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10 Gaited-Horse Myths: Busted!

Myth #8: Purebred Quarter Horses don't gait. "My Quarter Horse gelding does a sort of cross between a walk and a trot when we're on the trail. It's comfortable for both of us, so I just go ahead and let him do it. I don't show, so it doesn't really matter, but I guess his papers must be fake since he wouldn't gait if he were a purebred Quarter Horse."

Busted! Many members of "nongaited" breeds, such as Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and Morgans, can walk, trot, canter, and perform one or more "trail gaits." If your horse has an "extra gear" in the form of a comfortable trail gait, relax, and enjoy it. Don't worry; your horse's papers are probably his own.

Is Your Horse Comfortable?

Gaited horses typically exhibit great tolerance and great sweetness of temperament, and are usually smooth, comfortable rides. Any rider can feel comfortable on their backs. But is your gaited horse happy and comfortable?

No matter what sort of horse you ride, you owe it to him to become the best rider you can be. If you love trail riding and want to make long, challenging trail rides part of your life, then take lessons, practice, and work to achieve good balance and coordination in the saddle.

Learn to give aids and cues gently, and at the most appropriate times. Help your horse become strong and flexible, and develop endurance. Help yourself achieve exactly the same goals. You'll both have a much better time on the trail, and come home from a long ride sound, happy, and ready to do it all again the next day.

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Myth #9: Trotting ruins smooth gaits. "Sometimes, I'd like to trot my gaited horse on the trail. I've seen him trot in the pasture, so I know he can do it, but I've heard that if you let a gaited horse trot, it'll ruin his smooth gaits."

Busted! Trotting is a natural gait for most horses, and is good for their backs, balance, and muscular development. Versatile gaited horses are quite capable of performing gaits that aren't in their capsule breed description. If your horse walks, trots, and canters in the pasture, there's no reason he can't walk, trot, and canter under saddle.

Go ahead and trot your horse, encouraging him to use his belly muscles, lift and stretch his back, and reach forward and down with his head and neck. He may not get the chance to exercise these muscles in the same way when he's gaiting, and it's very good for him to do some cross-training.

Don't worry about causing your horse to "lose" his special gaits, and don't worry that he'll begin offering a trot when you ask him for his running walk, foxtrot, or singlefoot. Relax, and trust his intelligence and versatility. To ensure that you get the gait that you want when you want it, simply teach him a specific cue to go with each gait. That way, he'll understand exactly what you're asking for at any given moment.

Many gaited horses can perform many gaits and do them all well; think of them as extra-special horses with extra gears. It's perfectly possible for one horse to be able to perform a flatfoot walk, running walk, singlefoot, foxtrot, trot, and canter. Find out what your horse can do, and as long as he's equally comfortable in all of his various gaits, encourage him to use the ones that are most suitable for your chosen activities.

Myth #10: Gaited horses aren't true athletes. "Gaited horses are pretty to watch, but they're just for shows and parades, they're not useful for real work."

Busted! Gaited horses can be spectacular to watch at shows and in parades, but those are only two of the many places where gaited horses excel. From ranch work to police work to handicapped-riding programs, there are hard-working gaited horses everywhere. They often do well in open competitions, and are increasingly popular for such activities as competitive trail riding and endurance riding.

If you do a lot of trail riding, you've probably seen and admired gaited horses without even realizing that they were gaited. Next time you're on the trail, ask each rider you meet to tell you the breed of his or her horse. I'd be willing to bet that many of those horses will belong to gaited breeds.

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