Wisconsin 6 year old  TWH, would like to try bitless bridle ridden in Ortho-Flex  and round pen, horse trails near by Advanced beginner

Question: Last fall I bought a 6 year old TWH gelding. His story is that he was raised on the TWH farm where he was born until age 2, sent to a trainer and came back so spooky
no one wanted to try riding him. I'm starting him from ground zero and finding out that deep down he's a nice, calm horse. 

I've never seen this horse gait. He only trots. If he only trots now does that mean it will be harder to teach him to gait under saddle than if he were younger? I haven't started him under saddle yet as he still gets scared when things, especially ropes, touch hind quarters but we're working on that. When I do start him under saddle this spring, what kind of conditioning schedule should he be on?

I'd imagine he should be encouraged to walk a lot and not allowed to trot for more than short stretches. I know of one gal who trains her own TWHs that encourages the walk but if her green horses go into a trot, rather than bring them back down to a walk, she pushes them into a canter. She said the canter is more work for them so they learn not to break into a trot in the first place. Would this be a feasible way to encourage the walk at least until the 'walk muscles' are built up and you're ready to ask for speed? Also, do you
have any experience with riding or training TWHs in a bitless bridle (the kind featured at www.bitlessbridle.com)? 

I own another TWH that gaits better in a halter than in a bit but I'm not sure that starting a green broke TWH in the bitless bridle would be a good idea. 

Thank you.

From Panelist Liz

It certainly sounds like you have done some good ground work already, too find that he does have some nice calm qualities.

Having a round pen to work in is a wonderful tool to keep him focused and giving him a place of security to work in. Work for as long of time as you need to build his trust in you and being he has had a spooky past . Good quiet calm sessions to start are good. Use lots of verbal and a soft  reassuring hands  too build on the  trust . Take all the time you need to get him over being scared of ropes and the sensitive to touch areas. Work on this daily if at all possible, for short sessions working towards the sensitive areas a inch at a time if
need be.

In regards to not have seeing this horse gait,  just trot. I would avoid the trot when working with him. I would not push to the canter, sometimes they find it easier to pick up a canter than do the work it takes to develop a gait. Keep working at the walk, teaching him
different speeds of the walk. 1, a nice slow relaxed walk and 2 a faster longer strided walk to condition . Since he has not been ridden to this point it should be no more trouble to teach him to gait undersaddle than it would have at age 2 if he has the ability to gait
in him. 

I am not familiar with the bitless bridle featured on the web site listed.  I do use sidepulls often when starting TWH's and developing gait with a lot of success. Very important first is that they know the meaning of the word whoa when given from the ground first, along with
the tug release signal on the nose from the ground to re-enforce the whoa command.

A good conditioning program undersaddle  is lots of walking at different speeds, starting with short 15-30 minute sessions, 5-6 days a week  for 2 weeks and build time on this to this over a period of another 4 weeks adding some flexing and bending exercises at the
walks, while increasing riding time to 30 - 45 minutes. Finding where the gait is and which ones they may be, can take lots of time and will come when you can actually start teaching the horse to have some collection, while asking for more speed when working at the faster

Elizabeth Graves

From Panelists Bob

I would much rather see a horse trot at liberty than pace. Many gaited horses trot in the pasture and go right into gaiting when they are started under saddle. I ride mine the first few rides in the round pen with a lariat loop around their neck. I next use a halter with a lead rope snapped to the rings on either side. I get them turning with both direct and indirect rein pressure before I ever put a bit in their mouth. 

I ride a beginning horse in the round pen with a halter until I have them stopping, starting, and turning in both directions. This usually takes 4-6 rides. I then begin using a snaffle bit, either a D ring or a full cheek. When they are working as well in the bit as the halter I then take them out and ride in the pasture or in our ring. I walk them only for the first several rides, getting them used to the feel of a rider and the change in their center of balance. 

When I am ready to ask for more speed I make light contact with the bit and squeeze 
with my legs and push with my seat. At this point it is a good idea to have a companion with you to tell you what gait your horse is doing if you aren't experienced enough to feel it yourself. If they start a little trotty I back them down to a walk and then ask for gait again holding my hands higher with light contact. If they start to pace I back them down to a walk and hold my hands low and ask for gait again. It is hard for a horse to pace when they are rounded in the back and neck. I start my horses in a D ring snaffle as it allows me a little better feel of their mouth than a halter or sidepull. I did start a filly this past year with a sidepull and had no problems. She had suffered a colthood mouth injury and could not tolerate a bit. I would disregard the advice to canter a horse from the trot. This could 
cause more bad habits that you would have to correct in the future. In all riding disciplines you go to the canter from the walk.


From Panelists Carol


Sounds like you are doing a good job with your horse, friendly-ing him.  I would continue to work on this until he is completely comfortable with things touching his hind quarters.  Don't worry about him trotting on a longe, in the round pen, or in the pasture.  Lots of horses do this that gait very nicely under saddle.  Your first few rides should be at the walk, and you may find that when you are ready to ask for a faster speed, that a nice gait is there.  If not, please resubmit your question at that time and we'll talk about some gait corrections.  
I don't have a specific conditioning program, just use good common sense and don't ride too long for the first few rides.  I use an ortho-flex saddle also, and I am quite fond of it.
I am not familiar with the bitless bridle that you described.  I like to start horses in my Parelli Natural Halter, but when doing this, you MUST first obtain good lateral flexion and disengagement from the ground.

Good luck and keep up the good work!

Carol Camp Tosh

From Panelist Jonathan

First of all I would like to address the last part of your question , first . I am a firm believer in mechanical hackamore/bitless riding . I have used them exclusively for many years , from high desert gliding to mountain crunching , on my stallions , mares and from green to seasoned and love them . That is until I got on my last stallion started , but that's another question . I went to the site you referred to , and to say the least I surely was impressed , in fact if that gadget does half of what is claimed I'm gonna have to acquire a couple of dozen and send them out as Christmas presents ;) . Other than that , never saw one , never used one , so I can't comment .

As to whether or not your boy will be harder to train out of the trot and into gait is impossible for me to answer without seeing him move in the flesh ! Now there is quit a list of techniques to enhance a poor gait , but my feeling is , for a horse that you have never seen in gait , only a personal eyes on visit could result in a possible evaluation .

Now of course there are those in the business that can make a donkey do a waltz on a dime and give you a nickels change ;) . But how far from his genetic predisposition do you want to travel ? I know some fellows that will chop toes , build heels and calk the feet right into  the next Big Lick event and promise you a blue ribbon , if your so inclined ;)! But all your gonna have is a manufactured horse of gait . What you may have here is a classic example of a horse you may be better off just excepting him for what he is and building up his honest potential traits .

Now to get on to more pleasant topics . As to a exercise program , i am a firm believer that working all muscle groups is imperative in producing a healthy , sound and useable horse . You have the great fortune to be starting a animal when plate growth is at a minimum . This is a large plus as far as rounding out his program with more difficult terrain 
and the more demanding gaits such as canter/lope . Of course a period of  adjustment aimed towards his development of balance and condition is in order when you finally start him under saddle . For the first month work i would go two days up , one day off again two days up and then two days off before starting the sequence again . The only thing I would do with him is a dead walk at increasing degrees of difficulty in terrain . Then , because of his age , when you feel he is strong and balanced , go for gait . In my opinion the only exercise that will strengthen gait is staying in gait in conjunction with what the old timers called "wet blankets" meaning "lots of it" . Now to increase the distance he is asked to do in gait is another matter which requires more all around work ie: back and forth bursts of speed down to dead walks without coming to a dead stop  at all for the entire workout period . Of course , here again judgment is needed to prevent over exertion resulting in injury . Pacing him is everything . Work your way up in time and difficulty according to his heart and respiration rates . 

Just remember to keep in the back of your mind that sometimes they can't be fixed when they brake .

Wish I had more for you , but I don't . Good luck with him .


From Panelsit Steve

1. Trotting: If a Walker only trots while in the pasture or lunge line, don't worry too much. Often these are the finest Walkers under saddle. I'd prefer to hear that this horse paces a little and walks a little (runningwalk) as well, not because these gaits indicate a superior animal necessarily, but rather that the horse is indeed a Walker. In this day and age, most Walkers are on the too pacey side rather than too trotty. If all the horse does is a trot, and you are SURE that is all he is doing, then this has me a little intrigued.

2. Conditioning Schedule. Excellent that you asked ! He is not a youngster physically but you still need to go slow at first. Lots of round pen riding to get your confidence up as well as lots short trail rides with slow moving buddies so the horse learns to enjoy his work. Round pen alone is not good for any horse. I wouldn't go over 15 minutes of riding in a round pen, ever !  I wouldn't go over an 2 hours on a trail until he has done well for 2
months or so on shorter rides.

3. Gait training under saddle. In general, your friend is exactly correct in her prescription, especially in the young horse. The young horse must be taught to move forward freely and to learn to slow down on his own via TRAINING not bitting. Often this means the horse will go too fast and do all sorts of jiggle gaits. It is better to let him experiment with himself than crank him in the mouth to go slower. All you are going to do is teach him to dink walk, especially if he is trotty. So by all means let him move forward and try to discourage the bad gaits by a bump in the mouth, coinciding with some hard seat riding (don't make it comfortable for him) and some growling (not shouting) indicating you aren't pleased. that is all the negative pressure you need. Ideally, you can push him into a pace before the rack or hand gallop...but that is another subject

Incidentally, a round pen is a great place to get a horse stretchy i.e. swingy or pacey (switch both ways of the ring and DON'T over do round pen work. It is hard on a horse). Also, you will want to ride this horse downhill as much as possible to try and get him to pace or at least swing. Otherwise, you will want to build gait in a trotty horse starting with the flat walk on firm flat ground and slowly building speed.

4. Bitless Bridle: Yes. I have experience with these in Walkers and consider them to be ideal, especially for Walkers. (please note that these BB's can exert pressure while a web halter has almost none. I don't consider web halter riding to be a very good idea except in the best horses and in those, I'd just a soon use a neck ring) I think it would be interesting to start a horse in a BB but have never done so. I think it would probably take longer
before one got out on the trail but it would avoid a lot of the mouth problems we see in a young Walker. I would probably advise you start him in a Wonder Bit and then move to a full cheek snaffle and then a bitless bridle and THEN, a neck ring. One has not lived until one rides a galloping horse in a neck ring !


Steve Chasko

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