Great Gaits

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We often hear people speak with longing about the desire to purchase a talented horse, with the idea that if they purchased such an animal they would be guaranteed success in the show ring. But purchasing the engine is only the beginning. You still have to drive it.

Good gaits, of course, can be bred into a horse. But they can also be made, to a certain extent, and they can be ruined. A talented young horse needs an equally good mind, inherent soundness, correct training and conditioning and accomplished riding, or that fantastic three-year-old will become yet another ordinary eight-year-old.

On paper, this looks like a huge order. The entire package is rarely found in one perfect equine body and then brought along with equally perfect training and riding. So, what if you go in the opposite direction and start with an ordinary mover of sound mind and body' A horse with ordinary gaits is easier to sit and can have better balance than the springy young hot shot. Therefore, it also may be easier to train and ride, and thus its gaits could be enhanced so it becomes competitive with the fancier youngster.

“The judge just didn’t like my horse” is a phrase commonly heard among the disciplines involving subjective judging. This is often rationalization, with the real problem being that the horse isn’t moving up to its potential, regardless of type or breed. While conformation will make a horse more suitable to certain disciplines, the trainer and rider still need to not detract in any way from the horse’s inherent ability.

This basic principle is often forgotten in the training process. Too much emphasis is spent in getting the horse to the jumps or lateral movements. But if the horse’s gaits start to suffer when each new thing is taught, then eventually the quality of performance also will be affected.

Horses are rarely born with a lateral walk or unlevel trot. Tension caused by the training process creates these problems. Asking a horse to perform tasks for which it hasn’t been adequately prepared can bring loss of balance or suppleness. A horse that is plain worried or tired just doesn’t move well.

The gaits that are displayed at a competition are the result of the training process. In the daily work, the trainer must be sensitive to the moments when the horse just doesn’t move as well as he did earlier. A quick softening of the hand or a rest break to allow the horse’s back to stretch may be all it takes to restore the quality of the gaits. The more often those moments are ignored, then the more likely it will be that the horse will never reach his full potential. He’ll remain an ordinary mover instead of becoming a beautiful one.

-Margaret Freeman