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.
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.
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 NaturallyGaited.com. 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.
There was only one gaited dressage horse entered among 127 tests ridden by trotting horses at the Three Ring Circus schooling dressage and hunter/jumper show—and it wasn’t me and Makana!
Rain drops didn’t damper my mood when I arrived with my Spanish Mustang, because I was delighted to see another naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse competing gaited dressage among the dozens of trotting horse entries.
Being a spectator with the crowd of traditional dressage onlookers I was happy to answer the many questions that came up by those who had never seen a gaited horse performing a dressage test. Sally Frones provided a wonderful demonstration with her handsome black gelding Gideon. The team demonstrated a beautiful picture of relaxation, rhythm, harmony, balance, impulsion, freedom and regularity of gaits, a lovely riding position, and one heck of a nice canter!
After her ride Sally said, “It was my [trotting horse] friend Julie who got me into this!” Julie shows her Friesian in Training Level and encouraged Sally to enter the “Test of Choice” category where Sally entered the FOSH IJA: Two Gait and Training One Tests.
Sally had only started Gideon under saddle last April and here he is showing solid Intro and Training Level Tests.
My Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy), and I rode First Level Tests One and Three for judge Molly Schlitgen. It is our first year competing at this level. Makana, my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse and I have been riding First Level for a couple years now. In fact, two weeks ago we rode for the same judge at the Arbor Hill schooling dressage show.
It blows my mind that after a 16-year lapse from the dressage arena, I never imagined that I’d be back competing dressage on a horse that doesn’t trot. Even stranger, that my naturally gaited Walking horse re-inspired me to purchase another trotting dressage prospect!
I bought Indy in the winter of 2012 and we have competed Intro through First level. I will be working on achieving my USDF Bronze Medal with him beginning this year. In addition to dressage, we compete at Starter level eventing and 2’3″ hunter courses.
Indy and I placed third of four and sixth of nine horses in our classes with scores of 62.06% and 59.26%. We have some work to do to catch up with Makana’s scores.
Sponsored by St. Croix Saddlery, the Three Ring Circus schooling dressage and hunter/jumper show is well organized with dozens of volunteers and hundreds of entries between the dressage and jumping rings. It is the largest schooling show in Minnesota which is held at Carriage House Farms in Hugo, Minnesota. The facility is top notch and the atmosphere is always low-key and friendly.
Special thanks to everyone who made this show possible and for accommodating gaited dressage.
I took my barefoot, naturally gaited Walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), to our first schooling dressage show of the 2015 season on May 2 at Wildfire Farms in Maple Lake, MN. You couldn’t ask for better weather and a more organized show. Makana and I rode the new 2015 NWHA Training Level 3 and First Level 1 Tests among the 40 tradition dressage tests ridden — Intro through Third levels.
Getting to the show late with 30 minutes before our first ride was pushing it. Then my boot zipper broke. Rats! Now what?! Duct tape. Why, yes! So here I am dressed in my formal dressage outfit with duct tape wrapped around my left calf. I just had to laugh!
Makana and I were given five minutes to school in the arena before our test to get acquainted with the judge’s stand, the letters, and the flower boxes. She wasn’t so sure of the flowers wiggling with the wind, and I wasn’t so sure how well our rides would be since flowers were placed at most of the letters.
Before a couple dozen onlookers (including my first riding instructor of 12 years) I man handled Makana past the flower boxes. It wasn’t exactly the introduction to gaited dressage I had hoped to present to those who had never seen it (which included my riding instructor).
Then whistle blew for our test.
Down the center line we rode—determined, straight, and square. Makana snapped into dressage mode and seemed to forget about the dancing plants. She and I pulled off a remarkable Training Level 3 Test with a score of 68.2%. Even the judge was surprised after watching the difficulty we had just moments before.
Twenty minutes later we re-entered the arena for our First Level 1 Test. Makana was a trooper. Her flat walk, lengthened flat walk, free walk, and canter work were terrific. Judge Jody Ely commented on how seamless our transitions were with barely noticeable cues. With her dressage background Jody said she knew firsthand how challenging it is as she has trained several TWHs and Missouri Foxtrotters.
Areas the judge pointed out where we can improve are for me to be more precise in my delivery of aids at the letters and help Makana be more consistent in her rhythm at a flatwalk.
I was tickled that we completed our First Level 1 Test with a score of 70.4%.
Video: NWHA 2015 Training Level Test Three
Video: NWHA 2015 First Level Test One
Thank you to Wildfire Farms for hosting this schooling dressage show at your beautiful facility and for accommodating gaited dressage. I hope there will be another!
Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in!