Oregon  2 1/2 year old TWH being worked in snaffle or hackamore and  bareback, western, aussie saddles in round pen, arena, trails by intermediate rider.

Question: Have a young horse that is still growing and is low in the withers. How much of an influence will this have on his gaits until he matures?

He has a good overstride, but not much headnod.  I really praise him when we
get it. When I have ponied him in the past, I would not let him trot.  He is with a
trotty horse and seemed to gain a preference for trotting. Flatwalking and Downhill work has helped, he is stepping pacing and drifts in and out of a noddy walk on short stretches when he is anxious to follow another horse, or see what is up ahead.

I am satisfied to keep his attitude light and his bones/joints healthy.  Any suggestions or comments reg. his downhill conformation would be appreciated.

From Panelist Jonathan

First of all I would pony him in halter only and with a horse that gaits properly . I find it amazing how they will mimic other horses . On the up side , you can make this natural instinct work for you by working him in saddle or ponying with a proper gaiting horse .
When first put in school I find most will be what they see as well as what they are taught . Of course this is a very , very young horse and being a TW I will assume large boned and slow maturing . This fact will always affect his solidness in gait . Every year , my horses force me to re-evaluate their time schedule / learning curve reality . I believe more and more that a gaited horse takes five years or more under a schooled hand before it's maximum 
potential can be realized . So take your time , you have a ways to go .

As to a "headnod" some do , some don't . It's up to you to either accept him or conform him . Of course that decision can only be made once he is going properly . I realize it is breed standard to do so , but personally I wouldn't loose any sleep over it .

As to letting him trot , GOOD . I find it is a longer but stronger road to gaiting properly . The more muscle groups developed make a more athletic/sound horse in my book .

As to his "down hill " conformation , as I said he is a young TW, but 30 months is a age I would like to see a horse out of the see/saw growth routine and more level . This may be a genetic fault , but one that can be worked with . I have always believed the end product in this industry will always be based on a 50% genetics and 50 % training ratio .

I have a 50/50 TWH/PP stallion that takes his size at 16.3 Hh from his TW side . He is just coming into himself at 6 yrs. . I only expect him to get better in the next 6 . Give your boy time and he will give you what he can .


From Panelist Steve

This horse is immature and I would not expect to see this horse's gait reach its full potential until he is 4 1/2 or 5. The horse's back is one of the last parts to fully mature. The low withers indicates he still has a lot to grow and therefore, his back is even more immature than average.

The ability to bridge (opposite of hollow) the back is critical for high quality square walk production. To obtain this optimal posture requires decent conformation and quality muscle development. In the immature horse, neither is fully developed.

Continue to do what you are doing and let this horse learn to move forward and enjoy riding. Be patient. To get him in optimal physical condition at this tender age would require more riding than a 2 year old should experience. And because of the immaturity of his development,  would yield very little improvement.

Steve Chasko

From Panelist Bob

At 2 1/2 your horse is still a baby with all of the growth problems of youth. Different horses grow at different rates. I have a 4 yr old colt that seemed either wither high or butt high every time I looked at him until the last few months. I started him under saddle at 3 yrs of age, but didn't do much other than get him bridle wise and used to carrying weight. I am just now starting to work with him seriously under saddle. His mind and body are much more responsive now than they were last year while he was having growth spurts. 

You do need to concentrate on keeping him in a rounded frame in order to keep him square. You will be able to do this much better in a snaffle bit than in a mechanical hack as the latter tends to raise the head and hollow the neck and back.

Bob Blackwell

From Panelist Lee

This horse is a baby -- he will keep growing and changing some proportions until he is at least 6.  Generally,  a horse that is rump high will be inclined to be pacey.

It sounds as if you are trying to encourage a step pace -- I would not be doing that.  He should be learning to do a flat walk, and stay consistent in it, if he is doing anything at all.  At his age, he should not be ridden out on trail rides, or even in an arena for more than 10 minutes at a time, if at all.  His bones are still growing -- they will stay healthier if you stay
off him until he is at least 3, better 3 1/2.  Pony him instead .... that can be good exercise.  Don't worry if he hard trots some while ponying, he will return to another gait when under saddle.

Good luck with your horse.

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Liz


I find with the young ones that are still growing, their gaits can sometimes change weekly, because of adjusting to growth changes. Don't worry about it and let him grow. Get your dog walks and 2 speeds of flat walk down now and let him grow. Being high in the backend now can put him more on the forehand and then you may end up working him in a way now that will cause problems later.

The trot is not a bad thing and much better that developing a pace by going down hills. It can be much harder to get a running walk out of that pace than a trot. I would not want him going to the stepping pace at all if I wanted a running walk. Also the stepping pace being a ventro gait in the back (hollow) is not good for a young horses back that is still growing. You are much better off  sticking to the flat walks and getting a running walk from that and keep the non stressful neutral back (level).



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