Monday, May 13, 2013

"Kessy Helps Me Find Her Fifth Gait!"

Howdy Folks,

The 17th of this month, Kessy and I will celebrate three years of being a team. Over these 36 months we've traveled many little journeys, enjoyed plenty of excitement, endured a few disappointments, and had lots of fun and learning together. Yes, Kessy is a great student, and like all horses a great teacher, too. While I try to help her to learn, she patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, teaches me too. We've enjoyed Coffee Clutch together nearly every morning. We've hit the trail 258 times for a total of 321 hours and if you figure 4 miles an hour that's 1,288 miles. All those miles are barefoot miles. We've spent hours together in her bedroom writing stories. On May 31, Kessy will be 10 years old. Kessy is half Saddlebred half Tennessee Walker.
Kessy & me writing a story
 In our first months she could not understand that standing still to mount at the mounting block was both correct and polite, and also healthier for both of us. With patience and consistency she learned to not only stand still to mount and dismount, but recently when this leg and left side of mine developed its silly issue, she learned to stand perfectly for me at the new mounting platform. My mounts and dismounts are not a thing of beauty, but her patience is.
Kessy stands patiently at the mounting platform
 Before coming to me, Kessy had never been on the trail, and of course never on the trail alone, which is how we always went, until recently. At first she would not go 100 yards down the trail. Thankfully at that time, mounting and dismounting was not so hard for me, and I'd get off and lead her. For a while I did a lot of leading.

Being Tennessee Walker, Kessy is a gaited horse, but at first she did not have the stamina, muscles or condition to maintain her stunning "Running Walk" for more than a few yards. I had felt it the first time I rode her, but as I say, only for a few strides.

In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to do to help a horse learn, and develop, the Running Walk is miles, and miles, and miles of "just plain walking." And we did that. We also practiced the exercises my mentor Diane Sept taught me, which are so very important to develop correct body posture and carriage; softness, off the forehand, and never inverted. We also, with the help of Larry Wilson Saddles, made sure her saddle fit her "Perfectly."
Kessy loves her exercises. Here she demonstrates the "Belly Lift"
Today Kessy can amble along in her "variable speed" Running Walk for miles, with the reins laying on the saddle, her head held level and bobbing gently in time to the 4 beat gait.  Even with my "not always so balanced posture," Kessy maintains her balance and stride. Soft, smooth, powerful.

So we were thrilled in the knowledge that Kessy has 4 gaits, a Walk, a Running Walk, a Trot and a Canter. Her canter is as smooth as any I've ever sat, and she "was" able to transition from Running Walk to Canter without a hitch. Her smooth transition was possible, I believe, because she had become so balanced and self aware that she could simply maintain her posture and softly shift gears.

But then something happened. When my left side did whatever it did, I developed a problem sitting her canter. Her canter didn't change, Kessy didn't change, I did. My balance just goes away and Kessy has a hard time helping me find it in the canter. And yes, I do mean "helping me" … She'll try for her canter, I get all crooked, twisted, and Kessy will begin to Trot, change leads and even crowhop (very gently) trying to balance me. But I'm no help.

Then two weeks ago something really neat happened. I was trying to better my "canter seat" and Kessy was trying to "balance" me, in and out of canter and trot … 

All at once she balanced herself and me in a Rack! WOW!! Soft, Smooth and quick! Wow Kessy, where did that come from? …  A Rack is a 4 beat gait, like the Running Walk, but with shorter and quicker strides. It's delightful to sit and I was immediately balanced.

There is no doubt in my mind that all the miles of riding at a walk, developing her balance, and her Running Walk, the saddle fit and the exercises, made it possible for Kessy to find her Rack. But holy cow this is too wonderful! … In Kessy's attempt to carry me safely, at the speed I was asking for, she helped me discover her FIFTH GAIT … A stunning Rack!

Now just as in the beginning with her Running Walk, she can only stay in the Rack a short distance, but over the coming months, together we will learn this too. She needs to develop the muscles to maintain this new gait, and I need to "hear" what she is saying to help her. And Kessy, I am listening.
Saturday leading Kessy and me on another adventure
I share this story not only because Kessy and I think it's exciting, but to encourage everyone to allow their horse the freedom and the time it takes to discover new things together. Because of all the things we did together the past 3 years, Kessy was determined to find a way to carry me, at the speed I asked for, in a way she could balance us both. I believe it is as simple as that.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. Dutch, I found this blog today so touching. It's because you and Kessy have the relationship that you do that she is so willing to assist you in always having the best ride possible. How can people say these beautiful creatures don't have a heart or can't think?? Thank you Dutch!

    1. Thanks Lauren! ... I was not going to write such a long blog about this, but as I began to write, I realized that what you just said, was so important to what Kessy did to help me ... We owe it to our horses to build the kind of relationship that is meaningful to them. We are partners after all.