Buying A Gaited Horse Logo

Ask Julie Goodnight:
What to look for in a gaited horse…

Question: Hello Julie,

I am looking at buying a Tennessee Walker. With my current horse, I am finding it a challenge to post. I’m 48 years old. I purchased your DVDs and they were helpful, but I’m just not really comfortable with posting and like the idea of a smooth ride on a gaited horse. I have heard you don’t have to post with a gaited horse, do you think I would be happier with a gaited horse? Anything I should consider? Any help would be appreciated.

Answer: Dear Regina,

The popularity of gaited horses has drastically increased lately. There seems to be a correlation of interest along with the age of the largest recreational riding market: the Baby Boomers. At 51 years old, I am at the very bottom of this generation and beginning to feel the normal aches and pains of growing older. Thankfully, I am also benefiting from the wisdom and experience that comes with the territory and I wouldn’t trade that for a younger body (as long as there’s a plentiful supply of CosaminASU)!

Naturally as we age, we experience the back aches and joint pain that comes with the territory and the appeal of a gaited horse is that he is often smoother than a regular horse and his movements have little suspension (which occurs when all four of the horse’s feet come off the ground at the same time, like in the trot and canter); that’s why you don’t have to post. Also, many people are getting into riding for the first time at this age, or coming back to riding after several decades or more and the gaited horse can be easier to ride because the gaits may be smoother and the horses are often narrower, which also increases comfort for the rider.

Gaited horses come in all shapes, sizes and colors and there are a variety of breeds with varying abilities and temperaments. The Tennessee Walker, Missouri Foxtrotter and Saddlebred are perhaps the most well known gaited breeds, but with the increased popularity of the “novelty” breeds today, we have many other gaited breeds to choose from such as Peruvian Paso, Paso Fino, Mountain Horses (Kentucky and Rocky Mountain), Icelandics, Mangalarga Marchador, and others. Each breed is distinct for its size, temperament and purpose, so it is worthwhile investigating your various options to see what the best fit is for you.

Some things to consider: First, just like naturally gaited horses, some are smooth gaited and some are not; there is not a guarantee that all gaited horses are smooth. I have ridden gaited horses that are just as rough as a regular horse and I have ridden regular horses that are as easy as the smoothest gaited horse. But in general, gaited horses will be smoother.

Also, just because a horse is bred to be gaited doesn’t mean that he is “set” in his gaits; it does not come automatically to all gaited horses. To some horses it is more natural than others and some will need professional training to get the horse to gait steadily and correctly. Sometimes the horse has to be supported by the rider to maintain his gait and that requires a certain level of skill, knowledge and effort on the part of the rider. It is best to find a horse that is naturally set in his gaits and will maintain them without the aid of the rider or need help from a trainer.

It can be a challenge to find a mature, well-trained gaited mount. I have searched for gaited horses for my horse sales program, knowing that many of my clientele would prefer a gaited horse. Since my promise is to have only mature, safe and reliable horses that are great for trail and arena, and for any level of rider, I’ve noticed that because of their size and popularity it can be difficult to find one that meets all my criteria. That said, I recently had a gaited horse in my program that was a jewel to ride. He was smooth and well trained, very experienced and fun to ride around the ranch. There are great horses like that out there—just be sure to test ride a few so you know the difference and can feel a great smooth and reliable ride. I prefer horses that are mature, well-trained and have ‘been there and done that.’ Regardless of whether it’s a gaited horse or not, I’d hate to see you make the mistake of buying a young green horse.

If your interests lie entirely in going down the trail or even endurance, it is hard to beat a gaited horse that is set in his gaits, well-trained and well-tempered. My preference would be either a Foxtrotter or a Mountain Horse. I like their size and temperament a lot. Also, there is a line of Tennessee Walkers that have been bred in Wyoming exclusively for trail (no show blood lines). I have worked with a few of these horses and they are awesome.

A side note on posting…. Posting can be one of the most challenging things to learn in riding, but once you get it, posting is really easy. Remember you have to use the motion of the horse to push you up and out of the saddle—like you are bouncing your bottom on a trampoline. Once you get the movement and the rhythm, it should be fairly effortless.

If you are interested in gaited horses, I would recommend a clinician named Elizabeth Graves She is a renowned expert on all gaited breeds and her approach is very holistic and humane; if you have a chance to see her at a clinic or an expo, you’ll be glad you did. It is by no means unique to the gaited breeds, but there are many gaited trainers that employ harsh ”old-school” techniques to get the gaited movements that became popular in the show ring.
Good luck in your search and I hope you find your dream horse!

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician
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Safety Concerns: Rearing Causes Death Of Rider Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: Dear Julie

My cousin, who hadn’t been around horses much, bought a used 20yr. old Tennessee Walker, supposedly a calm, old gelding. My other cousin, who’s been around horses and was in 4H said he’d been starting to lift his front feet. Supposedly she and a friend were coming up a slight hill when he reared and she fell off and broke her neck, instantly killing her. Horses are big animals and not warm and fuzzy friendly, I love you like a dog pets. I believe there was a combination of factors: inexperience, lack of paying attention, and the wrong breed. I’ve seen footage of Tennessees moving and they do lift their front legs very high…Yeesh. I’d’ve never bought one.

My husband says he would’ve stayed on, but would never have let me ride him. How do you stay on a rearing horse, like Roy Rogers and Trigger? Can you train a horse not to rear?

The people who sold him to her said he was, of course well mannered. How can you tell? The first 2 horses she had were Arabians and she had to give them to my other cousin. They were high strung.

I realize there’s risk in just driving, but at least I’ve taken lessons. I saw your clinic in 2003 at the Equine affaire in Columbus, Ohio, and told you you’d shown me more in 1/2 an hour than I’d learned in 4 years. You had.

But I still feel she was taken by the used horse dealer, if you know what I mean. How do you keep from being taken, how do you stay on or prevent a rearing? And is it true that some breeds really are patient and pretty unspookable? All the breeders say theirs is the best and most ‘versatile’.
Sorry for the long letter. Thanks for your precious time. I wish I could afford to take lessons from you.

God Bless,
Julia Grauel, Cleveland Ohio

Answer: Julia,

What a tragic story and I am sorry for the loss your family has suffered. Rearing is indeed one of the most dangerous behaviors of horses. When left on their own, horses will rarely turn over on themselves, but when a human interferes, it is very easy for the horse to lose his balance and fall over, and that is what makes rearing so dangerous.

When a horse rears, you should instantly reach forward with both arms and grab around his neck like you are hugging him. This will keep your weight forward, keep you balanced on the horse and prevent you from pulling back on the reins and causing him to lose his balance. Some horses seem to have more tendencies to rear than others but it is an individual tendency not a breed characteristic. It has a lot to do with how they have been trained, their temperament and their general inclination (just like some horses tend to buck more than others, some tend to kick more than others, etc.).

There are several Q&As on my website about rearing. Basically it is caused by a refusal to move forward or when forward movement is inhibited. Fear, pain, obstinance or poor riding can instigate rearing. Who knows what caused your cousin’s horse to rear; we’ll never know the answer to that. But she probably did not have the riding skill necessary to be riding this horse. Horses can certainly be trained not to rear, just as easily as they can be trained to rear. The solution to rearing is always to move the horse forward; it is ineffective and cruel to hit the horse in the head for rearing, which a lot of old-timers will tell you to do.

I don’t think anyone should blame this tragic incident on a breed. Within any breed, you can find individuals that are prone to rear. While it is certainly true that some breeds are calmer, more docile and cold-blooded (insensitive) than others, you’ll always find horses with both good and bad qualities within each breed. Tennessee Walkers do tend to be on the hot-blooded side but there are many TWs used for trail riding with a great deal of success.

The only way to truly evaluate a horse’s training and temperament before purchasing is to be around him and ride him in several different settings. I always encourage people to look at a horse at least three times before purchasing and at least one of those visits should be unannounced, so that you can see the horse in it’s normal state. You should work with the horse on the ground, groom him, handle his feet, trailer load, etc. You should ride him in the arena and on the trail and in any situation that you might be subjecting him to, such as working cattle. Ideally, you should buy a horse on a two-week trial period, but the seller is not always willing to do that. Another idea would be to have an experienced trainer look at the horse and give you his/her impressions. Usually you can pay their normal lesson fee and get them to go check out the horse and ride him. A person that has had experience with hundreds of horses can generally get a pretty good feel for a horse in one session.

Seeing a horrible accident like this and losing a loved one can certainly lead to emotional trauma. It would be perfectly normal for someone who has witnessed such a thing to develop a fear of horses and riding. There is an article on my website called “Coping with a Fear of Horses,” that may be helpful for you or anyone else that has been traumatized by this incident.

Again, I am so sorry for your loss. Riding is certainly a risky sport but I fully believe that having a safe horse, good riding skills and taking all safety precautions, such as wearing a helmet, will help prevent terrible incidents such as this.

Kindest regards,
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

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