What Tack Should I UseBy Jeffrey Rolo
For A Mountain Horse?
Horsemen often make a far larger production out of selecting the proper horse tack for a Mountain Horse than is truly necessary. The good news is that although gaited horses are quite special, they are also remarkably "low maintenance." This article will be written with a focus on Mountain Horses since they are the gaited horse I have had the most experience with, but the advice herein can easily apply to other gaited horse breeds (i.e., Tennessee Walking Horses, etc.).
When most people inquire about appropriate tack for a Mountain Horse, their question is actually focused on two particular items: the saddle and the bit. So let's focus on those first.
SaddlesAlthough certain horse shows and/or classes may possess specific tack requirements (most favor a saddle without a horn), Mountain Horses are capable of using just about any saddle.
I will generally use western saddles when training a fresh horse or providing a demonstration for a visitor or friend due to the added "security" they offer, but during horse shows and exhibitions we would use an English or hunt seat saddle. Plantation and endurance saddles are also popular choices amongst southern Mountain Horse owners.
The type of saddle you use isn't nearly as important as the fit. You do not want the saddle to interfere with your horse's front shoulders as it can affect his movement and extension. Of course this is true of any breed, but it's of special concern to gaited horses, especially since many riders have the habit of placing the saddle too high or tight on the withers to begin with.
Rather than worrying about type, a gaited horse owner should worry about fit. Make sure the saddle doesn't constrict your horse or throw him out of balance as both can cause him discomfort and make a consistent gait much harder to achieve.
Although not necessary, many gaited horse owners swear by saddles designed exclusively for gaited horses with features such as a flexible tree and higher withers.
Many horsemen possess the mistaken belief that gaited horses require a rather harsh bit in order to keep direct control over the gait at all times. As such, curb bits are by far most popularly used among Mountain Horse owners.
Well, the popular belief is wrong!
There is absolutely no reason why a Mountain Horse cannot use a gentle snaffle bit for everything from initial saddle training to long pleasure riding. If a gaited horse doesn't respond well to a snaffle bit it's not a sign that snaffles failed; it's a sign the previous trainer failed by using too severe a bit, thereby "toughening" the horse's mouth.
A curb bit can be handy when used in the right hands, but they can also ruin your horse's reaction time and cooperation when placed in the hands of an ignorant handler. Read Direct Contact And Neck Reining With A Gaited Horse to learn about the dangers of inappropriate curb bit use.
If you use the path of least force your horse will ultimately be a better trained and far happier companion, and you'll find that a snaffle should more than suffice for his entire lifetime.
That isn't to say we will never use a curb bit when in the show ring – they should be fine as long as they are used on a well trained horse by a handler with light hands. Curb bits just aren't my first choice for training or pleasure riding purposes.
Mountain Horse owners often use hackamores since they can "control" a gaited horse without any worry of desensitizing the mouth with a harsh bit. In fact it's not uncommon for a rider to hook a lead line to each side of the horse's halter and use that as a spontaneous hackamore.
Bareback riding is also extremely popular among Mountain Horse owners; why worry about saddling up a horse when you can just leap on his back and ride? Gaited horse owners have the advantage of a liquid smooth gait when riding, so bareback can be a quick and easy guilty pleasure.
Whether you decide to outfit your horse in a regal English outfit or a simplistic hackamore and bareback pad combination, your Mountain Horse will likely pass the "challenge" with flying colors.