Q: I have a Spotted Saddle Horse, but he just won’t get into gait. How do I teach him to gait?
A: You have to put a good training foundation on your horse before you ask him to gait. He needs to be able to turn, bend and stop before you ask for the collection needed for him to gait.
Work on transitions and teach him how to do turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches. Do exercises like spirals and leg-yielding to teach your horse how to use his hind end. In order to gait, your horse needs lots of impulsion, which comes from his hind end, so you must use your legs to encourage him to move forward with energy. He won’t gait if he’s poking along like a snail. Impulsion plus collection equals gait.
Start by asking your horse for an active walk, but don’t let him jog or trot. If he speeds up too much, slow him down by using your reins, but continue using your legs and seat to keep him moving. Instead of maintaining constant pressure with your lower legs on your horse’s sides, bump him occasionally with your lower legs to keep him moving.
If your horse gets into his gait, increase his collection by putting a little more pressure on the reins while asking him to move forward with your legs and seat. Keep your hands soft and giving, though.
If you’re still having trouble, find a trainer who has experience with gaited horses to help you. And don’t rely on tack—for instance, trying a longer shank or more severe bit—to help get your horse to gait. A well-trained, balanced horse can gait in a snaffle.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!