Gait -or Lack of ?
Let me start off by saying I am not going to go into every problem and I am not going to enter into every solution this will be a short how to and statement of my own experiences. I have named some reference books that go into greater detail at the end of this "info letter".
1) Is my horse gaiting and what is gaiting?
All horses gait. The question then becomes is your horse doing the gait you want him to do? Well I guess then the question becomes what gait do you want and what do you want it for? TWH and SSH do a number of saddle gaits I have had them: fox trot - single foot - rack - stepping pace and running walk . So lets define the question further what do you want the gait for because all the above gaits are comfortable saddle gaits and really are a matter of individual preference. The TWH for the show ring must perform a head shaking ground covering flat walk and running walk displaying a head nod keeping cadence with his body.He should over stride his front track by at least several inches, this is a 4 beat gait. More information on the running walk can be found on my page
If your butt is comfortable and you are going to be trail ridding I suggest you do not try to fix what is not broken. To me it is less important exactly what gait the horse is doing as it is are you comfortable.
Any saddle gaited horse should carry you over the miles in comfort I prefer Tennessee Walking Horses because of their temperament and do not believe ANY other breed comes close. The gait matter is a different story I believe any other breed that is displaying a good saddle gait is of worth and a good horse is a good horse.
To define a specific gait you would say it is the cadence and timing of foot fall. A trot is a diagonal 2 beat gait because the diagonal apposing legs travel and hit the ground at the same time. A pace is a 2 beat gait however it is a lateral gait because unlike the trot the legs on the same side travel to hit the ground at the same time. Both these gaits cause the rider to bounce . The walk of any breed is a 4 beat 4 corner gait with the 4 legs moving and falling independently. If you were to speed this up to say 8mph this is what a running walk would be. There should be one foot off the ground at one time and form should never be sacrificed for speed. There is an old saying that is simplified but some what true the running walk is to the pace what the rack is to the trot. If you change the foot fall and timing and adjust the length of stride just a bit you have a different gait. I am being over simple but true. Along with this comes extension and over tracking , I mean there is more evolved but you get the picture.
In my opinion you can not MAKE a horse gait who is not born with the capability to do so. If you could there would be no need for Gaited horse registries we would all just teach our Quarter Horse or TB to do a saddle gait and that would be that. The other question is how much time and training are you willing to spend. A horse that through his genetics or from being taught to trot or pace takes hours and hours of work just to discover if he has true saddle gait potential.If you can observe your horse and ascertain what he is good at you have made a good start. Horse's that are seen to do a solid pace in the field and next to Mom "may" have the ability to do a running walk under saddle but you don't know till you try. Many is the expert who has tried to look at a foal and tell by the way they are built or move if they have the greatness of gait in them. The best way is to look at Mom and Dad if both parents gait the chances are the foal will. If you have a mature horse that does a solid pace or trot under saddle I would sell them , oh I know I will get mail about all the things you could do and put on and train into and such but life is to short and you could have a horse that doesn't require all that stuff. In general a pacey horse is worse going down hill and there fore you should try when ever possible working him up hill. My advise in shoeing do just enough to get the result you want.Big Lick show horses tend to be very pacey this gave the industry some thing to do with their pacey horse's . Stand them up on pads and give them weight infront adding animation and squaring the gait, but this could never be used for trail or pleasure ridding.If the low end of the spectrum for angle is 45 degrees and the high end 65 degrees then we would say about 52-53 degrees to be the norm infront.But each horse is an individual and such things as conformation, medical problems and the slope of the shoulder should be taken into consideration. Most pacey horses are set up with a longer lower toe infront and a shorter higher in the rear, they carry a heavier shoe infront, how ever the only 2 horses I have ever had that tended to pace did better set up just the opposite. Remember NEVER change angles to much to soon 2 or 3 degrees at a time is the max. This shoeing should go along with a solid bar bit to help square the horse. And a rider who does not allow the horse to pace EVER. If after time the horse is always rewarded for a running walk (even a slow one) he will develop towards that end. Young horses need time to develop muscles , strength and balance. With a horse that tends to trot you would do just the opposite.
There are many other aides but they are just aides to help the horse who has the ability develop it. Ground poles tend to square a horse up, working in soft ground does also. Going up hill tends to put a horse back on his hind quarters where his engine is and lighten him up infront,(good for a pacey horse) going down hill has the opposite effect (good for a trotty type horse). Horses that tend to be pacey are worse the longer you work them or the more tired they become, the horse that tends to be trotty gets better the longer you work them (the shoeing helps this also). The next tip is to MAKE your horse work don't just be a passenger hold him between your hands and legs and make him work.
The horses I have now require nothing but for me to get into the saddle and slow them down a bit or speed them up a bit. They all have short toes for trail ridding and they will gait if shod or not. What is required in the show ring will not go on the trail.
These are just off the top of my head comments and again I must tell you pass the horse by that has long toes or weighted shoes, if your butt is happy and you are a trail rider who enjoys nature and your wonderful horse be glad he gaits and enjoy what ever the gait may be doing.Always see the sire and dam of the foal you are buying and know that they gait. No matter what set of papers come with the horse MFT,PF,RMH,TWH,SSH,RH ,
A GAITED HORSE PAPERS ARE WORTHLESS UNLESS THE HORSE GAITS.
The walking horse home page offers videos and I believe Joe Webs book(a must for training)
These are 2 books I highly recommend and use basic dressage work
Heavenly Gaits by Brenda Imus, and
Gaits Of Gold by Brenda Imus
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AL & NIKI OLIVER 517/263-1267