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Gaited Horses And The Perils Of Trotting

By Jeffrey Rolo

One of the most common questions posed by those unfamiliar with gaited horses is, "Can a gaited horse trot?" I have heard this question countless times by those who would visit my farm to view my Mountain Horses, but this was to be expected since 10-years ago Mountain Horses were pretty darn rare in the Northern New England region.

Well the answer is yes!

Gaited horses are perfectly capable of trotting; it's as natural to them as walking and cantering. Of course this excited those who inquired since it meant a Mountain Horse could conceivably walk, trot, show walk, gait and canter, making him quite versatile! Before they could become too giddy I countered with a question of my own:

Why would you want to trot a gaited horse?

Often the response would be the visitor wanted a horse that could qualify for local shows that disallowed special gaits while still preserving the smooth gait for all their pleasure riding… the best of both worlds! While that is a legitimate reason, it also demands a careful and skilled rider because an inexperienced rider can ride the gait right out of a gaited horse!

Perhaps that isn't technically true since Mountain Horse gaits are naturally inherent at birth and thus the horse doesn't "lose" it, but for all practical purposes once you allow a Mountain Horse to trot too much under saddle he will likely elect not to gait anymore while under saddle. The reason for this is a trot is simply a lot less work!

My advice is to buy a gaited horse if you want to gait and buy a standard horse if you wish to trot, because whereas trots are perfectly natural and will not harm your horse, gaits and trots don't mix well when under saddle. Let me share an example to illustrate this.

An individual was selling a Mountain Horse in a nearby state, but he wasn't having much luck because the horse wouldn't gait. Knowing that I bred Mountain horses he contacted me and asked me to look at his horse and consider a purchase. When I visited the gelding it was clear the horse didn't have any defects, hoof or health issues that could create a gaiting problem – he was a perfectly sound and beautiful young chocolate gelding. I ended up purchasing the horse for a very good price based on his non-performance.

It took a couple months of consistent training to break the gelding from his trotting habit. Beneath that jostling trot was actually a gait as smooth as silk, but it was a pain in the neck to force him to gait consistently! It's much easier to train a horse correctly from the start than re-train bad habits out of a horse. In the end he became a consistent gaiter and found a great home, but had the gelding not been purchased by someone familiar with gaited horses he may never have gaited under saddle again!

So what was the problem?

The horse was ridden exclusively by the seller's girlfriend prior to the sale and she had no experience whatsoever with gaited horses. Walk, trot and canter was all she knew, so instead of engaging the horse's gait she would accidentally suppress it and/or allow the horse to elect to trot instead. Of course the frustration factor continued to grow; as the gelding became more comfortable with trotting and calling the shots, the rider was left even more powerless in her attempts to make him gait.

The first mistake was allowing the horse to trot under saddle. The second was allowing the behavior to become ingrained rather than study what she was doing wrong and learn how to work with her gaited horse.

Gaited horses are wonderful horses for beginners and professionals alike, but if you're new to gaited horses you would do well to purchase an extremely well trained horse whose gait is already firmly ingrained. In addition make sure you study your breed's gait as well as any special riding rules and/or tips required for engaging the gait. Do not let your horse get away with trotting – it's better to stop and seek out the assistance of an expert than to try and handle it on your own because the longer it takes you to remedy the behavior, the harder it will be to break the horse of the habit.

For those who want their horse to trot for those exceptional circumstances such as local multi-breed shows that disallow gaiting horses, it's a good practice to gait at least 75% of the time during your training sessions. Never allow your gaited horse to become too comfortable with trotting under saddle, and understand that you're playing with fire each time you trot under saddle, so it's recommended only for the experienced rider.

Trotting cannot cause discomfort or harm to your gaited horse, but it sure can cause you dismay when you find that the rough trot you tried so hard to escape by purchasing your gaited horse has now returned to haunt you.

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