The most important and distinctive need of gaited horses, overall, is that of being allowed extreme liberty of motion; this includes forward motion through the bridle, and muscular action through their loins, backs, shoulders, necks and polls. Restrictive and painful tack, poor and exaggerated trimming and shoeing practices, and overly casual riding habits, inevitably results in a plethora of physical and behavioral problems. These are often attributed to the individual horse – and to gaited horses in general – rather than to our sore lack of awareness. Poor gait performance is often the symptom that brings riders out for help, but is often the least of the horse’s problems. Once we give that animal liberty, and teach the rider how to encourage flexion and good balance, all sorts of problems disappear as though by magic.
For example, one common complaint among gaited horse owners is that the animal tends to stumble. We often hear it expressed that gaited horses are not, by nature, very sure-footed - yet this is the opposite of the truth! Unlike a trotting horse, gaited horses always have one, two, or three feet on the ground at all times. Think: well grounded. This makes them inherently more stable over uneven terrain than their trotting cousins. The underlying problem is almost always a rigid treed saddle or harsh bit that forces the horse to move in a stiff, unnatural and front-heavy fashion. Animals created to perform beautifully when granted an appropriate degree of freedom become clumsy and inept when forced into rigid and unforgiving tack and a too-firm (or lax) hand. Since certain types of tack, shoeing, and riding styles have been passed down as the traditionally accepted norms, the rider never suspects that these might be the underlying problem. They naturally assume the problem originates with the horse.
However, once the animal is switched into more comfortable tack, and we offer the rider a few simple tips for moving the horse in a light and well balanced fashion, the stumbling not only soon disappears, but the gait improves dramatically, and the horse becomes a much happier and more willing partner, and is beautiful in motion. The changes are often fast, dramatic – and that simple!
So the way to get the best performance from your gaited horse is to make sure the animal can move energetically forward, in good balance, and with total liberty. Only then can it truly give itself freely and willingly – even eagerly – into the rider’s ready hand. This does require some basic understanding into the nature of the animal, acquiring the right tools for the job, and practicing simple disciplines. But in short order – when things are in the right order – the ride becomes smooth, secure, comfortable, and lovely to watch.
Think about it.