How To Train A Gaited Horse


The amazing ‘Flying pace” of the Icelandic horse  All four feet are off the ground!


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.


imagesQ2TDRM93walking fastWhen 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?


2016-07-09 004The 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.


imagesL32GEZ03My 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.



imagesVZEA993OWhat 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?


gaiting 2These 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


imagesDARL2HQSI’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.


imagesFHCUI7AEObviously, 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.





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10 thoughts on “How To Train A Gaited Horse

  1. I never understand how human can train horses, they are big and huge, not like dogs which we can force them to sit or stay etc. I know horses are intelligent animals but i still can’t figure out how to communicate with them, to make them understand what we want them to do. I am always amazed by this.

    1. I focus in my lessons, on building a relationship with your horse. That’s really what it’s all about. Horses are very cooperative by nature, that’s why we can train them so easily. Not all animals are like this, as you know. But horses are, and so we take advantage of their good nature. Also it’s not that much different than with dogs. As we interact with horses or dogs for instance, we become their leader. A pack leader with dogs, and a herd leader with horses. That’s really how all animals perceive one another, there’s always a “pecking order”. We just need to enforce our leadership in a kind and caring way, so that they’ll respond in the same way. I hope you’ll come back often and learn more about horses. I’ve always got a good story to tell and it’s always nice just to visit. Hope to talk to you soon, Jim.

  2. Hi, thanks for the comprehensive post about gaited horses, I’ve always seen them on TV and wondered how one trains the horse to properly gait, and more than that, how to even ride one! I’ve always been a horses fan, and enjoy riding them occasionally at weekends. I’ll surely keep an eye on your next follow up post about the different gaits and their variants. Keep up the good work!

    1. I’ll get into the actual methods of training for gait in my next article. I wanted to give people a good breakdown of what the differences are between the various gaits first. Thanks for visiting the website and for your comment. Do you still ride when you get a chance? What type of riding do you like the best?

  3. The only times I’ve ridden a horse are counted on my three fingers, and it was pretty much letting those horses follow the next horse in line as we walked a trail. There was one that refused to let one horse be ahead and so he kept trotting and bumping the horse behind in line and then eventually made himself the first one in the line. I just went along for the ride, lol.

    Holy cow, lots of different ways a horse can walk/trot/etc! For someone who doesn’t know much about horses, this was a great article to read.

    1. Thanks for your comments Sarah. I remember when I first started riding. I use to go with a friend and rent livery horses, and we’d go and race them through the forest preserve in northern Illinois. It was a lot of fun. I learned just by doing it! That’s how I learned to ski also, we just went out and did it. Of course we had a lot of wrecks, both on the skis and on the horses, but what fun! That’s why I’m trying to give other people the benefit of my experiences so they can learn an easier way and enjoy horses too. Maybe you’ll get the chance to ride again. thanks again for visiting, Jim.

  4. Hi Jim
    Nice to come across a website about horses. That’s my niche too. There is one thing I haven’t done and that is I have never rode a gaited horse. I have trained arabians, quarter horses. The challenge of teaching your own horse and connecting is an awesome feeling for me. Your site is really good. Lots of success with your business.

    1. Hi Michele, I appreciate your comments. Gaited horses are a lot of fun, especially the fast gaited ones. But I like them all. The first horse that I raised and trained from birth was a half Arab. It was a super nice little horse. Isn’t it so rewarding though, to train your own horses? I really think so. I wish everyone who is interested in horses would have that opportunity. Thanks again Michele. Please come back and visit, Jim.

  5. I enjoyed the article. Do you have any experience with standardbreds? I drive by a standardbred farm on my way to work and sometimes see them being worked. I also occasionally go to harness races at the local fairs and see it on TV and I’m impressed with them staying on stride at the speeds they do.

    1. Hi Alan. Thanks fro visiting and for commenting. The only experience I have with a Standardbred, is when I first met my wife, 41 years ago. She owned a Standardbred and stabled it at a Hunter/Jumper farm. She used him for jumping, and I learned to jump on that horse. As far s harness racing, we used to go to the races in Chicago, many years ago, again over 41 years ago. I to am impressed with how fast these horses can gait without breaking gait. We watched both trotters and pacers. I will talk about both of them in the upcoming posts on gaited horses. You might want to watch for them. Please stop by and visit again. Have a great day Alan.

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