Rocky Mountain 3 year old ridden in Full Cheek Snaffle and Tucker Western saddle in Ring by Advanced rider.

Question: After having this colt under saddle and riding him barefoot for 3-4 months, we had him shod in order to try to help him gait more consistently - if allowed to, he would go to hard-trotting from his gait after a short period of time.  When he did this, I would pull him up and put him back into gait again.  

Our farrier showed me the beginnings of some bruising in his back feet and I thought shoes might help.   After having him shod with flat plates front and back, he still seems unable to
hold his gait for more than a few minutes at a time.  He also now seems to be pacier than before and will switch from the pace to a hard trot back to his "shuffle gait".  

I have been told that without bitting him with a Walking Horse shanked bit, he would
probably never learn to gait consistently.  I broke this guy with sidepulls and have only had a full cheek snaffle in his mouth a handful of times and don't wish to put a harsh bit in his mouth but do want him to gait consistently.  Any suggestions?

From Panelist Liz


I agree that going to a walking horse bit is not the answer here. I would recommend staying with a snaffle but maybe changing the type of mouth piece to something that would give a bit more support in the mouth for him to work off of instead of a mouth piece that breaks it the middle . Possibly try a Billy Allen mouth piece , a mullen mouth piece and I have great results with some of the Myler snaffles on these young gaited horses of all breeds.

Also keep in mind that the Rocky mountain gait tends be one with a more to hollow back(ventroflexed) so you will need to do lots of in between work to keep the back strong and not stress it as this will start to effect them being able to hold the gait for any period of
time . This is when we start to see people going to bigger bits to keep these horse actually held up in gait rather than being able to carry them selves. Lots of walking and with them being aloud to carry their head lower will help , walking up hills, also going from a walk
to a back and going right back up into the walk from the back will help bring their back up under them and keep the hindquarters engaged and to collect the head.

Please keep in mind to that this is just a 3 year old and he has lots of maturing yet to do for a couple of years so he will only be able to hold his gait for a limited amount of time before breaking out of it and then stress from holding gait more than his body can handle at this age can start to show up. Lots of conditioning makes all the difference in the world towards helping them to hold gait. It is not uncommon for these young horse to go in and out of gait with growth spurts and body development. The shoes may have taken a bit of
time for him to get used to but it does sound to me like he just isn't ready to hold gait as much as you would like. Be patient and with time and maturity it will all come together. Don't get caught up in the world of quick fixes.

Good luck and enjoy your young horse.


From Panelist Carol


I admit that i'm not experienced at training Rockies, but I often see this gait switching syndrome in walkers.  Your first goal is to eliminate the trot, even if you have to allow him to pace.  Once he does just ONE gait consistently, then you can start to move it in the direction you want.  I think your best bet is to keep riding, on a loose rein and let him settle into a gait, preferably not the trot.  I think that a severe bit at this stage isn't going to do anything for you, and a see saw action with your hands in a snaffle is a good way to encourage lateral movement.

Good luck

Carol Camp Tosh

From Panelist Nancy

You definitely DO NOT need to use a Walking Horse shanked bit and I would advise you to avoid those bits.  They are much too severe.  

You said that you  had been using a sidepull and had only used a snaffle a few times.  Your  horse needs to have an "educated" mouth, which he did not get from the  sidepull.  So give him some lessons with the snaffle on accepting the bit and  giving to the bit, and be sure and give him enough time.  He needs to learn  to go into the bit, accept it, and give (or flex) to the action of the bit.  Then start working him on his gaits.  By then you will be able to support and influence his gaits with the bit, but not before.  You must develop the mouth.  Later, when you are working on his gaits, do as you were originally doing.  Ask for him to gait and if he trots or paces, pull him up and ask again.  When he does gait, don't expect him to hold it for very long at first.  And don't ask for any speed at first.  That will all come later when gaiting is easy for him.  Very gradually ask for more and more.  Once it becomes easy for him he will enjoy gaiting and prefer it.

Nancy Cade

From Panelist Lee

The gait is not determined by the bit -- but by the body position of the horse.  Think about it, Icelandics are routinely ridden in snaffle bits and tolt (which is the same as the saddle rack of the Rocky Mountain) just fine without a leverage bit.  Horses all over the world do a saddle rack without the use of TWH long shank curbs.  The equipment is not the main thing that determines the gait the horse will use. Plenty of them hard trot or pace in curbs, as well.

Gait can, however, be affected by the way a horse is shod (timing can change if the angles of the hooves change) and by what you are doing with the bit you use.  Snaffles can encourage a horse to travel with a lower head and neck if they are used with low hands or the horse is allowed to push down into the bit.  Curbs can help a horse keep a higher head, but may be more bit that you need for this horse at this time.

So, what do you need to do to tell this young guy to stay in gait with the snaffle you are using?  First, you need to keep  his head high and his energy level up.  This means you need to ride him with your hands higher than you may be accustomed to, and with plenty of speed.  When he tries to hard trot, instead of slowing down and starting over, sit back a little in the saddle, raise your  hands a bit, take a little stronger contact with his mouth, and urge him ON.  Also, remember that working in the saddle gait can be tiring to a young horse, and if he is tired he is going to want to lower his head a little and fall into a hard trot, or stiffen his back a little and pace.  You need to work on gait  only in small increments, until he can physically maintain the position that is needed to produce it. Gait a few steps, walk a while, gait a  few steps again. gradually building the number of steps he takes in gait.  And don't expect him to work (really *work*) longer than 30 minutes in a lesson. The saddle is a high energy gait, and it takes time to establish the ability to work at that energy level in some horses.  the footing in your arena may have some bearing on this, as well. Is it very soft or deep? That can throw a horse off in gait easily. He might work better on a firmer surface with a slight downhill slant. 

As for the shoes -- what did the shoer do that was supposed to help his gait?  Did he raise or lower natural angles in the process of shoeing? Did he put caulked shoes on?  Try to return to whatever natural angle the horse was at before the shoeing changed his way of going, using a flat uncaulked shoe if necessary to protect his hooves from excess wear.

Good luck.

Lee Ziegler


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