RMH Doesn't gait

Colorado 6year old  RMHA Working in snaffle and western saddle on trails,
Med Level Rider

Question: I have a 6year old Rocky Mt. gelding. He was gaiting when he was a weanling in the pasture with his dam.  Since I started riding him he has not gaited at all.  He has a very smooth trot and a wonderful canter but no gait at all. I took him to a trainer two years ago. She said he was not gaited at all and would never gait.  I know both his dam and sire are very strong gaited horses and research shows that his sisters and brothers all gait.  Is there any hope for him to gait at all.  What am I doing wrong?

From Panelists Darla


If your horse is out of very strong gaited horses as you stated he will in all probability gait.  It sounds like it was just a matter of his being started without gait training that may have caused a problem.  Many of the gaited horses will trot if not "ridden in gait."  My suggestion is for you to put a curb bit in his mouth, something gentle and be sure the curb 
chain is not too tight.  I like to be able to put four fingers between his chin and the chain. 

Take your horse to a gentle up sloping hill with a hard surface.  Ask him to start out in a walk and after three or four steps close your legs (some horses need more than a squeeze) to squeez him into a gait and at the same time pick up on the bit by raising your hand above the saddle horn about 8 to 12 inches. Keep the feel of his mouth.  You are asking him to come into the bit and after a few tries you should get some feel of his gait.  If he starts out in a trot every time you may need a little more lift on the bit.  Raise you hand higher up toward his ears and keep the feel.  When you feel him change and get smooth even if it is for just one or two licks.  When you feel it you have something to work with.  Continue by slowing him when he goes out of the gait then ask for a gait again and so on.  Walk him back to the bottom of the hill and starting him again in the same way as before.  I also will suggest that just before you start him up again from the bottom of the hill that you back him 10 or 15 steps and then stop.  Then ask him to start up the hill again.  Once you feel the gait, notice where he is physically and how you are holding him.  Keep practicing by asking him to gait a fast and long as he can without breaking over. When he does go out of gait immediately slow him and tell him no.  Then que him back into the gait.

Do not overdue it.  After one or two times up the hill he will need to rest and relax.  Increase the time each day and ask him to gait faster always slowing him back down just before he breaks over into a trot. 

You should have his feet checked and make sure his angles are correct for his conformation and breed.  A few years of bad shoeing can really upset a good gait in some horses.  This is kind of a quick fix to see if he has a gait and where it is.  The horse should have had all of his ground work first and I am assuming that was done when he was trained.  I know some people cannot feel a gait when it is just barely there.  If you cannot find his gait.  I suggest you find someone trained in gaited horses to ride him for you.  Once you can feel it you have something to work with.  Please keep us updated with your 

Thank You   Darla

From Panelists Laura

Don't despair  - there is always hope for getting a good, smooth gait from a well-bred gaited horse.  Sometimes the trot can be a little more challenging to rework than a pace, but it can certainly be done.

If you are looking to certify your Rocky (probably not since your gelding is 6), you will need to have your horse doing a consistant, fairly fast 4-beat gait.  If you don't want to certify your horse and are just looking for a good, smooth trail gait, there a couple of different gaits that your horse can probably do without worrying about getting a lot of speed.

With a "trotty" horse, it is probably easiest to teach him to rack.  This 4-beat gait uses the hocks in a somewhat vertical direction (sort of like the trot) so would be the gait I would work on with your horse.  The first step I would take would be to watch your horse move in a round pen (free lungeing) to see just how he uses his shoulders and hocks.  After looking at his movement & conformation, from there I would make some changes to how he is trimmed/shod.

For a horse who is "trotty," as a general rule you want to lower the angles (don't stray more than a few degrees from natural pastern angles), keep the front feet short and either unshod or shoe with a light racing plate, and put a slightly heavier shoe (wide web keg or toe wt.) on the back feet.  The toe length on the back feet should be left a little long.  Don't get carried away with the angles, length of hoof, or weight of shoe.  Make small changes or your horse's joints will pay the price later in life.

The purpose of shoeing/trimming is to make it easier for the horse to gait properly, NOT force him to gait.

Now you want to get that back end swinging more - so ride downhill a LOT!  Go slowly uphill and a little faster downhill.  Keep your horse collected with a fairly high headset to help transfer weight to the horse's hind end.  Now you need to do lots of riding to loosen up that horse and give a lot of praise when the horse gives you a 4-beat gait, even if it's just a few strides at first.  Once he knows what you wants, he will give you more gait each time you ride.


From Panelists Christine
I might as well start out making myself unpopular. If the horse is 6 now and you have had the problem for 5 year, even if you had had it for 3 years, I think he was too young to be ridden. Most of the gaited breeds are very polite and when they have physical problems they often show it in small ways, such as no longer gaiting. If you start your horse before he is physically mature at 4 or 5 there is a good chance that he will habitually go under saddle as he was feeling during the growth spurt he was started at. 
I am sure most readers agree that young horses grow very uneven. For a while they are noticeably higher behind and if you start them under saddle during that time the rider is pushed more onto the horse's forehand and the horse has a much harder time to balance the rider. As he tightens and tries to balance it becomes harder for him to gait. I wonder if this horse still gaits in the pasture and how his conformation is as a 6 year old?
If I were working with him I would consult a chiropractic vet to check if he has physical problems. Saddle fit can very often be the culprit when horses change their behaviour or gait when ridden. I am glad you checked the teeth and wonder if the arena is the only place you ride. The trail can help horses find their gait again. I would guess he trots when he does not gait. Icelandics are encouraged to trot as it makes the tolt better, faster and
with a more even rhythm, so as an Icelandic trainer I would not give up hope for this horse yet. Riding on a slight downhill often helps because the horse has to bring his hindend underneath himself to balance. On the way home he may be a little more eager and by holding him back he may be encouraged to gait. I wonder if he still gaits in hand or at times when he gets excited?
Good luck with him.