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How To Ride Your Gaited Horse
© Beverly Whittington 2003
|When learning how to ride the gaited equine, you will find many styles
and variances between the different breeds and different instructors. Even
amongst professional riders styles will vary widely and you will see variation
in position and technique. It is also a blessing and a curse that gaited
horses are “easier” to ride than trotting horses. Almost anyone can get
on and ride a gaited horse. The “lack of bounce” enables poor balance and
even worse equitation to go unpunished, at least for a period of time.
Many new riders who begin their riding career upon a gaited horse do not
progress very far in their riding skills because the gaited horse is generally
so smooth and easy to ride. Frequently, they don't see the need for
improvement. This leads to MANY sloppy riders within the gaited ranks.
So what is a person new to gaited breeds to do? There are no short cuts.
Having worked with people for many years with gaited horses, I know many
will have the tendency to "cut to the chase". If they are looking to have
their horse perform a running walk for example, just skip to the part of
this article that addresses that gait. Well, if you do not use and apply
the rest of the information already addressed here, the other stuff will
not work very well or at all.
Part of the problem in the gaited community is that the gaited equine is often purchased JUST BECAUSE it is easier to ride. Many times the owner/rider has no desire to work as hard as it takes to achieve good equitation and effective communication with their horse. They just want to RIDE! Often this leads to the attitude that it is just not necessary to make any improvements or adjustments in their riding styles, as the horse DOES cooperate in many instances. To become a good rider it does take much effort and often involves taking riding lessons from a competent instructor. But this isn't much fun, is it? Whether you spend one hour a week or many hours a day in the saddle, you can make one adjustment at a time to become an effective rider whose influence on the horses carriage and gait are positive. YES it would be better to devote yourself to hours under a good instructor, but often these are not readily found. If you ride, you can improve. There is an old saying; when we stop learning we are dead already, regardless how many years till we enter the grave. It is my goal in this series of articles to give you some simple tools to improve your riding skills. You can learn and apply them as you ride and you WILL see improvement, or you can go along as you are and not progress in your skills. The decision is yours, but remember it WILL affect your horse!
What is Important
There are many factors that contribute to a skilled rider of gaited horses. You have to begin at the beginning, what is the MAIN factor that can cause the MOST problems and eliminate that problem first. The importance of balance may not seem obvious at first, but in fact, it is critical. Poor balance can and will interfere with the horse's ability to perform it's gait properly. When considering the riding position for gaited horses keep in mind that; what is important is that your balance (or lack of balance) does not interfere with the horse's ability to gait. If you are in balance, but balanced say FORWARD, that would be a negative influence, and not being in balance would be as well, such as if you are tipped off to the side. There are many positional variations that are acceptable. A good riders position is not static, rather the ideal position is what you should always return to when you are happy with your horse's way of going. However it is sometimes desirable to change the way you sit to affect the horse. An effective rider remains in tune with the horse, adjusting seat and balance to enable the horse to perform its optimum gait. It is sometime imperative that you change the way you are sitting; BECAUSE of the NEGATIVE affect your current seat is having on the horse's gait.
For a horse to maintain a steady, smooth gait it is important that you stay in balance with your horse, with your weight over the strongest part of his back. Before you can really begin to make adjustments, it is important that you are able to be responsible for your own balance, and weight. This is critical to be able to ride at the point of balance for the horse/rider combination.
The first basic rule in riding any horse was established by Xenophon as the ideal seat, you have probably heard the “shoulder, hip and heals in line”? Although some riders may think that achieving a balance seat is too much work, if you are going to ride a gaited horse it is presumed that you wish the horse to GAIT! A forward seat can cause the horse to move to the trot in compensation and the chair seat or a rider leaning back can cause ventroflextion of the horses back but often this results in the vertebrae of the spine to impinging on one another, leading to a sore back and/or neurological problems.
Effective Riding style of the Gaited Horse
In order to remain upright both horses and humans maintain a center
of gravity, which has to be within our base of support. If you lift one
leg when standing, you have to lean to the other side compensate for gravitational
force. Horse have to do the same, they shift their weight at each step
to remain in balance. When you add the weight of a rider into the equation,
the horse must compensate as the center of gravity of the rider/horse combination
comes into play with his every movement. When the rider is off-balance,
the gaited horse will often compensate by changing his timing or footfall
pattern, misgaiting. Commonly the horse will lateralize, becoming pacey,
but it can also cause the horse to move toward the trot if the shift of
weight is forward and intrusive or disturbing to the horse.
I would liken it to hiking. You could carry a backpack that weighed up to 1/4 your body weight without complaint on a 1-2 hour hike, or more if you were in condition. Of course you would have balanced that backpack and distributed the weight were it was the easiest and most comfortable for you to carry. The point of the article was to try and get the same concept across to the riding public. The rider who is off balance and carries their weight high in their torso is like a poorly balanced backpack, which is moving. As a hiker, it would not take long for you to leave that fool backpack at home... Our horses are much more forgiving, they allow us to saddle and ride them regardless of how much of an unbalanced, shifting load we represent.
OK so how to begin?
Lets begin with the anatomy of the human pelvis, for it is within the
structure of the pelvis and midsection that you can achieve stability and
balance in riding. What? No “Arms here” and “Legs there” Drill? Hold on
to your hats, we are going to get there!
The pelvis is defined as:
A bony, basin-shaped structure that supports the organs of the lower abdomen.
It receives the weight of the upper body and distributes it to the legs;
it also forms the base for numerous muscle attachments. In the human pelvis
there are two large hip bones, each consisting of three fused bones, the
illium, ischium, and pubis. The hip bones form a ring around a central
cavity. The fused terminal segments of the spine, known as the sacrum and
coccyx, connect the hip bones at the back of the central cavity; a fibrous
band connects them at the front. In women the pelvis is wider and has a
larger capacity than in men, a condition that reflects the child-bearing
function in women.
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It is a good idea to "get the hang" of these exercise OFF the horse, but it is important that you practice ON the horse once you have a good idea how to proceed!
|Once you have your weight lowered, you need to learn to balance the
weight to allow further stability and to begin the process of becoming
a rider who is responsible for their weight on a horse.
|Each individual horse will be a different quality of gait. There are those who gait regardless of the ineptness of their rider. There are those who will loose gait unless their rider is in that perfect "sweet spot". Then there is the multitude in-between. The major problem is that continued poor balance and poor equitation can eventually spoil the gait of even the most solid gaited equine. Thankfully the reverse is also true, good balance and equitation can improve and/or help maintain solid gait. It is your horse, in which part of the equation do you want his experience to fall?|
|Part I||Part II||Part III|
|Part IV||Part V||Part VI The Flat Walk|
|Part VII The Fox Trot||Part VIII The Rack|
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To Be Continued...
How to Ride Your Gaited Horse (Paperback)
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