My Four Year Old TWH has had No Professional Training...
I just purchased a turning 4 year old TWH who has had no professional training. He predominantly does the trot and occasionally will do the running walk when coming down from the canter, but then only for 3-4 strides. This is my first gaited horse having ridden dressage most of my life. I haven't been able to find a trainer in my area.... Rouge Valley of Southern Oregon.
He has been ridden in a (EDITED OUT: brand name western stock) saddle and a low ported curb bit minus a curb chain with 6 inch shanks. I need help in developing his running walk. He is barefoot, seems to have beautiful balanced feet even though he hasn't been trimmed since the fall. How do you recommend trimming? I enjoy your site... so much useful information to a novice gaited horse lover. Thank you. Anxiously awaiting your advice!!
Sincerely. . .Kristianna
You have an advantage with your dressage background. I highly recommend it for all gaited riders (though I don't usually use the dreaded 'D' word with them. :>) Contrary to what some gaited horse trainers and clinicians are teaching, gaited horses do need to be ridden with good form and some degree of collection. Riding them in a ventroflexed frame (back hollow, head up) is a sure recipe for long-term soundness issues. The exception to this seems to be very blocky, racky type horses (Icelandics as a common example) that have little action through their backs, with short to moderate stride length front and back.
My first advice is to plan to take this work very slowly. Your boy is still young, and it takes time to develop a NATURAL running walk. Don't worry about the shoeing, just have the farrier use good practical shoeing techniques with him. Do make sure he doesn't make his heels too short--something shoers of stock horses tend to do with gaited animals. Since he's trotty, either ride barefoot, or with shoes all around. Shoes only in the front will encourage the trot. Later on, if he needs more encouragement, you might try a light keg shoe in front and a VERY LIGHTLY toe weighted shoe behind.
You really should have a saddle with some kind of flexible tree. I've designed a saddle we're offering exclusively to our direct customers. These are exceptionally good saddles with revolutionary design features that we can offer at very reasonable prices. You can learn all about the Imus 4-Beat Saddle here!
AS FOR TRAINING A TROTTY HORSE. . .
Ride your horse at a good, swinging walk, as fast as he will go without actually breaking to trot or gait. Do this for several minutes at a time, transitioning from this to a more relaxed, slower walk (though not a dragging walk). Extend the length of time that you ask him for this speed, and begin over time to use your aids to bring JUST A SLIGHT amount of collection. You do not want him to stop, or to break into bad form. Use this time to work him in circles, serpentines, spirals, figure eights, etc.--expect him to maintain a fast, active walk. This work will take several sessions, at least. Maybe several weeks.
Over time you'll notice that he can walk faster, for longer periods of time, without breaking from the true walk. Now it's OK to begin to ask for the occasional gait. Just push him on for more speed, while maintaining strong but supple contact with his mouth. (Don't 'kick and jerk,' and be sure he's in a comfortable bit.) Since he tends to be too 'square' (trotty), you can encourage more lateral action by working him on a relatively loose rein down slight inclines. You can also 'bump' him out of a flat two-beat trot by asking for a step or two of two track (bump his hind quarters slightly over to one side), then straightening him up. Also, ask for gait on a circle, which also discourages the trot.
Once you have gait, only ask for several steps, and then deliberately ask for a downward transition. Breaking from gait needs to be YOUR idea, not his. You need to very gradually increase the length of time he's asked to hold the gait, and the speed. This is very hard work for him, as he's using and developing an entire array of muscles, besides learning how to properly coordinate those muscles to perform the running walk.
Because he's so young, your horse probably won't perform a really great run walk, in good form, for at least one full riding season. If you take this work slowly, the reward will be a horse with whom you've formed a strong attachment and understanding, who will gait beautifully, and who will never suffer the consequences of being asked to do too much, too quickly, or in bad form.
May all your trails be happy, and smooth!