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Gaiting on a Loose Rein

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  • Gaiting on a Loose Rein

    *Not sure which forum this should be in, so posting in multiple*

    I am a dressage based rider and instructor and have recently started working with a couple of clients with gaited horses (Icelandic and Rocky Mountain Horse)

    Both clients use their horses primarily for trail, but are wanting improved gaits with the potential to show western dressage, as well as the ability to ride on a lose rein.

    I am very new to gaited horses, and I have been researching training methods but am not having much success in finding anyone who teaches how to gait without grabbing hold of the horses mouth, elevating the head and disengaging the horses backs.

    As a dressage based person this is appalling for me, and seems like this is neither sustainable, nor possible on a lose rein.

    Any feedback, tips or information is appreciated!

  • #2
    Jennifer Bauer/Larry Whitesell use dressage as a basis for gaited horses, and have some good DVDs/books. Jennifer has a Youtube channel and also posts a lot on FB.

    The book "Easy Gaited Horses" by Lee Ziegler is good for some all-around understanding of gaited horses. She discusses the various gaits and the horse's body position in those gaits, and ways to help refine the gaits and get the horse to work on balance and lightness.

    Articles by Lee to get you started that discuss the concept of engagement/collection and how it relates to gaited horses:

    Liz Graves has some good articles too:


    • #3
      Not sure about Icelandics or Rocky Mountain Horses, but some gaited horses seek support from the bit in order to gait under saddle. I've been told that's the reason for the long-shanked curbs used on many Saddlebreds and TWHs, but whether the horses actually need those bits or have just been trained that way by trainers who were taught those bits were necessary, that I don't know.

      I'm interested that you mentioned Icelandics because I was looking at a sale video of an Icelandic who had a great trot and canter but who at tolt seemed to keep trying to transition to a canter. He was being ridden with very short what I would call wannabee dressage contact, in a snaffle, and was head-high trying to evade, and I think that may have been what was messing with his tolt. I thought if he could just have his head on a loose rein his tolt would probably look a lot better and feel better to his rider too.
      Rack on!


      • #4
        I participated in a Mark Rashid clinic this past weekend, where we worked on teaching my very pacey TWH mare about self-carriage and balance. He said that in his experience very few gaited horses are taught this, which is why they brace/balance on the bit/reins. He described it as their 5th leg.

        The first day we started by teaching her how to soften/relax to contact while standing. Then we worked on backing up while soft and using her body correctly. It was amazing when she figured it out--she went from shuffling backwards all discombobulated to a diagonal back with impulsion.

        The next day we did the same thing at the walk. We started out for asking for 3 steps, then 5, then 9, and then around the whole arena. Then we introduced working on this at speed for a bit.

        The third day we worked at her gait. She was very pacey at first, until she figured out that she could in fact carry herself. Again at first it was a few steps. She even threw in some trot when she went into dorsiflexion. By the end I got an entire lap around the arena at a mix of stepping pace and rack, with the lightest of contact.

        This was all done in a snaffle bit.

        So yes you can get a horse to gait without a death grip on the reins and their heads high in the air.
        Last edited by Leather; Oct. 17, 2018, 09:59 PM.


        • #5
          Anita Howe is a good resource too. She has dvds.


          • #6
            The RMH does an amble which is a balanced gait with a neutral back and nose out for a bit of balance. If you round their back up, they won't have any choice but to trot. There's a little tension in the middle to hold the body together so the legs can rumble along. It's a smooth, steady rolling gait that will result in your legs getting jiggled out in front of you unless you watch yourself. Same goes for the Icey. The Icey racks, where the horse drops their back a little further, noses out and stiffens the front end a little for balance, and powers on in a way that there's always one hoof on the ground. It's like a RMH on crack. If you round them up through the back, they can't really gait.

            These 'soft gaits' require a neutral or slighly ventroflexed back. They just do, it's the biomechanics of the gaits. SOME individuals can offer a little lift through the back, to a slightly more rounded posture- but never so much as a good moving trotting horse. This is a world-class, 100% sound, TWH in a running walk. Look at the extension of that hind leg- he just can't possibly round up to the extent a trotter can AND extend that hind leg that far behind him. In an extended trot, that hind would've already left the ground.


            so- teach these horses how to execute a medium walk that's no different than your trotting horse. Show them how to seek contact and follow their nose to the ground, how to execute a shoulder in, a leg yield, to back up properly, halting in balance, yielding the jaw and flexions, all those 'regular horses do this at a walk" things. Teach them how to recognize and respect a half halt, how to listen to your seat and body for cues regarding how big or small of a walk you want. Gaited horses (lots of them at least) are never taught how to walk well. Folks want to gait and now so the walk is this thing you do while you get settled then giddy up. The walk is neglected and the horse will think the walk is to be rushed through. Lots of serpentines, spiral circles, riding fun looping patterns in a walk will help them learn to turn loose, to breathe, and to listen and soften. Then, play with the transition up into gait and see how much they still listen. You know how you can ask a regular horse to execute a free walk then pick them up and rather than use 'real contact' you can ride on a slightly drapey or super light contact and teach them to listen to your seat and not rely on the reins for speed? Do that! Rinse and repeat.

            Ivy Schexnayder has a number of great videos I encourage you to check out. She, along with Anita, both really focus on the horse being responsible for his gait and working on slack.



            • #7
              I grew up in TWH country. In my experience, the best "easy gaits", regardless of breed, come when the horse is fully relaxed through their topline. If you focus on that, I think you and your clients will be happy with the results. You won't get the high animation seen in gaited show horses, but you should get a soft, regular, cadenced flow.


              • #8
                Don't try to push a horse into something they are unable to do. Spotted saddles will walk flat walk run walk, rack, really rack, (what I call a flying rack) canter if you want to move them out of the flying rack (in some cases not likely) and gallop. Someone above mentioned a trot. Never a trot in a gaited horse, it is not a 4 beat gait. TW will do the walks, canter and gallop. On occasion you may find one that will rack. Racking horses will do a flying rack, will not cantor (actually slower than a flying rack.) and may be brought into a gallop with some effort but tends to be avoided. FTs will walk, pace (arguments about this one and confusion about the fox trot versus pace.Generally the pace is a side to side motion, that some describe as being on a rolling ship, cantor and gallop. All are done with light hands, more to pull the horse back into the gait that you want and stay there. Quick light pull, and immediate release, repeated until either the horse complies. Other wise come to a complete stop and start again. Leg cues are important on gaited, Thighs and knees are used to tell the horse to bend, speed up, move to the side, with a light touch of the reins to add to direction. Hands are carried just above the poll. The term loose rein for me means no pull on the rein, not a hanging rein used in western neck reigning.
                Saddle contact is important. Gaited saddles are cut so there is no contact with the withers or shoulders allowing freedom of movement. The right saddle can make an amazing difference.