You've likely noticed the increasing number of smooth-gaited horses on trails in the United States and Canada over the past few years. There's no mystery as to why these horses are becoming more popular; it can be explained in two words: baby boomers. "If I wanted to bounce, I'd buy a trampoline," one boomer simply stated.
Unfortunately, some boomers who've opted to buy gaited horses have discovered that these types of horses aren't always as effortless to own and ride - or as naturally and smoothly gaited - as new owners were initially led to believe. In fact, rather than making horsemanship easier and more pleasurable, gaited horses can cause a great deal of frustration for the naïve new owner.
Gaited-horse challenges can be numerous and varied. Some are the same as those encountered by any horse owner, such as a disrespectful attitude, barn-sour behavior, barging under saddle, etc. Gaited horses can also suffer unexplained and difficult-to-diagnose lameness issues.
If it seems common equine problems are found more frequently among gaited horses, it's because they generally are. Contrary to slick marketing messages that promise smooth, trouble-free riding, gaited horses are more physically complex to understand and "operate" than their nongaited counterparts. Techniques and tools used to resolve issues for trotting horses are often not as successful for gaited horses, simply because there may be different underlying causes.
One all-too-common dilemma: the "smooth saddle gait" the owner was supposed to experience is - or quickly becomes - rougher to ride than a hard trot. When new owners seek help, they soon discover that few people, including professional trainers and riding instructors, thoroughly understand what causes these difficulties or how to effectively deal with them long term.
Understandably, some people give up on gaited horsemanship altogether. After all, we own horses to enhance the quality of our lives. Who needs more challenges? However, most of us form strong emotional attachments to our equine partners, so we keep looking for effective ways to deal with any complications that come with ownership.
And gaited horses truly can be the most pleasurable animals in the world to ride and own. For this reason, it's well worth the effort to learn how to become an effective, responsible, and satisfied gaited-horse owner.
To get started, there are several things that are helpful to understand. First, owning and riding a gaited horse isn't difficult, once you know what makes such an animal tick. This is true regardless of what breed or type of horse you happen to prefer. Second, understanding the dynamics behind gaited horses and their gaits is easy.
Third, it's usually fairly easy to deal with even the most frustrating problems, once you know the likely cause. The biggest challenge you'll encounter is finding a truly reliable source of information on the subject.
Here's the good news: You've just found one such source here in The Trail Rider. I'll be bringing you a column in each issue that will help you to understand - and troubleshoot - common gaited-horse problems. Topics will include how to work with the pacey/trotty horse, understanding the gait spectrum, conformation as it relates to gait, bitting and saddle fit issues, and horses that rush.
I'll also answer one specific gaited-horse training or management question. Our goal is to offer you an easy to understand, complete education on the topic. Watch these pages as we demystify the subject of gaited horse.