Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) announced the results of the 2014 FOSH Gaited Dressage program. Out of the four shows and 10 tests ridden last year, Gift of Freedom, a naturally gaited Tennessee Walking Horse mare was named Champion in Training Level, Champion in First Level, and she received the Highest Percentage Award. Prince Jester’s Request, a naturally gaited Missouri Fox Trotter, owned and ridden by Julie Dillon was named Champion in Second Level. Congratulations!
Love, Dressage & Rewards—A Dream Dressage Journey for a FOSH Winner
Greater love has no man than a husband who says “yes”to a fourth horse on Valentine’s Day. Had it not been for Jennifer Klitzke’s husband, smitten by love for his wife in 2007, there would have been one fewer FOSH Gaited Journey Dressage winner to report in 2015. Klitzke and her mount received awards through the program as the
2014 First Level Champion, the 2014 Training Level Champioin and the 2014 Highest Score Champion.
In the electronic age Valentines are not always delivered by mail. Instead, they can come through www.dreamhorse.com and that is where this story begins. In Minnesota, as described by NPR, people can get up to some strange things in the deep winter. With the
promise of spring, they get froggy anticipating better days ahead. For Klitzke, 51, of St. Francis, it is easy to imagine that hinting for the addition of another horse to her string could have taken place over long winter nights and flowered in February.
With her husband in support, Jennifer, who had a background in dressage, set out to look for a horse that would be easier on her mature body, a smooth horse that wouldn’t require as much “up and down” as her trotting friends required of her. She found that partner in an almost three-year-old black beauty that she describes as
“met me at the fence” friendly.
The filly was named Gift of Freedom. Jennifer would call her Makana, but first she had to make her, her own. The filly became the hearts and flowers gift of an understanding husband that would last for many more years than a box of chocolates.
“She had 20 rides on her when I bought her and the Rivard family had imprinted her from birth and did a marvelous job in starting her right. Her friendly personality stole my heart. From the beginning I had no intention of showing and certainly never of working with
dressage because dressage, I thought based on my own background and understanding of the sport, dressage was only for horses that trot.”
“Intentions” in the horse world almost never work out as riders intend.
With a new horse that was a new breed for her, it made sense to join a local Walking Horse Association. Like all clubs, this one had a show contingent just as it had a riding-for-pleasure only faction. The show contingent feared that if there weren’t enough walking horse entries at the local fair show, that the classes would be lost for the breed. They asked the pleasure-only people to, p-l-e-a-z-e, consider coming to the fair and showing, just for fun.
“I was being a good sport and supporting the club,” remembers Klitzke, “so I took my four-year-old filly to her first rail class show, where much to my amazement, she came alive in the show ring and was a blast to ride. I ended up showing her for the next three years and she was named the Minnesota Walking Horse Association Trail
Pleasure Champion in 2010.”
Klitzke was on her way, after that early success, to something entirely different from the world of rail classes but she didn’t know it yet. Again, it was the internet that made the next connection.
“I was searching www.craigslist.com and read that there was a dressage schooling show offered only 10 miles from my house. I called the show manager and asked her if I could ride a test showing my gaited horse at the flatwalk rather than the trot. She agreed and that’s when I made the switch to dressage for gaited horses. I never in my imagination thought that after a 16-year lapse, I’d be back
in the dressage school on a horse that didn’t trot.”
In what has been called “the Old School” of Vienna, the Spanish Riding School, the maxim has always been that dressage is for every horse and that every horse must be trained. Klitzke took that idea to the next logical step. Makana was certainly a horse and why shouldn’t her balance and athleticism as well as her gaits be improved through dressage methods?
For a person who never intended to show, her original intentions have been quietly packed away.
“Makana and I have shown in Trail Pleasure rail classes with the Tennessee Walking Horse breed shows, have been a demonstration horse/rider team for the Minnesota Horse Expo, gaited dressage demonstration team for a traditional dressage Ride-A-Test clinic, a
demonstration team for a Western Dressage clinic, and have ridden at several clinics with Jennie Jackson, Bucky Sparks, Larry Whitesell, and Jennifer Bauer. We have competed at a gaited trail trial, an orienteering race, novice endurance races, team penning and cow sorting leagues, a hunter course, lots of trail riding, and have ridden over 45 tests since 2010 at schooling dressage shows and one
recognized breed show,” she said, counting down all the
ways that she and her partner have enjoyed their time
Klitzke’s first experience with dressage was in 1988 when she was invited to attend a local show. There, a woman performed a musical freestyle with her upper level horse. She describes the experience as watching a horse waltz to music, skipping across the arena while exhibiting tempi changes and soaring with an extended trot. Inspired by what she had seen, with her own Thoroughbred/Trakehner cross, Klitzke successfully competed through second level until his retirement.
“What I really fixed on at that first dressage show was that while all this was happening in the freestyle, the rider had an ENORMOUS grin on her face,” Klitzke said. “The two really were one. I wanted that kind of partnership with my horse, a relationship based on harmony. I saw then that dressage was an art form and that every ride was a blank canvas, that the connection between the rider and the horse is what creates that possibility for art to happen.
When I began to work with Makana what I knew was dressage and, without realizing it, dressage became our training language by default.”
Continuing to join associations whose members shared a common interest, Klitzke is a member of the Central States Dressage and Eventing Association and shows her naturally gaited Walking horse at their sponsored schooling shows. She says that the break-through moment that she sees for using dressage principles with gaited horses is not simply being able to participate in shows.
“The biggest benefit is the positive natural and humane training alternative dressage offers to offset the tarnish that soring and abuse have brought to the reputation of TWH breed. Dressage seeks the best interest of the horse using training that brings out the best natural ability the horse is born with. There is nothing artificial
about dressage when applied as classically intended.
“Dressage challenges me to continue learning and evolving as a better rider and relater with my horse. What I love about riding dressage tests is that the tests force me and my horse to work both directions and at all gaits, evenly, through circles, straight lines, and transitions. This produces an ambidextrous horse and rider. This is challenging for Makana and me since both of us favor one direction more than the other,” she explained.
The world of dressage shows is opening, slowly, for participation by gaited horses. Klitzke remembers that with the exception of the recognized breed show and one other traditional schooling dressage show, she has been the only gaited entry at traditional schooling dressage shows. Hopefully, that will begin to change as more people enter dressage shows with their gaited horses.
“I was happy to see that there were several horse/rider combinations at the first offered gaited dressage tests offered at the Minnesota TWH Celebration show last year,” she says. And like making change happen in any area of endeavor, she had to get involved to accomplish it.
“Whenever I hear of a schooling dressage show in my area, I contact the show manager and ask if I can ride my gaited horse using the NWHA tests that are the same as the USDF tests with flat walk in lieu of trot. So far I haven’t been turned down. Last year, one of the breed shows offered gaited dressage for the very first time and
offered FOSH and NWHA tests,” she reports.
There are many misunderstandings about what dressage is really about, adds Klitzke, calling attention to the fact that dressage is not equal to show class and that the word itself means simply training, so dressage should never be considered as an exclusionary sport but
the ultimate in inclusion.
“The idea that dressage training will make your gaited horse trot is a myth,” she says, “and I think that western dressage is going to grow. Now that FOSH has affiliated with NAWD virtual schooling shows, I think the interest is going to grow even faster.”
Klitzke says she has been warmly received and welcomed by the other riders at dressage shows. Some of them even admit to the guilty pleasure of riding gaited horses on the trail, for fun, but never thought about going the next step and beginning a dressage journey with them to improve the gait.
“Dressage training and showing dressage are two different things. If you desire your horse to have better balance, rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection; if you desire more harmony in your relationship with your horse; if you desire to improve your riding ability and understanding and effective use of the aids, then dressage is a great training method to consider. In fact dressage training will improve the horse’s natural gait whether that be flatwalk, foxtrot, or trot. People show for various reasons. I like to bring my naturally gaited Walking horse to schooling dressage shows to get feedback from a professional eye on where we are at in our training. Plus the dressage tests require me and my horse to face all of the elements in a test which are easy to avoid when I am just hacking at home, “she says with honesty.
Because of Minnesota’s climate, riding is limited in the winter but when the sun is out, so is Klitzke with Makana. The two work four to five days a week in a standard 20m x 40m dressage court. She begins with 10 minutes of stretching and lateral exercises at a walk, followed by flatwalk and canter work on 15 and 20 meter circles, serpentines, figure eights, transitions, halts, rein backs, and ends with a freewalk on a long rein.
“I also mix it up by riding over cavalettis and small jumps at a canter, riding dressage patterns on the trail instead of the arena, and working over obstacles,” she adds. “My current challenge this year as I concentrate on moving up the training scale is a lengthening instead of a quickening for the running walk and gaining more loft at
Klitzke has been a member of FOSH on and off since 2007 when she fell in love with her Valentine. She rejoined in 2014 with the offering of the Gaited Journey’s dressage program and likes to read about natural and sound training practices for naturally gaited breeds.
During last year’s competition in the FOSH Gaited Dressage program, she says her favorite comment came from Nancy Porter, a respected R–rated USDF judge when she rode at a traditional dressage schooling show. “Porter said, “That was very interesting. Judging a gaited horse in dressage is a first for me!”
It was an honor to ride for an R-judge with my gaited horse,” Klitzke said with satisfaction.
Klitzke advises that people who are looking for their own gaited dressage prospect, should consider a horse with athletic ability and the desire to go forward; the willingness to do the exercises; naturally good gaits; a sense of balance and a good temperament makes a perfect prospect, but a perfect horse is not required to get the benefits of dressage training and enjoy the journey. “Makana, for example”, Klitzke says, “fits most of these qualities of a good dressage prospect but is perhaps a bit on the lazy side.”
It could be that Makana is not lazy but simply worn out from enjoying the one thing that Klitzke says no one who sees her at a dressage show would ever imagine: “My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse enjoys team penning and sorting cows more than anything else. I think the reason why is because she is lowest on the pecking order at home and cows give her something to push around!”
Republished with permission from the May/June 2015 issue of The Sound Advocate, official publication of FOSH.
For more information about the FOSH Gaited Dressage program, visit www.foshgaitedsporthorse.com/gaited-dressage.