New York 13 year old  Morgan with professional training ridden in grazing bit. I've just brought the Tucker plantation saddle, which I haven't had a chance to use on her yet. I've been using the Circle-Y flex on her but I saw that it was leaving white hairs. Ridden in Pasture and I've been ridding since I was 8 years old, but I never had any lessons

Question:    Grace was trained and shown as a 2 and 3 year old.  She was never encouraged to gait, but that is what she perfers doing given a choice.  I am new to this so it is hard for me to keep her in gait as I don't know how.  What she does is when she wants to go into gait she lefts her head high.  When I try to bring her head down she trots. 
A Paso Fino breeder who I was riding with one time told me she was doing a Largo.  I don't like her head in the air as I'm afraid she is also rounding her back.  How do I get her to lower her head and still keep the gait.  Another person told me to put a running martingale on her.  I hate to put anything on her if training will help instead or maybe I
need the training.  She also will trot if the other horses get to far ahead of her.  I also have a half sister of hers who is now going to be four and she never trots.  If the other horses get to far ahead of her she will brake into a real nice slow canter.  I had her trained by a person who is into gait. This horse also never trots in the field.  Do you think Graces early training has something to do with the way she goes?


From Panelists Annette

Head in the air, she would not be rounding (basculing) her back, she would
be hollowing it. Some hollowing is not harmful to the horse. Do not force
her head down if you want her to gait. Hollowing her back some so she can
gait won't hurt her, that is the position that Mountain Horses use to do the
"saddling" gait that is their characteristic gait. The gait is actually two
closely related gaits, the stepped rack and the half rack. The difference
between the stepped rack, half rack and full rack is in the degree of
"transverse suspension". That is, if you video tape a horse so you can slow
down action and see what is going on, you would see that as Grace moves into
gait, she will have one toe of her front feet still on the ground in the
stepped rack, then in the half rack she will have both feet off the ground
at the same time, but both rear feet are still touching the ground. When
both front feet are off the ground the "transverse pair" in the front is in
suspension. So, in the stepped rack there is almost but not quite front
transverse suspension, and in the half rack there is complete front
transverse suspension. Those two gaits together are called saddling in
Mountain Horses (along with one other gait I won't discuss now). The
saddling gaits are also sometimes called the amble. Then, as the horse
increases in speed and increases the degree of hollowing of the back and
stiffening of the shoulders, the horse will achieve both front and rear
transverse suspension, so that only one foot is on the ground at a time.
That is the full rack, also called the single foot. That gait is not easy
for a horse to maintain over distance or time, as it takes much energy and a
fully hollowed back, so you should not ask the horse to do that for very
long, especially if it is not in condition. But the saddling gaits are both
comfortable for the rider and easily sustainable by the horse over distance
and time. You can get her to put her head down *some, but as you find,
pushing her to the forehand also pushes her to the diagonal, and toward the
trot (The rule here is that weight to the front pushes to the diagonal,
weight toward the rear pushes to the lateral. This very simple rule is
immensely useful. Remember it.)  However, she can be taught to lower her
head some and round her back a bit, and do a nice running walk. This takes
me about two weeks to teach a saddling horse, they tend to try to either
speed up into the saddling gait, or slow down into a flat walk. You have to
use your hands and body in the rhythm of the running walk, with that head
nodding away, consistently at that speed just above a flat walk and just
below a saddling speed, to teach them to do it. Once they learn it, they
love it, but naturally saddling horses such as yours glory in their ability
to saddle, the love it, and often have one speed initially, FASTER! Without
the running walk between the flat walk and the saddling gait, they have a
"gear shift" feeling as they just about literally leap directly up out of
the flat walk into the saddling gait. Teaching them the running walk gives
them a gait in between, and allows you to ask them to stay smooth from a
walk right up into the full blow your hair off single footing rack that such
horses are almost always capable of doing once they are in condition. I also
teach all of my horses to foxtrot (I can hear the purists screaming
already!!!). After I teach them to running walk, I get them to lower the
head just a leeetle bit more, and round their backs just a leeetle bit more,
not so much that they trot, but enough to get them to be more diagonal than
evenly timed. The reason I do this is because the foxtrot is an extremely
useful gait for going over rugged or uneven ground rapidly, but still
staying smoother than a full trot. Horses seem to balance better in such
conditions if they can be a bit to the diagonal, so I teach them how to do
it when I ask for it in the conditions where it is useful and appropriate.

Yes, her early training where she was discouraged from gaiting taught her
than if she didn't gait, she was supposed to trot. But those gaits in
between the trot and the saddling gait are in there, you just have to work
on asking her for them. It is all in the asking, and the language that you
use are your seat, hands and legs, and the ability to immediately reward the
behavior you want with some little encouragement, a release of pressure, or
a good girl! or my favorite, a little scritch on the withers that they
quickly learn means, Yep, that's it, that's what I want in response to that
cue.

Let your mare do what her conformation and heritage tell her feels right and
comfortable to her. She is not hurting herself, she is giving you as a gift
the proud heritage of her gaited Morgan ancestors.

Good luck. Hope this helps.

Annette L. Gerhardt



From Panelist Lee

Lucky you for having a gaited Morgan!  They are really nice horses.

Now as to her gait:  since gaited Morgans can do several, I am guessing by
your description, and the input from you Paso Fino friend, that she is doing
a "saddle" or stepped rack.  To do this gait, she *must* raise her head a
bit from the position she uses to trot, and she *must* travel with a little
bit of a hollow in her back.  If you ask her to lower her head and round her
back, she will no longer do the gait, but will return to the trot or perhaps
some other easy gait along the way.  So, IMO, she should be allowed to carry
her head up when she gaits, it will actually be harder for her to do the
gait if you try to lower it.

No, you don't need a running martingale, let her carry her head where she is
comfortable. When she does break into a trot because she is trying to keep
up with the other horses, you can keep her in her saddle gait by keeping her
head up, keeping some contact on her mouth, and sitting deeply and somewhat
back in the saddle.  If you lean forward and allow her to lower her head,
she will trot.  (not a bad thing to do in between times at the saddle gait,
IMO)

Her early training probably consisted of trying to get her to travel with a
high "set" head and not gait -- often very difficult if not impossible in
Morgans that have the gaited tendency.  Enjoy her, she sounds like a treat!

Lee Ziegler

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