Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gaited Insanity

This goes in the all-too-large category of Crazy Things People Do To Horses.

John is a gaited horse. This means he has a smooth 4-beat 'walk' that can accelerate to extremely high speeds, and he has this in common with several other horse breeds who vary their type of gait but are all smooth to ride: Icelandic Ponies, Tennessee Walking Horses (the most tormented breed I know), Rocky Mountain Horses, and John's designer breed (made up out of a political controversy among the Rockies): Kentucky Mountain Horse, etc.

Take a look at the horse in the photo, with a blue ribbon awarding what has been done to it. Look at the shoes on the front feet, look at the bit, head carriage, etc.

Welcome to the world of gaited insanity. People like the gaits, but they also want MORE: a head flung up to the stars, feet flailing in a similar direction, hollow backs, tails sticking straight up in the air so the hair waves like a fan out behind.

Here's a horse being offered for sale. How comfortable is he? This is one of about six sale photos with the same exact head carriage in all: "I hurt!". I have removed the evil expression on the rider's face.

Tennessee Walking Horses have a huge fan base and their shows have been regulated somewhat of late, but you still see many people who think this kind of shoeing is really neat:

This young lassie is all dressed up & ready to show her pretty horse, whose tail did not come from the hand of God looking like that. Check out the angle of the horse's front feet in those kegs. And then calculate the number of years or months until breakdown of the joints & ligaments.

Here's what wins, obviously:

My friend Kathy calls this type of competition "Evil Old Men Slumped Over in Tailcoats". But sometimes they aren't men...

All this insanity around gaiting makes it strange to own a gaited horse and be relatively clueless, as I am. Everyone and I mean almost everyone claims you must have a long shanked bit. You will find the religious belief that shanks are required. Are they? I really don't know but I doubt it.

Then there's the "gaited horse saddle" industry. There may be something to this, in that gaited horses need a lot of shoulder room so a slightly back-placed or Y-rigged saddle may be helpful. But fortunes are being made off people who think they can't get on their gaited cuties without a special saddle. Embarrassing story about self omitted here.

This high-headed look and upraised foreleg are almost a trademark of gaited horse competitions in the U.S. Here in Minnesota there's a group called Minnesota Walking Horse Association and they are promoting natural standards for especially Tennessee Walkers. It's refreshing to see them out and about, or at a show, with pretty horses just gaiting, flowing along, not flailing or grimacing...They go on group horse camping trips too, and I went along on one - what a completely fun group. They love their TWH's and let them just be.

I am very confused about what John should be doing. Everything from bit to contact to head carriage baffles me. Gaited horses don't just gait without some training and that training has to be kept up, but the contradictory schools of thought on how to do this could make your head explode.

Right now he goes best with a light contact on a snaffle bit, and when he is really warmed up, he gaits smoothly holding his head on a curved neck like a little palomino dragon; I can let the contact drop and he still keeps going in this frame. For awhile. Then will get pacey (two legs on the same side moving in unison in the same direction, very bumpy to ride) for a bit, then self-correct. He gaits best out on the trail.

Here's a good example of a happy gaited horse, outside and it looks like a canter, with a soft rider and no head constraint:

That's my goal. Not exactly sure how to get there.


Mrs Mom said...

1st- those pix? Make me feel physically SICK. Literally. I have brought back a couple of horses from that abuse but it was a long, hard job, that required extra care and more frequent trimming.

2nd- A well bred, well balanced horse that is BRED to gait, will. Watch young stock out in the field- babies gait from birth. Can you enhance those gaits while you are on their backs? Yes- through balanced riding that encourages collection. You don't need fancy saddles, long shanked bits or that totally crappy shoeing, or even "longer toes" left in a standard trim. (Longer toes get in the way, and contribute to lameness and bad gaits.)

I have ridden dozens of gaited horses- many of them Paso Finos (which I love,) bareback in a halter (or the traditional training headstall, known as a "jacquima". I know I spelled that wrong! But it looks like a hand made version of a bosal crossed with a halter, crossed with a side pull.) Did those horses gait? Oh YES they did! It was amazing!!

John will show you HIS best way to gait. Watch him in the feild. See where he carries his head when he moves and plays. Be a soft rider, and listen to your horse. You'll get there!! John is a wicked nice fellow, and I am betting he will be able to show you tons. In fact, you probably already know more than you think you do! ;)

Grey Horse Matters said...

I don't know much about gaited horses, except that what I see in those pictures is absolutely cruel. From the shoeing to the tail dock to the hollow back and stargazing heads, they have all been treated abusively. Do these people profess to like their horses? I'd say if they do they are really a misguided bunch. It's good to hear that there are some who own gaited horses that are going the natural route,I hope it catches on.
As for training John,I'm sure you will figure it all out in your own good time, he is a lovely horse and he'll help you get where you want to be.

3pennyjane said...

The Big Lick thing is nauseating; the best I can say is that anything that makes us reevaluate what we ourselves are doing is useful.

My go-to guru on all things equine, Jessica Jahiel, has said in the past that she's not an expert on gaited horses, but she's got a short myths-busted article that does address a few of the tack questions. The bottom line appears to be that any mechanism that forces a horse into form, be it stacked shoes or a heavy martingale--or, for that matter, that forces a rider into the appropriate position rather than helping her hold the proper placement--is going to do a disservice to both halves of the partnership in the long run.

jme said...

that just seems retarded to me. i admit i don't know much about gaited horses, but i have known a few who were no longer competing but all had permanent physical and psychological issues (one had sores on his pasterns which would never heal, weaved and stall-walked continually and used to tear out huge chunks of his own flesh with his own teeth.) that kind of 'training' and lifestyle has to take a toll on any horse.

i'm happy to know there are people 'going natural' in the gaited world, and exercising a little common sense. like i said, i'm no expert on gaited riding, but i think you're on the right track with your guy (he's adorable!) and it's clear you really care. good luck to you both :-)

Pony Girl said...

As a youth I Loved Walkers (never rode one or knew one in person, just liked them) but I went for the "natural" ones. I have never understood the big shoes. But similar things happen in the saddle seat industry, with Saddlebreds, Morgans, even Arabs/half-Arabs. The more action, the better. I don't follow the Walker industry anymore, so I have no idea if they have worked to better regulate or outlaw the abuse, soring, chains, etc. I still can't imagine any person who respects and loves horses would even consider putting an animal through that kind of torture and still sleep at night, even for the sake of competition. But maybe I am naive.
I rode a gaited Tennesee Walker last year for the first time, a simple looking flat shod horse trail horse. It was an amazing ride, very smooth. I was hooked. I know a lot of people who ride Walkers as trail horses, or have them on their dude strings for guests to ride. They don't need anything special to gait, most of them ride in regular curb bits and western saddles.
Anyway, good post. Have a great weekend!

Flying Lily said...

Mrs. Mom and GreyHorse: You have great advice about letting John show me the way. I've gotten away from this with worrying and collecting contradictory information. I am going to return to this basic truth and listen to him. Thank you.

3Penny: That Jessica Jahiel article on gaited myth-busting is absolutely wonderful. I am going to send the link to several friends.

JME: I feel so sorry for that horse you describe! whose issues are so obviously a human creation, yet probably can't be undone all the way, ever. You are right, I love this horse more than words can say and I am definitely committed to not messing him up if at all possible. :) Wish me luck.

Flying Lily said...

PonyGirl: Walkers are so sweet & pretty. And yes the saddlebred shows - OMG. TWH shows are being regulated and last year a big one in Kentucky got raided by inspectors and almost all the competitors went home overnight. There is a special place in Hell, if there is a Hell at all, for people who do things like this to horses.

3pennyjane said...

Aaaand we have the sleazy political connection. Sometimes you want to reboot the human race and start from scratch.

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

What goes on in the Walker world makes me so sick. Especially because these people claim to love horses. The big shoe pad and soring is despicable.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I always wondered how much of those gaits is natural and how much comes from training. Some of those pics are nauseating.

IceRyder said...

Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the public.

I have Icelandic Horses and find that the "show" world is not that great for Icelandics. Lots of forced frames, gait manipulation, etc.

Please see my blog. If you need any picture or video of the Icelandics to put on your blog, let me know.

IceRyder said...

You said: "I am very confused about what John should be doing. Everything from bit to contact to head carriage baffles me."

Do you have a video of what John does?

If we can identify his natural gait, we have a place to start.

Here's the gait chart; perhaps he's a little diagonal, maybe a little lateral, or maybe square!

Funder said...

The next to last picture - is that guy actually sitting ON the horse's kidneys?

JME - I will bet you money the horse you knew was sored. Words can't express how angry that makes me.

Nuzzling Muzzles - I promise you, there are real natural gaits out there. Like anything else, they can be ruined by abusive hands or enhanced by good training.

Anyway, hi flying lilies! I'm a TWH blogger too, and I promise I don't do anything like that. I've seen it done, and it really does happen, but I'm not in horses to win anything.

Jenn said...

It's amazing the difference between the "fancy show" walkers and the pleasure horses.

I used to ride with people who rode walkers and I was envious of the ride they had! Here I was posting like mad to keep up with them, wearing myself and my horse out, and they were just sitting there, smoothly riding along and their horses with hauling butt! They were riding luxury Cadillacs and I was on an old Chevy pickup with busted shocks. :P

Their horses were HAPPY and natural and looked nothing like the poor show horses in these pictures. All of them were ridden in snaffle bits and western saddles.

Flying Lily said...

3PennyJane: That link shocked the daylights out of me! What stinking corruption. If I'd read that in a novel I would have said 'implausible plot line"; and that story is reality! Gah.

Jennifer: Yes, this is an example of where love of the animal ends and lust for ribbons and $$ takes over & runs.

NuzzlingMuzzles: Me too.

IceRyder: Icelandic show photos are so shocking! To the high head and hardware store in the mouth, we can add big rider on small horse in many cases. I love your blog and found the gait info extremely interesting; will try to post some video of John's motion asap. Planning to link to your blog if that's OK.

Funder: Yes, kidney riding, new sport. Thanks for visiting and I am going to link to your blog. TWH's are terrific horses; shame what they have been put through.

Jenn: That is the kind of horse I hope John can be - a trail 'Cadillac' !! and happy too...

IceRyder said...

"IceRyder: Icelandic show photos are so shocking! To the high head and hardware store in the mouth, we can add big rider on small horse in many cases. I love your blog and found the gait info extremely interesting; will try to post some video of John's motion asap. Planning to link to your blog if that's OK."

Yes, absolutely. We study gaits on the gaitedhorse list and use the gaited-horse blog to view different videos of gaits.

did you see the gait chart:

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

When I was a kid, I used to stare at pictures of the big lick horses and think that was the coolest thing ever. And then I grew up and found out what they did to those horses to make them do that. It turned me off permanently. Not from the gaited horses, but from the showing end of it.

I'm glad to hear that more and more people are enjoying their gaited horses for their natural abilities. There was a gaited horse trail club in AZ that I heard was a lot of fun and they were ala naturale too.

cdncowgirl said...

I'll admit that when I was little I thought the flashy look of the big lick horses was pretty. Then I found out HOW they got that look. It made me sick. Still does.

The property owner where I board has 2 TWH (had 3 but the mare got badly injured and is a whole other story). His horses are kept natural. He is not a very 'trained' rider. Both horses gait naturally, under saddle and out in the pasture.

kbryan said...

I hate those damn shoes & wish they'd be outlawed. It is no longer about the a true "horse and rider" experience when people start doing that crap. I would much more enjoy the natural beauty of a horse and rider with all the artificial and painful stuff they do to the poor horse. Your and your horse will be beautiful together.

OnTheBit said...

I am no gaited expert, but I will tell you this. When my horse got hurt and could no longer be ridden I didn't want to ride at all. My heart was broken is the best way to put it. After a little bit of time my mind and body wanted to ride again, but my heart didn't. I couldn't face riding Dressage again without my horse. I wanted to ride though so I saw an ad for lessons on Saddlebreds and figured what da hell. Why not? And let me tell you I am glad I did because it was FUN!!! Really fun. There is nothing in the world that feels like a gaited horse flying down the long side. You feel like you are floating on air...even a good medium canter has a slower feel then a gaited trot. Now, having a dressage background I found the switch pretty easy. The Saddlebreds went in a double bridle (not that I have a ton of experience with that, but I know enough to use the snaffle and barely touch the curb) and it was a similar idea. Rock the horse back onto their hind end, be steady up front and soften. The way the woman taught me (not sure if this is right or not) was get the impulsion first, like in dressage. She did it more with figures and transitions in the gait rather then the good old walk/trot/canter transitions. There was a lot of "make the box smaller" stuff...almost like a precursor to turns on the haunches. Once the horse was rocked back the rest of the lesson was often just really making the horse fly up the long side at the trot and the canter and then softening with your fingers on the short side to get the correct head placement. That was the toughest part for me. The horses neck had to be SOOOOO short. I called it the candy cane carriage because thats what it felt like, a straight up and down of the neck with the face put straight down. I think that you just being you with John and training him the way you have been will get him to show off his natural gaits at somepoint. Sure, you can throw weighted shoes on (the saddlebreds I rode had them...but nothing like those pictures) and take the short cuts that way, but for the short time I rode gaited it seemed to be very similar to riding a dressage horse, there was just much more "Don't touch anything and sit there", which as you know pretty much never happens in dressage.

jäny stardust said...

i love your blog! i have horses too, and i find so many of the things you write being similar to my horselife! my horses know their names too ;)
hugs from sweden.

Abdul Mannan said...


Nice blog, pictures really awesome I like it, I have a horse but I don't know much about gaited horses, I have used Australian Saddles they are really comfortable and best in quality but , can any one send images of Portuguese saddle. I heared they are more comfortable and awesome. Thx in advance

david said...

Very nice picture i like it, i want information about a horses ,i want to buy horse and without proper information it is useless .should i consider Free online horse ad, i heard there i can find information.

Collin Kimple said...

So just stumbled on this article and i must say you cover a pretty huge spectrum of animals here that you have lumped together. Certainly your pictures of big lick walking horses look outrageously shod, I know very little about the TWH but no one can argue that a lot of cruel practices are still in use with these animals. American farrier journals ran a soreing series a couple years ago which is a great reference. Your horse with its head jacked up in the air looks like it could be any breed and when you zoom in its questionable if its even shod (looks barefoot to me) and certainly doesn't have a gaited package you feel this is representative of whatever point you are making? Finally you have what looks like an exceptional saddlebred making a victory pass at Louisville (circa late seventies early eighties), a more modern shot of a well put together morgan or saddlebred, and then an ancient picture of a gaited something-or-other. I can tell you that i've seen morgan and hackney foals that trot above level beside mom out in the field, morgans saddlebreds hackneys have been bred to do this job and many truly enjoy showing, i see a nice expression, ears foreward and nice foreward movement on your last three pictures. these horses look like healthy individuals and the pictures probably span 4 decades to further prove the point. Your idea of "gaited insanity" is ill conceived I feel, maybe you should educate yourself a little more before making these convictions. Finally I'd recommend you go to an A rated morgan show and see some of these horrors yourself, see a 20 year old packer who still puffs his chest out and trots his heart out for a little walk trot kid like he's in the roses in Oklahoma City, tell me about how miserable he is so I can laugh at you.

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