Illinois 4 year old Tenn. Walking Horse ridden in Walking Horse headgear and Western saddle in Lot and on trails by experienced rider.

Question: Hello
I have a TWH gelding that I bought alittle over a year ago.  He has a wonderful flat walk and a good running walk but he has a tendency to be pacey at times.  I have resorted back to just flat walking thinking he needs time to get more collected.  I am wondering if there is
anything else I can do.  I have had a time with him since I bought him--he was so scared and nervous with Everything after I brought him home.  But, most of that is gone(after tons of carrots, apples and PATIENCE).  He is really a beautiful horse and learns quickly.
Thanks, Debbie

From Panelist Liz
Hi Debbie,

Your horse is still young yet and if it has some bad history that you have working with it may take a bit more time to develop the gait so it holds. Conditioning does go along way in helping a horse to maintain gait too. Going back to the flat walk is great and work 3 speeds of this , one is a nice slow dog walk, ask for the horse to carry it's head down and relaxed . 

This will help the horse to strengthen the back and is easier to collect by ask for the head first down and in instead of from up position and in.Next ask for a slow flat walk and be able to hold this upon command and then a true head shaking moving out flat walk , your running walk will come out of this.  If he is getting pacy this means the back is getting hollow and the running walk is more to a level back. Feel for the back changing under you and when it starts to drop away from you get the head a bit lower and slow up just a little till the back gets more to level again and the running walk should come back. It takes time to teach a horse to carry them selves in gait on their own so be patient and persistent, supporting your horse with seat leg and hands when you need to but also allowing the horse the opportunity to carry himself and if he does not just add you support again .


From Panelist Steve

This problem is very common. In a horse this age, please consider the following:

In order for a TWH to walk correctly, the horse must have the genes for the walk, must be free from pain, must be in excellent physical condition, and usually, must be mature AND able to self-carry.

1. Teach him to self carry. Stay out of his mouth as much as possible. Use a bitless bridle or neck ring. It may take months for him to get the hang of this and during this time he may pace worse than ever. Don't worry !! Ride him in tall grass and the pacing will decrease and the self support will increase. Works like a charm. But stay out of his mouth.

2. Get him good shape. Ride hills, rough ground, tall grass and low cavaletti every day. Let him move out. Canter it or even gallop him to your heart's content. Again, stay out of his mouth as much as possible. Ride him a vigorous 45-50 minutes everyday if possible. Use flat and dog walk for timing and rest periods, respectfully.

3. I doubt your saddle is hurting him but check his teeth and have him floated if necessary...wolf teeth start showing up at this age. 

4. At four, he is just entering the golden maturation period, when TWHs develop the muscles and strength to self support at the RW. I don't worry about gaits until they are four anyway. Don't give up on him for at least one year. Some horses take longer than others, especially those who were not handled correctly as youngsters or who lack genetic strength. 

Do 1, 2 and 3, be patient, and remember, there is nothing you or he can do about his genes. Enjoy him anyway ! With TWH, the gait is just the icing on the cake.

Steve Chasko

From Panelist Lee

The answer to this depends a little on when he is pacey.  Is it just when you speed him up?  Is it when he is nervous?  Is it when he is going down hill or on hard ground?  He is a young horse, and it is not at all surprising that he is not consistent in his gait, since his body is still growing at age 4.  In addition, despite his earlier training, he may not be ready for a curb bit at all times.  Have you tried riding him in a snaffle, with his head stretched out and down, at an ordinary walk? This is a good exercise for loosening up the muscles that tend to tighten when a horse moves in a pace.  Is his flat walk always square, or does he fall in and out of that gait depending on the terrain (walking well up hill, pacey down hill)  ?

Generally, if he has a good solid flat walk, to keep him square when you speed him up into the running walk you should try to keep his head somewhat low, his nose a little toward the vertical, and his body straight.  Ask with light downward vibrations on the reins for him to keep his head low when you ask for more speed.  At first, ask him for the running walk only on uphill grades or in very soft footing. Eventually, he will understand that you want
him to stay as square in the running walk as he is in the flat walk.
Good luck with this horse, it sounds as if you have come quite a way with him already.

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Carol

Hi Debbie, 

Yes, there is quite a lot that you can do for a pacey horse.  You were right to take him back to the flat walk, but if he isn't getting timed up yet, you could be flat walking forever and still not getting the results that you want.

First, encourage him to lower his head.  A tie down or martingale is the fast and dirty way to accomplish this, but I don't encourage them because then you have to learn to do without them.  Second, encourage him to bend and flex in his neck and also through his whole body by riding circles, figure 8's and serpentines, first at a walk then a flat walk, then a running walk.  Now you are ready to ask for more collection by askin for more energy to be generated with your legs and holding that with your hands, resulting in a raised back, lowered hind quarters, and vertical flexion at the poll.  

You will probably want to do some or all of these excercises in a snaffle bit.  If you get stuck, a dressage instructor may be of help.  And you can always write back to ask a trainer!  This should get you started at least.  Good luck and happy riding.


From Panelsit Theresa

There are a few things you can do for your pacey horse.
Depending on conformation and riding style its difficult to know what is the best solution. The first solutions I give are for conformation, the last is for riding.

The most natural way is slow down and take it easy. This may help or may not when you accelerate your gait. So much depends on the conformation of your horse. When I have pacey horse that conformationally are pacey, I will work them over cavellettis, ground poles , or grass seed rows (but im sure not everyone has grass seed rows in their back yard  :o)   ) The cavelettis need to be spaced about 1.5  feet apart give or take a little. He should be able to dog walk over them without and interference of the poles. You may need to shorten or lengthen depending in his natural stride.  Next increase your speed and with that increase the poles by about 4-6 inches. When he can go through without interference from the poles, you can speed up again. 

You may need to lengthen a small amount again. This will force your horse to lift rather than swing his hind feet changing the footfall pattern. The easiest way and quickest way would be to add weight and toe length on the front feet only. Keep the back feet bare and shorter in the toe.  This will slow down and create lift in the front end, both working to break apart the pace.  The problem with this quick fix is that if you are inadvertantly asking the horse to pace, he may go on and  eventually pace with this setup, and compound your problem.

If the problem is rider or tack  induced, there are several things to check on.

1) is your bit long shanked or severe? The higher the horses head, the more
likely to pace. 
2)Are your hands held high?
3)Is your seat too perched ? too forward?
4)Is the horse properly on the bit, so you can square her up?
5) Saddle pinching anywhere?
All these areas need to be addressed.  In consideration of these items, maybe you could take a couple lessons to identify any problems you may be inducing, and get the feedback necessary for "rider error". 

Best of luck with your boy.


Back to main page
Ask a Trainer