How to Train A Gaited Horse
In this article, I’m going to address a few related items. The primary focus will be the fact that we’re talking about a horse that is gaited, as opposed to one that’s non-gaited. But there are some related subjects, that are actually all “interwoven”. And so a primary concern here, is that you know how to ride in such a way, as to encourage your horse to gait properly.
As far as “basic training” is concerned, all horses need the same training. They need to be desensitized to certain things, and they need to learn all the necessary “cues”, such as to move out, and to stop, and to turn, and all the other “controls” that you need to have. But training a gaited horse requires that you, as a rider, are able to “feel” when your horse is gaiting properly, and when he’s not. Improper gait needs to be discouraged early on in his training, and the proper way of travelling needs to be encouraged. Once your horse is set in either a lazy way of travelling, or simply in a gait that you don’t really want, it’s much harder to “untrain” those bad habits.
When I say your horse should gait “properly”, I mean that you are most likely going to want your horse to be able to perform the gait that he was bred to do. Also, you will want him to be able to perform this gait, with consistency, without “breaking gait”. In other words, when you ask him to go into his gait, you want him to STAY in that gait until you ask him to do something different.
You’ll have to keep in mind though, that if you’re trail riding, your horse won’t be able to gait exactly the same, in all types of terrain. Sometimes, for instance, the steepness of the grade (up or downhill), will dictate how your horse gaits. But you’re going to at least want your horse to be travelling in a way that’s comfortable for you to ride. After all, that IS the primary reason you have a gaited horse to begin with, isn’t it?
The beauty about a lot of “well gaited” horses, is their ability to do a variety of gaits, so that no matter what type of terrain they’re in, they can still perform a gait that is comfortable for both you and him. It’s not really important for trail riding, that your horse does one particular gait instead of another. The important thing is that you are both comfortable and are having fun. Yes, your horse can have just as much fun as you do, when gaiting down the trail. I really do believe, that when a horse is in his “rhythm”, traveling down the trail, that he’s enjoying it as much as you are. (You might want to read about “Jolly”, in the post titled “Training The Trail Horse – Horse Stories”) That’s Jolly in the picture on the left.
How To Ride A Gaited Horse
Unfortunately, there are no “shortcuts”, in learning how to ride a gaited horse. It takes experience, to learn the “feel” of the different gaits. So, to ride a gaited horse properly, is to be able to “feel” when your horse IS, indeed gaiting properly, and then to give him the “aids” necessary to encourage him to maintain that gait.
My first gaited horses were Missouri Foxtrotters, but that didn’t mean that when I rode them, they were “foxtrotting”. I didn’t know exactly what a “foxtrot” was. All I knew, was that I had bought a horse that was a “Foxtrotter”, and so I assumed that when he gaited, that he was “foxtrotting”. But as I learned, that’s not always the case. As a matter of fact, that’s seldom, the case, with riders that have no experience with gaited horses, such as myself when I first began riding a Foxtrotter. Of course the same would hold true whether you’re riding a Foxtrotter, or a Tennessee Walker, or a Rocky Mountain horse, or an Icelandic horse, or whatever breed you’re riding. A rider who is a novice with gaited horses, will inevitable just allow the horse to do whatever gait the horse feels like doing, without the rider KNOWING what gait it is, that he’s doing.
What if you bought an Icelandic horse, because you were told that the gait they call the “Tolt”, is such a nice gait, and you’d be so happy with it, that you should buy one? So you buy an Icelandic, and you get him home and you start riding, and your horse is very comfortable, and he’s “fast”, and you say to yourself; Wow, this “Tolt” is really nice. But in reality, the gait he’s doing is either a “pace”, or somewhat of a “Stepping Pace” (you could also call it a “broken pace”) All you know is that it’s fun, and comfortable to ride your horse. The gait that an Icelandic horse is probably the most famous for is his “Flying Pace”. But for me though, his “Tolt” is the preferred gait for trail riding. (The horse on the left is “Tolting”)
What Is A Tolt ?
A Tolt is a “four beat” gait in which each foot strikes the ground separately from the others. Beginning with the left front foot, the footfall would be.. Left front, right rear, right front, left rear. This is the same as a “Single Foot” gait, and is also akin to a “Rack”. The more perfectly “timed” the rhythm is, the smoother the ride. For instance, perfectly timed rhythm, would mean that there is an identical space of time, between when each foot strikes the ground. I’ll talk about this rhythm, and timing, later on when I discuss “diagonal” and “lateral” gaits. There are Rocky Mountain Horses, and Icelandic Horses, and Saddlebred Horses, and some gaited Morgan Horses, and others, that may all do a variation of this evenly timed four beat gait.
People ask these questions; Are all these gaits different, or are there just different names for the same gait, depending on what breed you’re dealing with? And if they are different, what makes them different? And how about a “Running Walk”, and a “Foxtrot”, what are those gaits?
These are all good questions, and it will actually take a bit of explaining, to answer all that. That’s why this subject is going to have to be broken down into at least two or three parts. So before I address how to train, or how to ride, a gaited horse, I’d like to address these questions; “What ARE all these different gaits? “What makes them different?” “How do I know what gait my horse is doing?” (Pictured on the right, is a Rocky Mountain Horse)
A Dozen Different Gaits
I’m going to define all of the following gaits: Walk, Trot, Canter, Pace, Flying Pace, Flying Trot, (that’s my own term) Tolt, Foxtrot, Running Walk, Single-Foot (the Rack would be in the same category), Stepping Pace, (or the Broken Pace) and the Gallop. There’s a dozen different gaits, and that doesn’t even cover the Peruvian Paso, or the Paso Fino horses. I’m really not that familiar with either of those two breeds, and so I’ll not say much about them, except that I believe that the gaits that either of those horses perform, are no doubt, a variation of one or more of the gaits that I’ve already listed.
If this all sounds like it’s going to be complicated, because of how many different gaits there are, don’t be intimidated by it all. You’re going to find that it’s a whole lot simpler, than it may at first sound. I’m going to show you that there are really only THREE basic gaits for horses, and that all the others are simply VARIANCES of these three basic gates.
Training Gaited Horses
Let’s go back to where we started, if I may. Training a gaited horse, or more specifically, HOW to train a gaited horse, is going to be dependent on your understanding of the gaits that your particular horse is bred to do. Many of the various gaited horses, can NATURALLY do several of the gaits mentioned. You are not going to be able to train a horse to “gait”, if he does not have the natural ability to perform anything other than the basic, walk, trot, and gallop. Those are the THREE gaits that are basic, and natural to almost all horses that have ever lived.
Obviously, some horses have always had the natural ability to perform some of these other gaits, or else those gaits could not have ever been “defined” into breeds of horses, that could pass on these gaiting abilities. However, you will find that even today, after generations and generations, (in some cases, for thousands of years) of breeding horses for a particular gait, which simply means, a particular way of travelling, Some horses still do not breed “true”. And that simply means that not ALL of the offspring of these horses, will have the SAME ability to gait. It’s extremely interesting, to say the least.
So I hope I’ve “wet your appetite”, and that you’ll join me in the next post, in which I’ll define the various gaits, and what makes them different. Thanks for being here, and as always, if you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comment area below. Thanks again, and “Happy Gaiting”, Jim.