California 3 year old Spotted Saddle Horse with one year professional training, ridden in Argentine snaffle and Endurance saddle  and bareback in round pen and arena with loose footing by rider intermediate, vaulted as a teen, no formal
training on Gaited breeds.

Question: Last june I purchased the perfect horse. She was 2, young yet formally trained and shown. Her temperament is spectacular, but lately I am having a hard time getting her
to perform her gaits well under saddle. She puts her head down and walks in a crooked fashion. Also will not keep a gait for a long time. I board at a Quarter horse ranch and
have had to go on trail with horses who walk much slower, so I don't ask her to gait all of the time. 

I purchased a broken snaffle Argentine bit for her because I was not sure that I needed a long shank and didn't want to use too much bit on her. Her trainer used a Tom thumb bit on her. Our arena has deep footing preferred by Quarter horses about 6-10" deep. I am happy how she is shod. There are very few trainers or knowledgeable people around here (San Diego) to ask the advice of. I am very concerned that she is learning bad conformation habits and I am messing up this great horses ability with my lack of knowledge. I plan to have her for a long time and want to start off on the right foot (no
pun intended!) Please advise?!  

Thank you! Jayne

From Panelist Lee

Hi, Jayne,

It is hard to prescribe what to do for this horse, since I have no idea what gait she is/was trained to do. Spotted saddle horses can do a variety of easy gaits, from a stepping pace, running walk, rack, to a fox trot.  It is also hard to tell exactly what she is doing "wrong" that you are worried about ... just walking along with a low head is not a major problem, in fact it can be a good thing.  Conformation is not a "habit" it is an inborn physical trait (bone structure) and so can't be learned or unlearned.

My first thought is that this is a very young, immature horse -- even if she was "formally trained and shown" as a 2 year old, she is still a baby in horse terms.  As such she is not exactly "set" in any gait and her body is also constantly changing as she matures (she will grow until she is 6). 

Personally, I would not be using an Argentine snaffle or a Tom Thumb on her -- those bits are more severe than a similar solid mouthpiece curb because of the nutcracker effect they can have on the mouth when you put any pressure on the reins at all. I would rather use a short shanked grazing curb bit, or even a regular snaffle than one of those.  In fact, if she is
walking "crooked" a snaffle is probably what she needs, to learn to channel herself between legs and reins and go straight.

Deep footing can have a strong effect on the type of gait a gaited horse does -- it can cause any of them to slip into a hard trot.  If possible, ride her on firmer ground than that arena.  When you are on the trail, ask her to move out with her head a little higher -- raise your hands a little, (ride in the saddle, not bareback for this) put a little tension on the
reins, and squeeze/release with your legs to keep up her energy. Keep her head up -- you are the one responsible for telling her where you want her to carry her head, you don't have to accept her habit of lowering it and wandering from a straight line. If at all possible, find someone with a Q horse that can move out to ride with, as this will help, too.

You are not ruining your horse, but you are not exactly helping her keep her gaits if you don't ask her to do them or ride her at very slow speeds in deep footing.

A refresher course for you and the horse with the person who trained her would be a very good idea, if it is possible. 

Good luck,

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Bob

Assuming that your mare has no dental problems, I feel that she is having a "bit" problem. Tom Thumbs and Argentine bits are NOT snaffles, they are broken mouth curb bits and can be quite severe. I would try a short shanked, mullin mouth pelham, a kimberwicke, or even a short shanked "grazing" bit.

Bob Blackwell

Back to main page
Ask a Trainer