Category Archives: Jumping with Gaited Horses

Video: Improving a Lateral or Four-Beat Canter

Exercises to break a lateral or four beat canter

By Jennifer Klitzke

Does your gaited horse struggle with a flat, four-beat or bumpy, lateral canter? You’re not alone. My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse Makana wrestles with these issues, too. Over the last few years I’ve learned a few ways to improve her canter using dressage and gymnastic jumping.

Dressage to Break up a Lateral Canter
Dressage training has shown me that the rounder and more relaxed my naturally gaited Walking horse mare is in her back, jaw, poll, and top line, the smoother and less lateral her canter becomes. One of my favorite exercises is establishing a soft and round rein back before a canter depart. When the rein back is soft, non forced, and not rushed, it encourages my mare to bend her hindquarter joints and engage her abdominal muscles which lifts her back. This puts her in a wonderful posture most conducive for a quality canter depart and canter steps.

I learned an important lesson from my gaited dressage mentor, Jennie Jackson: Don’t practice a poor quality canter. As soon as my horse begins to feel flat, hollow, bumpy, bracey, or out of balance, I need to transition back to a walk, regroup, halt, rein back softly and ask again for a quality canter depart to quality canter steps. This means I need to learn to recognize the difference between the feeling of a quality and a poor quality canter so that I can ask for more of the former and reduce steps of the latter. If I continue riding a poor quality canter that’s what I am reinforcing to my horse. If I want a quality canter, I must first know what it feels like and practice more of it. That’s why talking lessons from a qualified instructor are so important to me. Instruction provides me with timely feedback so that I can associate how it feels with right or wrong.

Gymanstic Jumping to Break a Four-Beat Canter
While I will never become serious about show jumping my gaited horse, I enjoy schooling her over rails and small fences for gymnastic purposes and giving Makana variety in her training. I’ve noticed that when we ride over ground poles and small fences, it creates more lift and brings out a truer three-beat canter.

The other day I tried a new cantering exercise over two rails in an L-shape. First I let my horse walk over the rails before we cantered over them. The video below demonstrates the exercise.

Video: Exercises to Break up a Lateral or Four-Beat Canter

This is a super fun exercise for the rider and horse. I learned so much from this exercise: balance of my horse, my balance on my horse, my horse’s rhythm, keeping my horse forward yet relaxed, looking ahead to plan the arc of a turn and line to a rail, and getting a feel for how many canter strides to a rail.

The L-shape can also be used to school flying changes over the rail by alternating the direction over each pole. We’ll have to give that a try when we begin schooling flying changes.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to write to me by completing the contact form.


Gaited Dressage [and Jumping] at Northwoods

Gaited dressage and jumping at Northwoods

By Jennifer Klitzke

Thanks to the familiar faces, I felt like I was showing among friends at the Northwoods schooling show instead of me, Makana, and tripod.

Northwoods offered their first annual schooling dressage [and hunter] show on May 30, 2015. I took my naturally gaited Walking horse Makana—the only gaited horse/rider entry among 29 trotting horse tests ridden, Intro through First Level.

Nearing the arena I heard someone say my name. I turned to look and a woman introduced herself. We came to know each other through I was delighted to connect with her face-to-face.

Then another woman I had met through the Western Dressage Association rode her Norwegian Fjord at her mare’s first dressage show. These women, among the other friendly spectators and competitors, made it feel like I was riding with friends instead of showing solo—me, Makana, and tripod.

Since Makana seems to run out of gas so quickly, I’ve been making a point to do more conditioning with her during our rides at home. It really paid off. We rode both First Level Tests One and Three back-to-back and Makana had enough energy to spare. The tests were held in Northwood’s spacious mirror-lined indoor arena with dust-free rubberized footing.

This show marked the first time Makana and I had ever ridden First Level Test Three which is filled with lots of new challenges: leg yield zig zag at a flatwalk, 10-meter flatwalk circles, counter canter, and simple changes of lead at X through the flatwalk, in addition to the running walk, canter lengthenings, and 15-meter canter circles.

To my amazement Makana scored 70.294% on First Level Test Three and received a respectable score of 65.926% on First Level Test One.

After our rides, Judge Colleen Holden remarked, “That was really fun to watch how you orchestrated all those variations of walk.” She said that we received an “OMG” on our free walk and medium walk because they were the best she had seen all day, and she was very impressed with our transitions, and the quality of our canter. Areas she encouraged us to work on are developing better bend which will improve the overall elegance of our tests.

After the dressage tests were completed, the outdoor arena was set for the hunter course. While I continue to school Makana over ground rails and small jumps at home to improve her canter, it had been a couple years since we entered a hunter course.

The last time we rode a course of ground rails, Makana spooked, refused, and hesitated getting near the strangely colored poles. The Northwoods schooling show promised to be a fun and beginner-friendly event, so I entered Makana in the hunter course over ground rails.

What a terrific course—eleven poles with lots of turns and canter stretches made it feel more like a cross country course. I was so proud of my girl. She confidently cantered the entire course of rails without a spook, refusal, or hesitation! In fact, I was tempted to enter her in the 18″ cross rail course.

Video: Naturally gaited (and barefoot) Walking horse over a hunter course of ground rails

Special thanks to Northwoods Stables for hosting their first annual dressage and hunter schooling show and for accommodating gaited dressage.


Gaited Dressage: A Course of Ground Rails

Gaited horse jumping

By Jennifer Klitzke

Gift of Freedom, my 8-year-old Tennessee walking horse and I are preparing for our first stadium class at the next schooling show (over ground rails, mind you.) In preparation for the show, I googled the Internet for a basic stadium course that I set up at home with ground rails.


Yes, jumping over a course over rails even improves our gaited dressage! The course pictured above helps me work on bending, rhythm, balance, and communication with my horse. Since we have been dabbling with jumping, Makana’s canter has improved and consequently, her flat walk has improved. She has more of a true three-beat canter and her stride has increased at a flat walk.

I’m telling you, this jumping stuff is so fun whether you have a gaited horse or one that trots. Give it a try and you can’t help but smile! (And let me know how it goes.)


Forwardness is not an Option

gaited horse over fences

By Jennifer Klitzke

North Run Farm’s heated indoor arena made for a comfortable respite on a brisk Minnesota winter morning. Makana enjoyed digging into the unfrozen footing. The quality of her flatwalk, running walk, and canter have noticeably improved through the jumping exercises we’ve been practicing.

square haltHowever, it was a typical Minnesota winter day and Makana’s first encounter with the heater’s song and dance. Her forward flatwalk came to a screeching halt each time she neared the humming heater. It wasn’t the jumping lesson I had in mind, but it was the lesson we needed. Len coached me through a course of distractions and Makana’s willful choices not to go forward. No doubt schooling through episodes like these will prepare us for future shows when we ride by clapping crowds, flapping banners, exuberant children, and the announcer’s booth.

Below are three take-a-ways from my January lesson at North Run Farm.

Lesson Tip #1: Working through distractions. Each time Makana would stop, stare, and blow back at the heater, Len suggested that I keep Makana’s shoulders, head and neck straight with a slight inside bend, and inside leg on. Then direct her into a small circle, gradually enlarging the circle until she willingly moved past the spooky object.

My previous approach to riding through Makana’s spooks has been to make her face the object, but this allows her to stop, and that rewards her for spooking. When it comes to jumping, stopping and fences do not mix. “Forwardness,”  Len said, “is not an option.”

After a few circles, Makana settled enough to proceed with jumping. Len set up a ground rail spaced nine feet before an “x.”  The ground rail was meant to minimize her choices as she learns how to jump—choices like becoming airborne six feet ahead of the jump, rushing, and jumping flat.

flatwalkAs I approached the line, Makana was still reluctant to move forward over the ground rail and “x” toward the heater. Len observed that my grandma-leg cues were not getting the desired response, so he popped a lunge whip behind Makana as she approached the line. Thankfully, Makana began to change her mind about jumping toward the heater.

Lesson Tip #2: Rider’s position on a green horse. Len noticed that Makana became distracted each time I tweaked my aids through the line. He encouraged me to circle into a forward canter, set my aids as I approached the line, and remain quiet through the line so that Makana could focus on learning. With calves clamped on and hands low with a light contact, I made it through the line without changing my position, my contact, and my legs. I felt the HUGE difference this made!

Lesson Tip #3: Break down confrontations into small bits. Confrontations are part of life and training horses is no exception. When things go wrong, Len encouraged me to simplify instead of trying to fix multiple issues at once. First focus on forwardness, then add forwardness and straightness, then forwardness, straightness and frame, then forwardness, straightness, frame and the fence. Most important, don’t proceed to jumping until the horse is forward. Remember, forwardness is not an option.

Photo Gallery>