California 7 year old TWH with 1 year professional training ridden in brow band headstall with, walking horse bit (thick twisted snaffel) with curb chain. and Wintec Dressage in arena and turn out by novice.

Question: My horse will gait only when we are on the trails and behind another horse where he cannot go any faster and is forced into a fast walk. When I ask him to gait on his
own I squeeze my legs and collect up the reins (about 2 lbs of pressure) holding them close together and about 8 inches from the bottom of his withers and he just pulls down on the bit. 
I have tolted an Icelandic so the technique is not new to me just the out come. I tried to change his bit to a less severe bit but he just pulled down alot more and was able to
run away when the opportunity arose. If I ask him to gait he ends up trotting and then when I try to slow him down by see-sawing the reins he pulls his head down unwilling to
slow down enough to the gait but goes straight into a fast walk (the head bobbing kind not the running walk). 

Do you have any suggestions for me?   

From Panelist Lee

You have a couple of problems here -- one the horse is not doing the gait
you want ( a running walk) and two, he is not behaving under saddle the way
a well-trained horse should (the running off, charging, etc.)  The solution
to the first lies with the second.

First, you are working in a very severe bit, and hoping that it will
"control" your horse for you.  It won't.  This is a retraining issue,
probably best addressed in an enclosed area with a snaffle ( a true snaffle,
not a broken mouth curb with shanks).  Work at a walk alone, teaching the
horse to slow and stop from the use of your seat. Sit back, relax your lower
back to slow him, sit back, relax your lower back and breathe out while taki
ng a slight --ounces, not pounds of pressure-- pull and slack on the bit to
stop him. Stop riding with constant pressure on his mouth, ride with
relatively slack reins (light contact, the weight of a plum is allowed) and
squeeze and release on the reins as you slow and stop.  Never see saw the
reins to slow him -- use a light squeeze release with first one, then the
other, or both at once, instantly following any increased pressure by a
relaxation or slacking of the rein tension.  If you can attend a clinic with
Buck Branaman or Pat Parelli, or rent some of their videos, this will give
you an idea of controlling a horse with your seat, rather than with a
stronger bit.  They can also give you a better insight into the "one rein
stop" and perhaps doubling for last resort control issues.

Now, assuming you get the control situation worked out (and this will take
some time, you can't expect the bad habits of a lifetime to go away in a
lesson or two) begin to work on the gait issues. First, getting a running
walk is *not* the same as the technique used to get a tolt from an
Icelandic.  It is a different gait, takes a different use of the head, neck
and body, and is best asked for not with high hands pulling back heavily on
the bit, but by lower, steady, fixed  hands, and pushing the horse into
contact (the weight of a plum, maybe a the weight of a small apple) in your
hands.  What you describe doing has been almost a guarantee that the horse
will take off in something other than a running walk.  It sounds as if he
has been trying to do the gait for you (the head bobbing walk is the first
step to the true running walk, and they do bob their heads when they do a
running walk!) but that you have been pushing him through it  (or allowing
him to take off) into something else.  Start over, in a slow walk, keeping
your hands quiet and somewhat low.  Speed him up into a faster walk, ( a
flat walk, about 5 mph) and let him get comfortable in that. Don't keep your
legs tight on his side, just squeeze once then leave them off him to ask for
the increase in speed.  Be ready to use your hands in a light pull and slack
(squeeze) on the reins to slow him if he starts to get too fast.  Ride at
this flat walk for several lessons until his is comfortable and consistent
in it, does not try to take off into a faster gait, and stays in quiet
contact with your hands.  When you can absolutely flat walk at any time with
no arguments for control or speed, push him up into the running walk, again
by squeezing and releasing with your legs, and keeping your hands low
(slightly above the withers, below your waist).  If he does a "wrong" gait,
slow down to the flat walk and start over.  The running walk will come, but
you have to help the horse do it and teach him to be quiet and responsive so
that he no longer needs a horse in front of him slowing him down to do the

Good luck, this will be an interesting project -- teaching the horse to rate
his speed, round his back and walk.

Lee Ziegler

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