Oregon 5 Year old Rocky Mountain Horse with Professional Training ridden in snaffle bit and hunt seat saddle by intermediate level rider.

Question: I just bought a RMH and wanted to know if she will lose her gait if I keep her with a non-gaited horse, or ride with non-gaited horses? Also, Is it a bad idea to lope them? She seems confused and irritated when I ask her to lope and it's not smooth. 

Thank you!

By Panelist Annette

No, she will not lose her gait if you keep her with a non-gaited horse. Of much more importance is how you ride her and how you ask her to perform for you. Contrary to purists' opinions, loping a gaited horse will not make them lose their gait, either. The Vaqeros that have used gaited horses for centuries  to work cattle would laugh at the very idea. BUT having said that, the trick to having a horse that will perform in intermediate 4 beat gait, and also in the three beat lope or canter, is that both horse and rider must understand extremely well what the cues are for each. This is where Americans often have a problem. They allow a gaited horse to "slide" or "slop" into a three beat, and either don't realize it has happened so they know enough to correct the horse, or they don't know how to correct it when it happens. So, for most riders, it is simply easier to keep the horse in gait all the time, and never ask it to canter under saddle, because if the horse doesn't know it can canter under saddle, it is much less likely to attempt to slide out of gait. I recommend to people that before they ever ask a Mtn Horse to canter, that they have worked the horse consistently in gait over a year or more, and gradually asked the horse for more speed in gait, gradually getting the horse to the maximum speed in gait that it is capable of performing, before ever asking for the canter. If the horse slides into a canter on its own, then it should be corrected. There is a specific anti-canter cue that can be used to do so, or alternately, the horse can be slowed down, then asked to go back up in speed, each time it tries to canter. When the rider does finally *ask for the canter, they must do so with a clear and consistent canter cue, that is always used when the canter is desired.

The reason your horse is irritated and confused when you ask her to canter is that chances are she has never cantered under saddle before. Mtn Horses are almost never trained to canter, it is just not part of their history. This is not to say it can't be done, only that it seldom is. There was a huge controversy over the idea of showing Mtn Horses in a Western Pleasure type class, with the meeting at which this was discussed echoing with heated shouts that if they wanted a horse that cantered, they'd have a Quarter Horse! The idea did not come to pass.  The traditionalists won that one. 

Another factor may be conformation. There are two separate and fairly distinct body styles for Mtn Horses. One is the old line Mtn Horse that goes back to the earliest base stock of gaited horses in North America, the Narragansett Pacer. They are usually not very tall, historically a big one would have been 14-2H. They have a lower shoulder angle than a trotting horse and corresponding higher angle of the neck coming out of the body. They are heavy bodied and big boned, with a broad chest and butt, and a short back. They have very little lift in front or hock action in back. They are powerful, with 14-2H horses going 850 to 900 lbs, size one feet, and good strong bone, well able to carry full sized men. They tend to be very smooth because of the low leg action. Their preferred gait is the running walk, and when they reach the top end of it at about 10 mph, they slide to a smooth canter.

The other type of horse has come to dominate the breed because of the original RMH rules that foundation stock be 14-2H and up. With that rule, many if not most of the older type of horse was cut out of the RMH gene pool. To get any size of 15H+, outcrossing was necessary, mostly to TWH or American Saddle stock. As a result, this type of horse is larger, and longer all over, and more gracile in built. They have a lower shoulder, and higher head carriage, a longer back, particularly in the loin area, usually more open angled hocks, more lift in front, more hock action in back, altogether a more animated horse. They are the consummate saddlers, the gait that is actually two related gaits, the stepped rack and the half-rack. The footfall timing is still even, but the pickup timing is skewed to the lateral, so that the support system under the horse is 3/2/1, instead of the 3/2 support
of the running walk. This type of horse does not canter happily or easily. Their conformation is not built for it. Instead, when they hit the top of the saddling gait, they switch to a full rack, also called a single foot, because only one foot is on the ground at a time, they have full front and rear transverse suspension, in contrast to the saddling gaits of the stepped rack and half rack in which there is only front transverse suspension during
the gait cycle. So, your mare's irritation may also be related to her conformation, in that cantering is not very comfortable for her, she would rather that you ask her to rack, even if she has never been asked to rack before, if her conformation is suited to it.

If someone wants the anti-canter cue, send in another inquiry, but right now I have to run. I've gone on enough answering this email! 


From Panelist Carol


Thanks for your questions.  No, It will not make any difference if your Rocky is out with other breeds of horse.  Riding with non-gaited breeds will affect gait only if you have to consistently go in a speed faster than a walk at which your horse will not gait, but maybe break into a pace or trot.  Loping is fine, but if it doesn't come easy, sometimes it is a sign of too much lateral movement.  Hope that this helps. 

Carol Camp Tosh

From Panelist Lee

First, I think you are going to need to rethink your riding style for this horse.  Because of the gait they do, Rocky Mountain horses work best in a dressage type saddle,  or even a flat seated western saddle, not a hunt (forward) seat one, unless, of course, you want them to hard trot.  I don't imagine you bought one for trotting, but rather for the smooth easy gait. She will not lose her gait from going with non-gaited horses, it does not "wear off" from being around other gaits, but she may well lose it if you ride a forward seat on her and keep her in the snaffle bit for very long.

On the lope question -- many Rocky Mountain horses do not lope or canter. Their natural gait makes the position and body use necessary for the canter difficult for them, and they are indeed confused by a rider who tries to canter them.  While there are some individuals who do lope easily, most will be as confused and irritated as yours appears to be by a request to do a gait that is not in their vocabulary.  It is probably not smooth when she tries to do what you want because she is not cantering, but instead mixing gaits in a very uncoordinated way.

The Rocky Mountain gait is as fast or faster than most canters, and unless you are trying to jump this horse (which I sincerely hope you are not) the canter is probably not necessary to your riding experience. 

Good luck with your horse.

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Darla

First of all,  NO your horse will not lose her gait from being in with or around ungaited horses.  Some Rocky Mt. Horses have a canter to die for and others do not.  It is not recommended that you lope RMH by the big trainers. It is really frowned on in the shows.  However,  I have a stallion that has a  wonderful lope and when I trail ride him I lope quite often.  If you are not  showing your horse and you like her lope it is okay for you.  If her lope is  that bad maybe she is cross cantering which can be corrected by an  experienced GAITED horse trainer.  If her gait is fast and smooth maybe you  do not need to lope her at all.  I hope this helps you.  Please feel free to contact me any time if you need more information.  

Darla M. Nassif


Back to main page
Ask a Trainer