Myths and misunderstandings about smooth-gaited horses abound. Here, we'll bust 10 common myths, taken from real questions posed by horse owners from around the country. We'll explain why each assumption is wrong - and why you should consider a gaited horse for trail riding.
Myth #1: Smooth gaits are artificial. "The walk, the trot, and the canter are normal gaits for normal horses. Gaited horses bother me, because their smooth gaits are manmade and artificial. I'm into natural horsemanship, and I want my horse to enjoy our trail rides. I could never ride a horse that was forced to perform an artificial gait!"
Busted! Relax. You can safely enjoy gaited horses, natural horsemanship, and trail riding - these three things go together very well. The show ring and the trail are two very different places. Good trail gaits aren't created by special tack or riding techniques; they're bred into the horses and brought out by sensible, sympathetic training.
Myth #2: Gaited horses are high-headed nutcases. "I want a quiet, gentle horse, not a high-headed crazy one. I can tell by looking at those heads in the air that gaited horses are nutcases."
Busted! Actually, most gaited breeds are exceptionally gentle and sensible, very far from being nutcases. It's true that many gaited breeds are naturally up-headed - as are some of the (supposedly) nongaited breeds, such as Morgans.
If you look at the silhouettes of horses standing in a pasture, you'll notice differences in the way their necks are set on. Some breeds, such as Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, are less high-headed, with their necks appearing to come forward out of their backs. Other breeds, such as Tennessee Walking Horses, American Saddlebreds, Paso Finos, and Icelandic Horses, have necks that are set on higher and carried more upright. Some riders prefer one type; some prefer the other, but in no way does any horse's natural silhouette identify it as a "nutcase."
Myth #3: You'll need a long-shanked bit. "I just bought my first gaited horse, and I'd like to take him out on the trail. However, I don't have the right kind of bit. I know you have to use a long-shanked bit and keep the pressure on all the time to keep a gaited horse gaiting. Plus, it seems like the kind of riding you have to do would be way too much work on a long trail ride."
Busted! A gaited horse does not need a special bit or heavy rein pressure in order to gait. Harsh bits and long shanks are bad trail bits for any horse; it's too easy for those long shanks to get caught in brush or on branches.
As for pressure, that just makes the ride uncomfortable for you and your horse. A good gaited horse will gait in a snaffle, a sidepull, or a halter and two lead ropes - and many of them will work happily in all gaits on a slack rein. In fact, gaited horses can be taught to neck-rein, which will make your trail rides that much easier.
Constant bit pressure won't help your horse's natural gait. With any horse, gait depends partly on genetics, partly on conformation, and partly on the horse's comfort level. Watch your horse when he's turned out in the pasture, and you'll discover that he can perform all of his gaits with no bridle at all.