walk is required in NWHA Intro tests, a square halt from the flat walk is required in NWHA Training Level tests, and a square halt from a canter is required in NWHA Fourth Level.

Video: Soft Halts from the Medium Walk, Flat Walk and Canter