Help! My Gaited Mare is Rough to Ride
I have a 7-year-old Rocky Mountain gaited mare. She is my first, and at present, only Rocky Mountain Horse. The trouble is this; I'm not sure exactly how to ride a Rocky i.e.: I can't "sit on my laurels" when riding.
I ride an Australian saddle with what is essentially English form. Her gait is somewhat rough to me.. It looks smooth to other people when I ride, but it doesn' t feel like a glide to me when riding. I tried her with a snaffle-mouth kimberwicke bit. She is fairly responsive with this mild of a bit. Her former owners rode her with an egg-butt snaffle. I keep contact with her mouth when riding (more due to her propensity for speeding up with any slack, especially when ridden alone) but sometimes at a (rare) relaxed walk, I give her totally slack reins. She tucks her head well when moving at the trot/pace (gait?), but I have to work somewhat at sitting it. I have felt what I know to be her (a) true gait for short 10-12 step spells back when I first got her about 10 months ago.
Another rocky owner suggests putting her in a walking horse bit regardless of whether she needs the curb for control or not. I have bought a loose ring "lifesaver" bit (snaffle mouth piece with an "O" ring connecting the two bit halveshich has @ a 5-6 inch shank, which I've tried once). She did OK, but I don't like to use a heavier bit than what I need. She doesn't have a problem setting her head. Also, I've noticed lately that she is beginning to trot while free in the pasture instead of gaiting at liberty like she used to. She is kept with @ 20 other horses; mostly Arabians, QH's and a few paints.
In our south Texas town, she is one of only 2 Rockies within a 4-hour drive radius. The other is known to me, but does not live nearby. Which brings me to my next question: Due to the uniqueness of the breed in our area, my farrier is not familiar with the intricate details of shoeing Rockies. I've been told to put more weight in the back to increase her reach, but my farrier says this puts extra strain on the suspensory ligaments and he doesn't recommend it unless for show purposes. Currently she has half-round shoes on the front and goes barefoot in the back. Any suggestions?
Thanks for the help.
I have several suggestions, actually. Your problem is entirely typical, as are the solutions.
The gait you're describing is called a 'slick trot.' It's actually like a fox trot, except that the hind foot lands ahead of the forefoot, causing a real bumping effect in the saddle that can kill your back. You can help improve her timing by squaring off her front toes, making for a faster break-over (and less stress in front, actually). I would not put weight on the back, but you could let the back toe get just a tad long. From the sounds of things you have a good farrier, so he won't do anything too extreme. This should help get you off to a better start.
For the most part, Ausie saddles do not work with our horses. You can't get the right position in them, and they don't have enough flexibility through the bars for the horse's back to stretch and flex for the gait. Worse, they often rest the rider's weight right at the loins, causing the horse to hollow out. Rigid tree western saddles are just as bad, or worse. Check out our Imus 4-Beat gaited saddle info here
and you will see why I developed our saddle to meet gaited horses' specific needs.
While your bit may be easy on the mouth, in the long run it will be murder on her back and hocks because it won't enable her to carry herself properly under saddle. You do need a true curb bit, but I wouldn't ever use a walking horse bit, nor a broken mouth curb such as the Tom Thumb bits. You can check out the 2nd Generation Imus Comfort Gait Bit here
, and you'll learn what we offer, and why. I'm going to forward on a couple of letters (we have dozens) from people who have bought our bit, so you'll get a first hand idea about how well it works.
You need to ride your horse not just with a 'good headset,' but also with some degree of true impulsion, and collection. What you're now doing--based on the fact that she's started trotting at liberty--is causing her to develop her body for a two-beat gait. She needs to learn how to soften up, get supple, and round up her back. She will not be able to do any of these things until she's properly tacked and ridden.
There are a number of exercises and riding techniques outlined on our training FAQ's pages. My book, The Gaited Horse Bible
, contains the whole gamut of gait training exercises and riding techniques you should find helpful.
Please understand your horse isn't being bad. . .she's doing the best she can, under the circumstances. Have faith, try some things that have proven helpful to others--and you're going to end up with a WONDERFUL horse!
Many happy-and smooth-trails!