Tag Archives: walking horse over stride

Following Arms & Rubber Band Fingers

Following the Head and Neck Motion

Following the Head and Neck of the Gaited Horse with Relaxed Arms & Rubber Band Fingers

By Jennifer Klitzke

When I returned from my Seattle vacation last Fall, I was excited to try out all I learned from Nichole Walters, a student of Philippe Karl, as it relates to following the motion of the head and neck of the naturally gaited horse.

Granted, I rode trotting horses at Nichole’s farm, but while the trotting horse walks, it expresses an even four-beat gait where the head and neck nod with each step. This is where Nicole encouraged me to relax my shoulders, back, and arms to follow the horse’s motion.

It got me thinking. This seemed like a direct take-a-way I ride  my Tennessee walking horse. It was critical that I learn to follow the motion of the head shaking naturally gaited horse while maintaining an even contact with the right and left rein.

After publishing the video: Following the Motion of the Head Shaking Horse, I received a great tip from someone on the Naturally Gaited Facebook page. Along with following the motion of the head and neck with relaxed arms, a women encouraged to open and close my fingers with each head nod. This is what I call “rubber band fingers.”

I began giving this idea a try with both my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse and my friend’s fox trotting mare now that Winter is over and I’m back in the saddle again.

Along with following the head and neck motion with relaxed arms and rubber band fingers are the importance of relaxation (of mind and body within the horse), skeletal balance (not to be confused with collection), rhythm for the naturally gaited horse, and engaging the hind leg steps deeper under the body.

I am seeing great results from combining these elements. My naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse’s head nod is more defined and regular in timing with the hind leg steps. Her rhythm is more even, and she seems more forward and engaged from behind.

Video: Following the Motion of the Head & Neck

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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: Gaited Dressage: Second Thoughts about Long and Low


freewalk on a long rein

By Jennifer Klitzke

Next to “how do I get my horse to gait?” is another common question I hear gaited horse owners ask: “How do I stop my gaited horse from pacing?” This question comes up at every gaited dressage and gaited horsemanship clinic I’ve attended. Among the use of ground rails and transitions, every clinician I’ve heard agrees that working your gaited horse in a long and low position is essential in transforming a high-headed, hollow and stiff-backed pace into a relaxed, smooth, four-beat gait.

In dressage terms, long and low is called freewalk on a long rein. It is required in all dressage tests—Introductory through Advanced—and it is the way riders are asked to leave the arena after the final halt and salute.

Freewalk on a long rein is more than just allowing the horse a long rein to stretch its head and neck out and down. The freewalk has great purpose: it stretches and strengthens the top line muscles, it develops rhythm and depth of stride as the horse reaches beneath its body with its hind leg and over tracks the fore footprint, and the lowered head and neck position stimulates endorphins to relax the horse. The freewalk is a great way to begin and end every ride with a couple stretch breaks in between—as long as the horse is in balance.

Recently I’ve had the great privilege of auditing two great clinicians who came to my region: International riding bio-mechanics coach Mary Wanless and Grand Prix dressage rider Heather Blitz. Both clinicians challenged riders to not only become aware of riding in a balanced position, but to become aware of the horse’s balance so that they are more proactive in maintaining it. While both clinics taught riders of trotting horses, the principles of rider position and balance certainly apply to gaited horses.

Heather explained the feeling of a horse’s balance in this metaphor. While riding, imagine if your horse had a medicine ball which freely moves around its insides. Where does the weight of the medicine ball feel like is rests most? Does it feel like it rests in the horse’s chest or beneath your seat? The former indicates that the horse is more on the forehand and the latter indicates that the horse is more in balance with the rider.

Thinking about this, what if I were to release my horse into a long and low frame while her balance is on the forehand? What quality of freewalk would we produce? Likely my horse would begin pulling herself forward with her front legs, and her hind legs would be trailing behind instead of stepping deep beneath her body and creating over track with the fore hoof prints.

Now that I’ve become aware of how it feels when my horse is in and out of balance, it is important to correct her balance BEFORE releasing the reins for freewalk on a long rein.

Heather’s metaphor has really helped me discover the feeling of balance and what to do about it when I lose it. Each time it feels like the medicine ball rolls into my horse’s chest, I begin with a half halt or transition from walk to halt to walk. If the medicine ball still feels like it is in my horse’s chest, then I transition from walk to halt, take a couple steps of rein back until I feel the medicine ball roll beneath my seat, and that’s when I allow my horse to take the reins long and low for a freewalk and feel her hind legs step deeply beneath her body like pictured above.

Freewalk on a long rein is a great way to break up pace for a smooth, four-beat gait. It also improves depth of stride, rhythm and relaxation. Just remember to establish balance before releasing the reins to maximize your efforts.

Video: A Balanced Freewalk on a Long Rein


Mosquito Run Endurance Ride


By Jennifer Klitzke

Minnesota Distance Riders Association (MnDRA) sponsored the Mosquito Run held at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve July 13-14, 2013. The event was appropriately named: when you see mosquitoes…RUN!

Lots and lots of mosquitoes kept me and my Tennessee walking horse Gift of Freedom (Makana) on pace at our first ten mile novice endurance ride. MnDRA sponsors several long distant rides that range from 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles, and 100 miles in several divisions: competitive, long distance and novice. Each ride begins and ends with an official vet check. Horses are checked and scored for hydration, soundness, pulse, and respiration. The results are calculated with the time for the final score. The goal is to safely complete the ride on course within the designated time and be rested for the post-ride vet check which is scheduled 10 minutes after reaching the finish line.

The mid-summer weather conditions couldn’t have been better: mid-70s, overcast, and breezy. The event drew lots of Arabians, a Spanish Mustang, and a few gaited breeds as Paso Finos, an Icelandic, and a Rocky Mountain Saddle Horse. Makana was the only gaited horse in our 10-mile novice group of five led by my friend with a handy GPS speedometer. Our strategy was to reach the two mile marker 30 minutes from ideal time so that we could slowly walk the remaining ride and give our horses a chance to pulse down for the post-vet check.

At a walk my TWH is usually faster than the non-gaited horses, but the tables were turned when the group moved to a brisk trot. Makana quickly fell behind in a flat walk. Then she began to mimic the other horses by trotting until I said, “Ah, that’s not why I brought you to this, my dear.” It took about 15 minutes for Makana to discover just how fast of a gait was needed to keep up with the trotting horses. Getting there I think we covered the full gait spectrum: flat walk, trot, canter, pace, and rack until she settled into a nice running walk. Endurance riding is exactly what Makana needs to think “forward.”

Depth of stride
Nothing improves depth of stride better than the event photographer standing in the tall grass!

Friday’s heavy rains collected many large puddles through the first two miles of woodlands which slowed us down quite a bit. When we reached the dry open prairie, we made up time at a hand gallop. This saved our final two miles for walking which helped the horses pulse down for the final vet check. That was the mosquitoes’ strategy. They waited at the two mile marker for us when they knew we couldn’t run away!

Thanks to my friend and her handy GPS speedometer, we reached the finish line exactly two hours from the start. (Now if only I could get my gaited horse to trot in hand for the vet check.) Well, maybe next time!

Endurace ride score sheet
During the vet check, horses are required to trot in hand (not gait!)

A huge “thank you” to MnDRA for hosting the Mosquito Run. What a terrific group of fun people. And an enormous “thank you” to the event photographer Bob Zimmerman for taking such fantastic photos. I doubt anyone had more mosquito bites than Bob! For more about the Minnesota Distance Riders Association, visit their open group on Facebook: MnDRA.

Naturally Gaited photo album»


Gaited Dressage at Rocking R

gaited dressage at Rocking R Farm

By Jennifer Klitzke

Rocking R Farms in Foley, MN ordered perfect weather for their Spring Schooling Dressage and Jumping Show: sunshine, light breeze, not too hot or cold, and no bugs.

Rocking R Farm is one of the few facilities in my area that accommodates gaited dressage at their three schooling shows each year. I’ve been participating at Rocking R’s schooling shows since 2010, and so far have been the only gaited rider/horse team entered. I long for the day when more people give it a try. The feedback received from a trained eye is very helpful!

Gift of Freedom (Makana) and I rode NWHA Training Level Tests Two and Three and received scores of 69.28% and 66.8%. At previous shows, judges have encouraged me to establish and maintain contact with the bridle, so I’ve been working at this. Perhaps I took it too far as the judge felt my horse was bracing against the contact. I definitely see a difference in the way Makana moves which brings up another question:  What do collected gaits look and feel like?

I asked Larry this question last summer at the five-day Larry Whitesell and Jennifer Bauer Clinic. Larry said that collected TWH gaits do not track up as much as gaits shown in breed rail classes and that the head nod is less extreme. Larry said to look for rounding of the back and bending downward of the haunches—not a hollow back and a flat croup. The legs should step under the belly, not step far behind the horse’s tail, so the horse carries rather than pushes itself forward. I am very interested to hear Jennie Jackson’s thoughts on this topic when she visits Minnesota for the Dressage as Applied to the Gaited Horse Clinic held June 29-30.

On the positive side, it appears that our riding in the snow and over jumps have paid off. We received “8s” in our canter work, as well as free walk on a long rein and center line halts.

I can’t wait until Jennie Jackson gets here for the Dressage as Applied to Gaited Horse Clinic held Saturday-Sunday, June 29-30 at Walker’s Triple R Ranch in Cambridge, MN. Jennie will definitely help me establish forwardness and rhythm into contact for a round frame!

Gaited Dressage: Rocking R Farm Photo Gallery>

Video: Gaited Dressage NWHA Training Level Test Two

Video: Gaited Dressage NWHA Training Level Test Three