Q: I grew up riding stock horses but have transitioned to gaited horses. I now have a Fox Trotter gelding that I ride in a snaffle bit, but other gaited riders tell me that I shouldn’t. He has a nice fox trot and has never been out of control, but I have been criticized for “riding him like a Quarter Horse.” What am I missing?
The “ask and release” of classical training is very successful in communicating what we want our horses to do. This includes softening and yielding his posture from poll to tail in response to traditional seat, leg and soft hand aids. The “ask” of classical aids allows our gaited horses to voluntarily assume ideal posture and balance for gaiting; the release of those aids rewards their effort and encourages them to self-maintain a movement that is not only very pleasing to us, but also increases their own comfort.
Because of the influences of the show ring rewarding speed and flash for the last 70 years, the gaited horse industry has lost the essentials of riding and developing natural gaits, as they have relied more on forcing man-made, artificial gaits. However, gaited horses are currently going through a renaissance, coming full circle back to the pleasure and using horses of the past. And we are coming out of the dark ages to slowly realize that the fundamentals of gait are produced from the muscle systems throughout the horse’s body, not his feet or his mouth. We are linking sound equine biomechanics to those gaits and developing the natural abilities from riding back to front, rather than forcing, framing or fixing gaits in order to ride front to back.
We are also rediscovering the very significant fact that gaits have already been bred into the gaited horses. Plus, they can be achieved voluntarily and comfortably by asking the horse to correct his own carriage rather than using mechanics to force a posture commonly called “headset” in order to break up a pace resulting from poor balance and a locked topline.
Gaited horses are not different creatures but simply have more gears available in their repertoire that they can tap into by altering their balance and posture. The idea of self-carriage is being reintroduced to the gaited world and is quickly becoming recognized as the most successful answer to gait problems for the soundness, comfort and longevity of our horses.
I’m happy to hear you and your horse are working nicely on a comfortable, humane bit, and encourage you to not let others sway you from your enlightened path.
ANITA HOWE is the author of Freedom to Gait. For more information, visit www.anitahowe.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe!