Unveiling the Art of How to Ride A Gaited Horse

Gaited horses, with their smooth and distinctive gaits, offer riders a unique and enjoyable experience in the equestrian world. Unlike traditional horses that trot and canter, gaited horses possess smooth, four-beat movements, making them sought-after for their comfort and elegance.

In this guide, we’ll explore the fascinating world of gaited horses and delve into the techniques and nuances of riding these graceful creatures. Whether you’re new to gaited horse riding or looking to enhance your skills, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools to ride and communicate effectively with these remarkable animals. Let’s embark on this rewarding journey of mastering the art of riding a gaited horse.

Understanding Gaited Horses

Gaited horses, renowned for their smooth, comfortable, and unique gaits, encompass a variety of breeds such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, Paso Fino, Icelandic Horse, and many more. Unlike regular horses that typically exhibit a walk, trot, and canter, gaited horses possess an additional array of intermediate gaits, often referred to as “ambling” or “running” gaits.

Unveiling the Art of How to Ride A Gaited Horse

Different Gaits:

Gaited horses showcase a diverse range of gaits, varying between breeds. Some of the common ones include:

    • Running Walk: This is a signature gait for many gaited breeds, characterized by a four-beat, smooth, and rapid walking pace with overstride, where the hind foot steps over the track of the front foot.
    • Rack or Singlefoot: A lateral gait where the horse moves its legs in a lateral or diagonal pair, providing a gliding sensation for the rider.
    • Paso Fino Corto and Paso Largo: These are distinctive four-beat gaits found in the Paso Fino breed, each with its own tempo and stride length.

Unique Characteristics:

Gaited horses possess certain physical and genetic attributes that allow them to perform these smooth gaits. They often have a well-developed chest, powerful hindquarters, and a naturally higher head carriage compared to other breeds. Additionally, their genetic predisposition towards smooth gaits sets them apart, making them sought after for riders desiring a more comfortable ride.

Advantages of Riding Gaited Horses:

    • Comfort: The smooth gaits of gaited horses provide an incredibly comfortable ride, making them suitable for long-distance riding or individuals with back or joint issues.
    • Versatility: Gaited horses excel in various disciplines, from trail riding and endurance to pleasure riding and even some show competitions.
    • Connection: Riders often establish a strong bond with gaited horses due to their willingness to connect and respond to subtle cues.

Understanding the unique gaits and characteristics of gaited horses forms the foundation for riding and communicating effectively with these magnificent animals. With this knowledge, riders can appreciate the beauty and elegance of these breeds while mastering the art of riding a gaited horse.

Preparing to Ride

Riding a gaited horse not only involves enjoying the smooth gaits but also requires careful preparation and attention to detail for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Safety Precautions:

Before riding any horse, including a gaited one, ensuring safety is paramount. This involves wearing appropriate riding gear, including a well-fitted helmet, boots with a heel, and other protective equipment. Additionally, be mindful of your surroundings, check the condition of the riding area, and maintain clear communication with other riders if in a group setting.

Grooming and Tacking Up:

Grooming a gaited horse involves more than mere cleanliness; it’s a chance to establish a bond and check for any issues or discomfort. Brushing, picking hooves, and checking for any sore spots or abnormalities are essential steps. Properly fitting tack is crucial for the horse’s comfort and your safety. Make sure the saddle and bridle fit well without causing any pressure points.

Establishing a Connection:

Spending a few moments connecting with your gaited horse before riding can set a positive tone for the session. This could involve light groundwork exercises, grooming, or simply spending time together to build trust and rapport. Understanding your horse’s temperament and mood can contribute significantly to a successful riding experience.

Warm-Up Exercises:

Prior to mounting, engage your horse in some warm-up exercises. This helps to loosen their muscles and mentally prepare them for the ride. Groundwork exercises, lunging in both directions, and performing some bending exercises can aid in flexibility and responsiveness.

Checking Equipment:

Before mounting, double-check all tack and equipment to ensure everything is properly fitted and in good condition. Ensure the bridle is adjusted comfortably, the saddle is correctly positioned, and the girth is snug but not too tight.

Taking these preparatory steps ensures a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable experience for both you and your gaited horse. It sets the foundation for a successful ride and helps establish a positive and trusting relationship between rider and horse.

Mounting and Basic Position

Mounting a gaited horse and maintaining a correct riding position are fundamental aspects that significantly impact your riding experience and communication with the horse.


Proper mounting is essential for both your safety and the horse’s comfort. Follow these steps:

Position yourself on the left side of the horse, facing forward, with the reins in your left hand and the stirrup in your right hand.

Place your left foot in the stirrup, keeping your weight on the right foot and hand on the horse’s withers or saddle for support.

Push yourself up while swinging your right leg over the horse’s back and gently settling into the saddle.

Basic Riding Position:

Achieving and maintaining the correct riding position is crucial for balance, communication, and harmony with your gaited horse. Follow these guidelines:

Seat: Sit tall and relaxed in the saddle, with your seat bones evenly placed and your back straight. Avoid leaning forward or backward, maintaining a neutral spine.

Legs: Keep your legs relaxed and close to the horse’s sides, maintaining gentle contact. Your lower legs should hang naturally, with heels down and toes up. This helps you give clear cues and aids to your horse without unnecessary pressure.

Hands and Arms: Maintain soft and supple hands, holding the reins evenly with a light but consistent contact. Keep your hands slightly in front of the saddle and close together, allowing for communication through subtle rein aids.

Head and Eyes: Keep your head up and eyes forward, looking in the direction you intend to go. Avoid staring down, as it disrupts your balance and communication with the horse.

Balance and Relaxation:

Achieving balance and relaxation in your riding position is crucial for riding a gaited horse smoothly. Focus on breathing deeply and evenly, relaxing your body while maintaining a secure seat. This allows you to move in harmony with the horse’s motion, enhancing your riding experience.

Maintaining a correct riding position while mounting and during your ride establishes clear communication between you and your gaited horse. It ensures comfort, balance, and effective cues, fostering a positive riding experience for both rider and horse.

Riding Techniques

Riding a gaited horse requires finesse and understanding of their unique gaits to effectively communicate and encourage the desired movements. Here are some techniques to help you ride a gaited horse smoothly:

Understanding Gaits:

Running Walk: Encourage the running walk, a hallmark gait of many gaited breeds, by maintaining a relaxed but forward motion. Sit tall and allow the horse’s natural movement to flow through your body.

Rack or Lateral Gaits: For lateral gaits like the rack, focus on sitting deep in the saddle while maintaining a consistent rhythm. Use your body’s subtle shifts to encourage the horse to maintain the desired gait.

Light and Clear Aids:

Seat and Weight: Gaited horses are often sensitive to weight shifts. Utilize subtle shifts in your seat and weight distribution to signal transitions or changes in gait.

Leg Aids: Apply light leg aids to communicate with the horse. These cues can encourage the horse to maintain or change its gait, but avoid using excessive or harsh pressure.

Encouraging the Gait:

a. Consistency: Maintain a consistent rhythm and tempo in your riding. Gaited horses respond well to steady cues and aids, so avoid sudden or jerky movements.

b. Relaxed Rein Contact: Use a light and consistent rein contact to guide your horse. Aim for soft, steady contact with the horse’s mouth, allowing the horse to respond to subtle cues.

Transitions and Changes:

Transitions Between Gaits: Practice smooth transitions between different gaits. Gradually cue the horse for a transition, maintaining your balance and aiding the horse through your seat and legs.

Refinement: Work on refining your transitions to ensure they are seamless and effortless. This refinement comes with practice and a deeper understanding of your horse’s cues.

Maintaining Balance and Harmony:

Centered Riding: Focus on maintaining your balance and staying centered in the saddle. This allows you to move in sync with the horse’s motion, enhancing communication and harmony.

Relaxed Riding: Keep your body relaxed and supple. Tension in your body can interfere with the horse’s movement and cues, so aim for a relaxed but engaged posture.

Practice these riding techniques consistently to develop a harmonious partnership with your gaited horse. With patience, practice, and a clear understanding of these techniques, you’ll enhance your ability to communicate effectively and enjoy the smooth, elegant gaits of your horse.

Developing Communication with the Horse

Building a strong and effective communication system between you and your gaited horse is key to a successful and enjoyable riding experience. Gaited horses are often sensitive and responsive, making it essential to establish clear communication through various means:

Consistent Cues and Signals:

Voice: Use your voice as an additional aid to communicate with your horse. Simple verbal cues such as “walk on,” “easy,” or “whoa” can reinforce your physical aids.

Body Language: Gaited horses are perceptive to body language. Consistency in your body position and cues helps your horse understand your intentions more clearly.

Understanding the Horse’s Cues:

Observation: Pay attention to your gaited horse’s subtle cues and body language. Each horse may have specific signs indicating comfort, discomfort, readiness to gait, or transition between gaits.

Responsive Riding: Be attentive and responsive to your horse’s reactions. Adjust your cues and aids accordingly to maintain a harmonious interaction.

Establishing Trust and Rapport:

Groundwork: Engage in groundwork exercises to establish trust and respect between you and your horse. These exercises can include leading, yielding hindquarters, and desensitization activities.

Consistent Handling: Handle your gaited horse with kindness, patience, and consistency. This helps in building trust and a positive relationship, crucial for effective communication.

Listening and Reacting to the Horse:

Sensitivity: Gaited horses often respond well to subtle cues. Pay attention to their responses and adjust your aids accordingly, avoiding unnecessary pressure or cues.

Rewarding Responses: Acknowledge and reward your horse for responding correctly to your cues. This positive reinforcement encourages desired behaviors.

Progressive Training and Practice:

Gradual Progress: Introduce new cues and exercises gradually, allowing your horse time to understand and respond.

Consistent Practice: Regular and consistent training sessions help reinforce communication and refine your horse’s responses to your aids.

Developing effective communication with your gaited horse requires patience, understanding, and consistency. By establishing clear cues, building trust, and actively listening and responding to your horse, you’ll foster a strong bond and improve the quality of your rides.

Exercises and Drills

Regular practice with specific exercises and drills can enhance your riding abilities and improve the gaited horse’s performance. These exercises focus on balance, coordination, and refining communication between you and your horse:

Flatwork Exercises:

Transitions: Practice smooth transitions between gaits, focusing on maintaining balance and rhythm throughout. Start with walk-to-trot or trot-to-canter transitions, then progress to gait transitions.

Change of Direction: Ride circles, serpentines, figure eights, or change direction along the rail to encourage suppleness and responsiveness in your gaited horse.

Pace Control Exercises:

Collection and Extension: Work on collecting and extending your horse’s gait within the same gait. For instance, ask for a slower, more collected running walk, then transition to a more extended one.

Half-Halts: Practice half-halts to rebalance your horse and encourage engagement of the hindquarters. These aids help in controlling speed and enhancing responsiveness.

Obstacle Courses and Patterns:

Poles and Cones: Set up poles or cones to weave through, encouraging your horse’s focus and precision while navigating obstacles.

Pattern Work: Create patterns or specific courses for your horse to follow, incorporating transitions and changes of direction to challenge their responsiveness and attention.

Gait Refinement Drills:

Isolation Exercises: Focus on isolating and refining specific gaits. Work on enhancing the smoothness and consistency of the running walk or the clarity and balance of the rack, depending on your horse’s abilities.

Trail Riding Challenges:

Varied Terrain: Ride on different terrains such as hills, valleys, or uneven ground to improve your horse’s balance, coordination, and confidence.

Natural Obstacles: Encountering natural obstacles like streams, bridges, or logs during trail rides can enhance your horse’s adaptability and responsiveness to your cues.

Cavaletti Work:

Cavaletti Exercises: Incorporate cavaletti work to improve your horse’s coordination, rhythm, and flexibility. Start with low cavaletti and gradually increase the difficulty as your horse progresses.

Consistent practice of these exercises and drills not only improves your riding skills but also enhances your gaited horse’s responsiveness and performance. Always prioritize your horse’s comfort and well-being during these exercises, gradually increasing difficulty as they become more adept and responsive to your cues.

Care and Maintenance

Taking care of a gaited horse involves more than riding; it encompasses various aspects to ensure their well-being, health, and performance:

Stable Management:

Stabling: Provide a clean, well-ventilated, and spacious stall or shelter for your gaited horse. Ensure regular cleaning and proper bedding to maintain hygiene.

Turnout: Allow your horse ample turnout time for exercise and social interaction with other horses, aiding in their physical and mental well-being.

Nutrition and Diet:

Balanced Diet: Ensure your gaited horse receives a balanced diet consisting of quality hay, pasture grazing, and appropriate concentrates. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for specific dietary needs.

Hydration: Always provide access to fresh, clean water to prevent dehydration, especially after exercise or during hot weather.

Grooming and Hygiene:

Regular Grooming: Regular grooming not only maintains your horse’s coat but also fosters a bond between you and your horse. Brushing, picking hooves, and checking for any skin abnormalities are essential.

Hoof Care: Schedule regular hoof care by a professional farrier to ensure proper trimming or shoeing. Healthy hooves are crucial for a gaited horse’s soundness and performance.


Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule routine check-ups, vaccinations, and dental examinations with a qualified veterinarian to maintain your horse’s health.

Parasite Control: Implement a strategic deworming program based on your veterinarian’s recommendations to control internal parasites.

Exercise and Training:

Consistent Exercise: Regular exercise and training sessions not only improve your horse’s fitness but also contribute to their mental well-being.

Varied Training: Incorporate a variety of exercises, both under saddle and on the ground, to keep your gaited horse engaged and mentally stimulated.

Rest and Recovery:

Proper Rest: Ensure your horse receives adequate rest between training sessions or physically demanding activities to prevent fatigue and overexertion.

Recovery Care: After strenuous exercises or rides, practice proper cooling down techniques and offer appropriate post-exercise care to aid in muscle recovery.

By attentively managing their living conditions, nutrition, grooming, healthcare, and exercise regimen, you can ensure your gaited horse remains healthy, comfortable, and ready to perform at their best. Regular monitoring and a proactive approach to their care contribute significantly to their overall well-being and longevity.

Also Read: Most Intelligent Horse Breeds-Ultimate Guide

Final Words

Riding a gaited horse is a unique and rewarding experience that demands an understanding of their distinct gaits and effective communication.

Mastering the art of riding these elegant creatures involves more than skill; it requires patience, consistency, and a strong bond between rider and horse.

By comprehending their gaits, practicing proper techniques, and fostering clear communication, riders can unlock the full potential of their gaited horses. Remember, the journey to becoming a proficient gaited horse rider is ongoing.

Embrace the learning process, cherish the moments spent with your horse, and continue to refine your skills. With dedication and a deep connection, riding a gaited horse becomes not just an activity but a harmonious partnership between horse and rider, offering a fulfilling and enjoyable riding experience like no other.

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