One of the many things I’m pretty fussy and outspoken about is saddle fit. Gaited horses are just that. Horses with multiple gaits. They walk, they trot, they have a flat walk, running walk, a rack and a canter. Some gaited breeds have even more gaits, like a fox trot.
What they don’t have is a need for a special saddle or equipment. They just need, as do all horses, a saddle that fits. If a saddle fits, it fits.
Some gaited horses have high withers, others not so high. Just like other horses. Some are wide, some narrow. Just like other horses. Some have big shoulders, some don’t. Some are tall and slab-sided, others are short and round, just like other horses.
Why “experts” too often insist folks need “gaited horse saddles” is beyond me. Except as a selling tool for their saddles. And yes, I’ve seen the big name gaited horse saddles, and no, I’ve not been impressed. But I’m a simple fella. Either a saddle fits, or it doesn’t. Simple.
What makes a saddle fit? A horse needs to be able to move under the saddle, while the saddle stays put. It’s in the tree, or the flocking. Yup we need room at the withers, the shoulders, the spine. It can’t be too long, too short, too wide or too narrow.
The saddle can’t bridge, rock or pinch. It must be well balanced, can’t lean forward or back, and certainly not to the side. But isn’t that the case for all horses? If your saddle fits, a blanket will do, no pad required.
It’s not the saddle that gives a horse their gait—they’re born with that. But an ill-fitting saddle can put a damper on gaiting if it inhibits any of the horse’s moving parts.
But what about all those gaited horse bits? I usually ride bitless. Have for years, with many different horses. I usually use a little noseband hackamore. Discovered it in my endurance days. I love it, and every horse I’ve ridden has loved it.
Often I’ve ridden in a halter only. (And no, I’m not a fan of the bitless bridles; the ones I’ve seen can put too much pressure on sensitive facial nerves.) I really got a kick out of the times I’d ride a horse for the first time and the owner hands me their bridle with a “walking horse” bit and I’d say, “I’ll use this,” showing my little rig. They always doubt it, then often say, “Wow, he never gaited like that for me!” It’s not the bit that gives a horse their gait. They’re born with it.
What about those special shoes? And I don’t only mean only the horrible stacks and such they do to TWHs. There are the nasty plantation shoes and cog shoes and others, all causing damage to the foot, the joints, the legs and back.
I ride barefoot. Have for a lot of years. Since before it was really catching on. And no long toes or high heels, either. A gaited horse’s hooves should look just like any other hoof on any other horse. “He needs longer toes to gait,” they say. “Hogwash!” I say. He needs healthy feet, just like any other horse. It’s not the shoes or the trim that gives a horse their gait. They’re born with it.
What about the other “stuff?” There are lots of gadgets, gimmicks and attachments out there some people insist are needed to “teach” a horse to gait. Many of them are too nasty for me to mention. Some not so nasty but equally unnecessary, and to some degree, harmful to the horse’s biomechanics. It’s not the stuff that gives a horse their gait. They’re born with it.
An exciting note I’ll share here. In my travels doing “Therapy For Therapy Horses” clinics, I have several times helped what folks call non-gaiting breed horses discover they could indeed gait. Arabian and Quarter horses to name the breeds. I wrote a fun blog post about one of those fun times, “Lilly’s Surprise.”
And each time we had this experience, I only knew the horse a few hours, and their owner was riding in their regular tack, all I did was talk them through it.
So there you have it. A gaited horse is no different in what it needs than any other horse.
They need love, respect, honor and a trusting rider who cares. Sit your horse, relax and say, “Gait please,” and watch the world glide by. ~ Gitty Up ~ Dutch.