Advice, Choosing to Trot on a Gaited Horse?
After our practice this Sunday in the round pen, one of my instructors suggested I choose whether I want to focus on getting my mare back into the habit of gaiting under saddle, or if I just want to focus on walk-trot-canter for now. My initial thought was if sheís gaited then letís do that. But I think there are some other pros and cons to consider that Iím not sure whether I fully understand yet and I thought Iíd get some opinions from HF. She can do eitherÖ she has a slower and a faster gait outside the walk-trot-canter range, but she also trots under saddle.
This will probably be a long post, but Iíll try to provide some info here as to why he suggested I focus on one or the other for now and why Iím not really sure what I should decide to do.
First, we donít have any background on how she was previously trained. The woman who owned her before me adopted her from my hometownís animal shelter.
Iím a beginner who started taking easy riding lessons in the Spring with the couple I now board my horse with whoíve provided assistance in tuning up her basic training and helping me learn to ride her (Iíll refer to the husband as ML and the wife as KL.) I started out learning on one of their mustangs and a quarter horse. Initially, we didnít know Dreama (my mare) was gaited. Only after moving her to board her and with ML working with her and riding her did we discover her other gaits.
Iíve solely been riding Dreama for a while now, and with each ride, we get better together but thereís still a lot for me to learn and a lot of experience to gain. Some of my learning has been a bit non-traditional (or maybe I should say, it is a pretty common/traditional way of learning for our area, find someone who can help you out a little and then just practice what you want to do, go out and do it.) My interest is in trail riding so knowing this, after working on some basic safety and practice, my instructors have taken me all around the hills on the back of their property, visited trails at a campground in a national forest area, and ridden what I think was a service-access trail through national forest. But we are lacking any kind of arena type area to practice in; on days when we canít go out for a ride I practice in the round pen on mounting without her walking away, walk/trot transitions, and also asking her to just stop stand with me on her back (being relaxed and still when I ask her to stop is something weíve worked a lot on and has improved tremendously. She and I both are starting to be a lot more relaxed together.) I try to keep the round pen sessions short to avoid making her bored and restless.
She has a slower gait and a faster gait outside of walk-trot-canter. My instructors say that her faster gait is ďrackingĒ but I personally donít know enough about the different kinds of gaits to say whether or not thatís what she does for sure. On her own in the pasture, Iíve only seen her walk-trot-canter. Unlike, for example, my auntís Walking Horse-mix who will display all of her gaits naturally on her own, not just under saddle.
Iíve only managed to get her slower gait correct maybe one time in the round pen, and that time was a really lovely smooth ride, but being a beginner who started learning on trotting horses, I donít know how to correctly ask her to gait every time. When I ask her to move a bit faster on the trails, she typically goes into a trot. I know this is a lack of experience on my part, and ML can certainly teach me, but thatís why he suggested I perhaps choose one or the other to focus on so I'm not confusing myself and not confusing my horse. These are some other things I am considering:
When being ridden by someone who knows how to ask her for her different gaits, she seems to getÖ nervous or excited, hyper? Since we donít know her history we canít be sure, but we think she seems to have originally been trained or ridden by someone who wanted her to be fast and flashy. The more she and I work together the more she seems to relax and realize that ďgo go goĒ isnít always 100% necessary and isnít what Iím asking for. When ML takes up the reins and asks her to gait she gets all hyped up again, and this might not even be a bad thing necessarily, but my goals personally are to keep aiming for her to be more and more relaxed. She will always be a horse with a lot of energy, but the more relaxed we can possibly be together, the better. Over time Iím sure we could achieve this in gaitÖ but again, sheís suffering from an inexperienced rider who is still learning other aspects of riding as well. (Iím sure she probably doesnít care at all that Iím not asking her to gait as long as weíre going.)
We live in a hilly area and most of the trail riding we do will likely not be over smooth land. Most of it will be in forest, with roots, rocks, mud, etc. on the trail and lots of ups and downs, sometimes steep. So most of it is at a walk anyway, but when we do add a bit more speed she naturally chooses a trot and it makes me wonder if she is more comfortable and more sure-footed at the trot rather than gaiting. And Iím not sure what it would be like having to try to keep a horse that wants to trot in gait on the trail.
In the round pen at least, she will trot on a mostly loose rein, and I do like that. The horses I started on were broke to neck-rein and we did everything on a loose rein. I also havenít really properly learned to ride a trot yet, it doesnít make me nervous like it did when I started but itís far from graceful. It makes me wonder, as a beginner, if it might not be better for me to learn to ride a trot well first.
For now, Iíll be mainly riding with people who ride non-gaited horses, although gaited horses are overall more popular in our area. I donít know how much this matters, Iíve just heard people talk about gaited horses quickly outpacing breeds that arenít gaited.
A big Pro, however, is that the time I was able to get her to gait, it was very lovely and smooth and I understand that is one of the biggest reasons a lot of people find gaited horses to be favorable. When she gets excited on the trail and starts to speed up, she does a ďhead bobbingĒ type of motion Iíve seen in certain gaited horses and with that comes a very jarring walk before either slowing back down, or moving on into a trot. I wonder if this will always be the case, or if working on riding her in her slower gait would help smooth this transition?
Ultimately, Iíd like to choose whatís best for her, if there is such a thing in this situation. I donít think I really have a preference at this point. ML made it sound like I could focus on one or the other for now and pick up on more later as my skills improve. Is that true? Or will letting her trot now be bad later if I decide I want to work more on her other gaits?
Gaited horses were bred to do what they do, for a reason. I know that the different gaits are a matter of genetics, but I also wonder, is it possible that walk/trot/canter feels more natural for her since she could be a mixed breed of some gaited and some non-gaited breeds? I also worry that trying to work her in gait will cause some of this progress weíve made on relaxing together to regress but is this an unreasonable worry?
Iíve gleaned some great info from Horse Forum folks already about gaited horses, Iíd love to hear any thoughts or suggestions on this if anyone has any ideas.
"She could be a witch, and he would never build a pyre upon which to burn her thoughts, desires and dreams."