Working with a horse who paces and trots

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Working with a horse who paces and trots

Post by Sunny Admin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 3:28 pm

Dear trainers. I have a horse that primarily paces at increased speed. He is quite young- only 3 1/2, so I'm not terribly concerned at this point with being correct, but I don't want to keep practicing the wrong gait until he matures enough to work seriously on the correct gait. I understand that working a pacey gait uphill squares them up as working a trot downhill makes them more lateral. Problem is, that if I work him uphill, he trots and if I then work him downhill, he paces. I can't seem to win. I stop, back and then push him forward into the bit, but he loses the collection after just a few steps. He cannot gain any speed at all in a good frame without breaking into a pace. Sometimes the pace is so smooth that I don't realize he's pacing until I hit a firm patch of ground and I hear the two beat cadence. Then it's like - CRUD!! I've just let him pace and reinforced him. He racks when he does gait properly. I'm just a little frustrated. Help!



Karen, Indiana


Last edited by Sunny Admin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:40 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Working with a horse who paces and trots

Post by Eric Adams on Sat Feb 20, 2010 5:15 pm

ERIC: Karen,



There are a couple things that you have to realize: 1. a pace or a trot on a young horse is not always a bad thing, because you can start there and use it to get what you want. It is really an individual preference. I have always been a fan of a runwalking horse with a good deep headshake. In order to have a deeper headshake your horse has to use its backend and stride out long with it, which is where the pace comes into play. If you are a fan of the shorter stride racking gait it is good to have a young horse that is a little trotty which generally loosens up with a little riding into a good 4-beat gait. 2. Your horse will change, as you said he paces downhill and trots uphill. The hardest thing to deal with in gaiting horses is one that will never change on their own no matter what you do. At least you do know that he is trainable. Just trying to show you the bright side of things! Take that with a grain of salt! On the darker side, I have never been more frustrated than when trying to gait horses that trot one minute and pace the next without any consistency. Over the years I have figured out it just seems like you are working against yourself and that you end up squaring the trot and loosening the pace. I have come to look at it like this, you MUST have consistency before you can do anything. So decide to yourself, which is the less of the two evils, pace or trot? I always go for the pace. But if you choose the trot that is fine as well. With either one you have to get your horse set into it so you then only have one thing to work on. For example, I choose the pace. For a couple weeks I try everything that I can in order to make the horse pace rather than trot and work with it to make it consistent in that pace. Once again, you can do the same for a trot. After a couple weeks or when I feel the horse is consistent, I then go back and start trying to correct what I've got. I try to square the pacey horse and loosen up the trotty horse. On a pacey horse you made some good points riding up hills helps, you can also ride over poles, or just hit ungroomed trails or deep ground. On a trotty horse you can start out riding down hills and with each time you go down a hill ask for a little more speed but never letting your horse break back into the trot. This is one strong tip to consider which is the main reason that I ride to the pace and then work to square it up, when you ride a pacey horse in tall grass, soft ground of any kind or over rocky or rough terrain they will gait better. On the other hand to gait a trotty horse you will find that a smooth and hard surface will get the best results. Consider where you will be riding at and in what terrains you will be in before making a decision on which way to gait your young horse. Young horses will always be more inconsistent than an older horse and lots of them are not strong enough to gait properly for extended periods of time. Training a young horse is something that needs to be done every day but don't overwork the youngsters as they tire easily and are not conditioned for strenuous work. Hope this helps!

Thanks,

Eric Adams

Adams Horse and Mule Co.

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Re: Working with a horse who paces and trots

Post by Susan Brown on Sat Feb 20, 2010 5:18 pm

SUSAN: ,Hi, Karen,



I certainly can understand your frustration, and I appreciate all the patience and effort you've been putting into your horse.



It sounds to me like you are trying to teach him proper collection, and drive, and he doesn't quite have it down yet. And you are also trying to gain speed at his gait when you do have it. He is very young, and needs to be nurtured slowly into his gaits. The first year is long, arduous work, at building his muscles, his muscle memory, his relaxation and learning how to balance and carry his rider's weight.



The reason he is trotting and pacing on hills is because he is not collected and driven enough from behind.



The reason he falls out of collection is because he doesn't have the muscle stamina to keep it up.



The reason he paces when going faster is because he doesn't have the muscles built up to do a Running Walk, or rack, and he doesn't know how to do it yet.



You talked about waiting for him to mature before trying for his faster gaits. It's really not so much just maturing as in aging, it's more like building him up and preparing him to do it physically through work. Even if you started a 5 yr old, he wouldn't be ready for faster gaits for a year or two.



It sounds like you've got a terrific knowledge base regarding how to gain collection. I'd like to see you break it down more for your horse. Make sure he has the full range of skills for suppling, leg cues, bending, etc. Then ask him for collection at a dog walk for short spurts, then lengthen the length of the spurts each day, little by little. You must release him each time from the collection, then ask for it again. He doesn't have the muscle stamina to hold it at first. Do this at a good working walk for a couple of weeks (5 hrs/wk). When he is to the point where he can easily and consistently round and collect, Then ask him to do this at a very small flat walk. Short spurts at a time. Keep him at this speed for a couple of weeks, making sure he is doing it correctly. He should do it automatically if you have him collected properly. You may have to play with the amount of collection and drive to find the gait. Moving forward, you will continue to increase his speed in spurts, then reward with release. As he ages and is worked properly, he will mature beautifully into his gaits.



I hope this helps, and good luck!
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Re: Working with a horse who paces and trots

Post by mygirl1197 on Tue Mar 02, 2010 12:02 pm

I have a coming 5 year old TWH who also paces/step paces and trots. Eric suggested to get her consistently either trotting or pacing, and then correcting her gaiting issue from there. She used to be very consistent with her step pacing, and would trot occasionally at liberty. At that time she was being ridden by a trainer and I would ride her after the trainer. When the trainer left for the summer, and I took over riding her she began to trot more and more frequently. Also I did start using the round pen a few times a week, and she would gait and trot, but the trotting became her gait of choice. When the trainer returned in the fall, I joked that I broke my gaited horse. She got on her and during the first training session got her step pacing again. She said I wasn't supporting her. I really don't know what she meant. I am no longer working with that trainer because she wasn't listening to me about how bad step pacing is for a gaited horse, and she was using a western saddle that didn't fit my horse and was causing her back problems.

My saddle is a gaited saddle that is designed to sit farther forward on the horse so the rider is over the horses center of balance. Is it possible that this forward seat position could be causing her to trot?

I have had horses on and mostly off for 25 years, but I have never taken formal lessons. I really want what is best for my horse so I am taking English riding lessons. My instructor said I have a really good balanced seat, and she already had me cantering during my 3rd lesson, which she normally doesn't do. I have taken a total of 4 lessons so far. I know a little about seat and leg cues, but I am still learning.

At the boarding stable I am now at since January, I have access to a small dressage sized arena with really deep sand, and miles and miles of trails with some nice hills and of course a lot of flat trails. I left my other boarding stable because there were no trails just a large arena, and both my horse and I were bored out of our minds. The problem with the trails in the desert of southern Nevada is that they are very rocky. My horse wears Easy Boot Gloves on the front feet. When we go out on the trails it is all walking because of how rocky it is so I really can't gait up or down hills. She will do a really nice fast walk coming home. Now...finally...my questions...

What do you think the trainer meant about not supporting her? Could my saddle be contributing to the trotting? How can I best work with my horse to develop her gait on rocky trails and in a small arena with deep sand?

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Your Pacey/Trotty/Stepping Pacey horse

Post by Susan Brown on Wed Mar 03, 2010 5:34 pm

ABSOLUTELY!!! A forward seat can cause a horse to trot. It can also cause them to pace depending on what your horse is built for. The horse can't balance well enough to do a good four beat gait if you're balanced on her front end. She already naturally has 60% of her weight up front. We need to try to move some of that weight to the rear. I like a horse that is not all the way to the hard pace or the consistent trot. Remember, the gaits are like a see-saw. Pace is at one end, and Trot is at the other. Your horse is bouncing back and forth due to lack of collection or drive. But she should be naturally gaited, if you allow her to carry herself in a balanced manner. First off, you must sit BACK. Your saddle needs to be situated BEHIND the horse's vertical shoulder bone which you will feel below the withers just behind where the mane ends. You want to be sure your weight is tipped just behind the horse's center of gravity. She can then propel herself from the rear end like she should.

So...
1) Sit back so your spine is completely vertical like the pole of a carousel. Have someone watch you do this until you do it consistently. It is easy to fall forward on the turns, causing the horse to lose her balance and gait in the turns. Sit on your seat bones deeply into the saddle. You will feel like you're driving from the back seat.
2) Shorten your reins. Then shorten them some more, then even more. This will help her balance onto her back end more. You can't ride her like a quarter horse. If you can't shorten the reins without her backing up, you'll need to teach suppling or give to the bit with pressure and release. This is very important, that's why you're learning to use seat, so the bit is reserved for the nose only. Ask your instructor about this.
3) Put energy (drive) into the horse's stride without increasing speed. Push him forward with your legs at the walk while you keep the same speed with reins and seat. Imagine trying to "Pop a Wheelie" on your bike. If you're not used to doing this, you will likely not be aggressive enough at first. Be sure to release the pressure when he gives you the right answer. That's the key to training!

This is what I think your trainer meant by not supporting her enough. you unknowingly let her fall down to a lazy gait, or you don't make her stand up and use her muscles like she should. I think of WalMart shoppers, they kinda waddle slowly and shuffle their feet as they move along with their shoulders slumped and back arched. An athlete could go the same speed, support himself and use his muscles as he walks with purpose and grace, his back straight, shoulders back, etc. This is what we want to achieve with all horses. If you asked the WalMart shoppers to go faster, do you think they would jog or run in good form and balance? Could they leap over hurdles with this form, or dance well? Good posture/collection, is the foundation to any sport/ discipline.

Keep taking your lessons!!! You'll need to remind yourself to sit back a lot on your own horse, but absolutely learn about seat and leg!!! You will need these skills to get your horse to perform her gaits well!!!
I find better luck working my horse on a firm surface. I can feel the gait well, and hear it, and manipulate it without the terrain getting in their way. When you're on up and down hills, make sure she's working off her rear end by half-halting all the way down the hill and making her go very slowly. This will build up her back end muscles. Do a flat walk on the trails when you can, and even when walking, ask her to support herself by collecting her. You will learn more about collection in your upcoming lessons!
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Re: Working with a horse who paces and trots

Post by mygirl1197 on Thu Mar 04, 2010 12:07 pm

Thanks for the help Susan!

During my lesson yesterday my instructor taught me to collect at the walk and really feel the difference when the horse is on the front end and hind end. I will learn half halts today. My lessons are on a 18 year old thoroughbred because I don't want to confuse my horse by learning on her when she is still learning. Does an English saddle work well on gaited horses?

I am considering purchasing a Wintec saddle because I like that it has the adjustable gullet system and CAIR. My horse is just turning 5 and getting out on the trails and hills so I know her body will change. She is also being adjusted monthly by a chiropractor because she lost some of her topline because the trainer she was with rode her in a wide full AQHA bars saddle that didn't fit her, and all she did was step pace. I pulled her from training, but unfortunately there are no gaited trainers in southern NV that I know about so I am on my own. I LOVE my horse so much and will always have her, but sometimes I wish she was just a W/T/C horse.

Again, thanks for the help!!

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