Missouri 3 1/2 year old Racking Horse, ridden in a  full-cheek snaffle bit in both  Western/English saddles,by beginner level rider. There is a  round pen available.

Question: I bought my horse as a two-year old filly. She was basically green-broke. The previous owner said she would lose her "rack" if I didn't keep her in it. The problem is, I can't tell if she is "racking" or not. Does a Racking Horse naturally have that gait or is it somthing that has to be taught? My riding instructor from last year thought she might have some Tennesse Walker in her.(she isn't registerd) Somtimes when she "trots" it is VERY smooth and other times just the opposite! 

When I ask her to speed up from the walk, she raises her head high and really moves off. She'll go halfway around the pen and then slow down to a walk. I ride her mostly English, basically because her Western saddle doesn't fit right. I also think she moves more "lightly" with the English saddle. I hope I'm being specific enough. Thanks for your advice.  Hannah 

From Panelist Nancy

Hello Hannah,

I'm not exactly sure what your question is.  Yes, the rack is a natural gait, but when you ask your horse to move on, you have to tell her what gait you want, otherwise she will just go faster - maybe trot, or pace, or canter, or rack, whatever the moment influences her to do.  The rack is a four-beat gait.  The trot or pace is a two-beat gait.  That might help you to know if she is racking.  Also, the rack is smooth.  If she takes the wrong gait, just 
come back to a walk and ask again for the rack.  You say she starts up racking for a short time, and then slows down to a walk.  Try making your legs aids smooth and not sudden.  Instead of kicking, try just a squeeze.  If the squeeze doesn't work, then give a little tape with your legs and follow up with a squeeze.  You might have to also drive with your back and seat.  If the aids are too sudden, that might be the reason for her throwing her head 
up when he starts off.  If he moves off into a rack when you squeeze, but then slows down - just reapply your aids - legs and seat.  When he holds the gait, be sure and praise her, and just ask for a little at a time.  The time will come when she can hold the gait you are asking for for as long as you wish.  Also, don't ask for speed at this time.  When she is confirmed in his rack at a slower speed, then you can ask for more speed.  Be patient with her.  She is a young horse.  Good luck!

Nancy Cade

From Panelist Lee

Hi, Hannah,

I think you have several problems here -- a horse that is not set in her gait, and a rider who is not sure what that gait should be.  Before you can help your horse, you have to learn the difference in the various gaits she may be doing.  She may be racking, stepping pacing, running walking, fox trotting, hard trotting or even hard pacing from your description.

So, briefly, this is what these gaits look like... The trot:  diagonal (right hind, left front) legs move forward together and diagonal hooves hit the ground at about the same time.  The pace: lateral (right hind, right front) legs move forward together and lateral hooves hit at the same time. Both of these gaits are pretty rough to ride and bounce you in the saddle.

Now to the easy or "soft" gaits.  The Stepping pace:  the lateral legs move forward together, but the hind hoof hits before the front on the same side. This may sway you a bit from side to side in the saddle, but is not uncomfortable.

The rack:  the lateral legs leave the ground close in time, but set down at even intervals, hind before front, in a 1-2-3-4 beat gait.  This is fast, the horse appears to be "climbing the wall" in front and bobbing up and down in the rear, while you sit smoothly in the middle of all the action. The horse's head is carried high, and does not nod up and down.

The running walk:  the legs move forward neither as lateral or diagonal pairs -- that is each legs lifts and sets down independantly of the others. Horse will nod his head and neck up and down with this gait, which has an even 1-2-3-4 beat sound.

The fox trot:  the diagonal legs move forward together, with the front hitting noticeably before the hind of the diagonal pair (right front, left hind)  the horse will nod his head and neck up and down with the rhythm of the gait, and the hindquarters will bob up and down slightly.  The sound is an unevem 1-2--3-4 beat.

Go ride your horse and have a friend who  has read these definitions watch you to see what you are doing.  (If possible, find someone who knows something about gaits and gaited horses to do this!) 

As to whether the rack is natural or not -- it is, but you have to tell her what gait you want to keep her doing it.  Racking horses, like almost all gaited horses, can do more than one easy gait.  If you are confused as to what gait you want and don't encourage the rack when she does it, she will soon get the idea that what gait she does isn't important to you, and will try out anything that feels good to her at the time.  When you figure out what she is doing and learn what her rack feels like, you can encourage it by sitting relaxed, raising your hands just a bit, and not slowing her down when she gets into it.

Another thought is that if you are riding her only in a round pen, she doesn't have enough room to get really going in her rack.  If you can ride her in a bigger area, she will be more likely to stay in the gait. 

Good luck.

Lee Ziegler

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