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
If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse (or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help):
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Why Should You Post At All? Logo

Ask Julie Goodnight: Why Should You Post at All?

Question: Last month I asked about whether all riders should know how to post on the correct diagonal. Now it seems the question has changed to “should Western riders know how to post at all?” Can you help refine our riding group’s ongoing debate?

Answer: Sharon, In every horsemanship clinic I teach, I start the mounted session by assessing all the riders in terms of their control, their riding position and skill and their authority over the horse. To do this, I put them through some regulated paces that involve changes of gaits and changes of direction. During this process I am watching the riders and their horses to try and figure out what are the most pressing things that need improvement and that will guide what I have each individual rider work on. As I make this assessment, I always ask for regular trot, slow trot, sitting trot and posting trot, specifically to see how much ability the rider has.

To me, it makes no difference whatsoever whether you ride English or Western; if you are riding the long trot you should be able to post and posting is a very fundamental skill. If your horse is so incredibly smooth gaited that you can comfortably sit the extended trot, then you are very lucky and probably a very good rider. But I ask for everyone to post the trot at some point to see if someone doesn’t know how to do it or uses poor technique (posting off the stirrup instead of off the thigh). Before the end of the day, they will learn how to post because it is an important skill for a rider and it would be silly to think that Western riders don’t need this skill.

Think about it, if you had 20 miles of fence line to ride today, would you do it at the sitting trot? When you need to cover ground on a horse over long distances, the long trot is the most efficient gait to ride and posting is easiest for both you and your horse. Besides, posting is a fundamental skill and a building block for more advanced skills—you wouldn’t want to leave a block out of your foundation.

So why don’t Western riders post in competition? Well, if you are showing at the long trot it is probably in some sort of pleasure class and if you are being judged on how easy and pleasurable your horse is to ride, you want to make him look smooth. If you are being judged on how great a rider you are, then sitting the long trot shows a lot of skill. In some cases posting in a Western competition is prohibited by the rules or dictated by the class procedures. In other cases, like versatility ranch horse competitions, you are allowed to post but in doing so, it may appear to the judge that your horse is so ungodly rough gaited that you couldn’t possibly sit the trot.

Anywhere you go where there are Western riders, you’ll see the riders posting– it is a pretty basic skill. Though they may not do it during an actual competition, it is a skill they need and use regularly. If you have the pleasure of riding a gaited horse that does not trot, you don’t really need to post and in fact may not be able to do it correctly on gaited horse since correct posting involves using the lift in the horse’s back as he goes into suspension in the trot. Riding a gaited horse can give a false reading on how skilled a rider is; they are definitely easier to ride (if they are well trained and well gaited). If the rider has never developed the skill to ride the natural trot or canter (the gaits with suspension) she/he may not have adequate skill to ride in difficult situations or even ride a naturally gaited horse; she may not have developed a strong leg position, adequate balance and the strength to hold on when the going gets rough.

I doubt you would find any accomplished riders anywhere, in any discipline, that do not know how to post. All riders should know how to sit the trot, post the trot and ride the standing trot and they each have their particular challenges. Learning to post seems tricky at first—it’s one of those skills that you think you’ll never figure out and then once you do, you can’t believe how easy it is. To me, it seems easier for people to learn the posting trot than the sitting trot (unless they are on an incredibly smooth horse).

Enjoy the ride,

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician

Riding Skills: Refine Your Posting Skills Logo

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: Julie,

Could you elaborate more on what you mean regarding the difference between posting “from the stirrup” and posting from the thigh? I’ve only started riding English this year (western prior). I’m enjoying improving my riding and learning these skills…however, the tendency seems to be to tell people to focus so much on the dropped heel and still lower leg, that no one tells you what NOT to do with the heel/stirrup. I’ve generally ‘got it,’ and am improving with practice, but I would love to weave this bit of knowledge into the ‘foundation’ of my learning. Thanks!

Answer: Good question! And one that I have gotten frequently—what does it mean to post correctly? It involves several things: using the lift in the horse’s back to initiate your rise, rolling onto your thighs instead of pushing on the stirrup, lengthening your lower leg as you ride and sitting all the way back down on the saddle in perfect rhythm to rise on the next beat. I’ll break these skills down just a little bit and hopefully it will help you refine your posting skills.

First, remember the horse sets the rhythm and the lift in his back as his feet come off the ground is what should thrust you up and forward in the rising portion of your post. It is a motion similar to bouncing your bottom on a trampoline and then bouncing up to your feet; as you sit down on his back, it springs you up and out of the saddle in a controlled motion. However, do not come too high out of the saddle when you are posting; keep your seat as low as possible and put as little effort as you can into posting, leaving most of the work to the horse (as he lifts you up with each stride).

As you rise into a standing position, your knees and thighs will actually roll in just a little, “hugging” your horse with your thighs, as your lower leg stretches back and your heel stretches down—your leg actually lengthens as you rise, but your knees should stay in the same spot on the saddle. The weight that was on your seat is shifted to your thighs, not the stirrup. If you push up into the post incorrectly by pushing on the stirrup, your knee straightens and stiffens and your heel comes up and your legs shortens as you rise. If you post off the stirrup instead of off your legs, your center of gravity becomes disconnected from the horse’s and your balance and security in the saddle is impaired. To perfect the correct leg position, spend lots of time posting without stirrups and riding the trot standing in the stirrups—when this becomes easy and balanced, you will be riding off your thigh not the stirrup.

As you come back down into the saddle at the end of each beat of the post, make sure you sit all the way back into the saddle, fully on your seat, so that you can spring back up again off the lift in the horse’s back. Using the horse’s timing and rhythm is a critical part of posting. If you are still getting extra bounces as you post, it is because your rhythm is slightly off and you are sitting as his back is already lifting, so you get an extra bounce. Always begin the trot sitting so that you can feel the 1-2-1-2 rhythm and begin your posting when you feel the horse lift you. Additionally, if you know your diagonals, you should always begin posting on the correct diagonal—sit a few beats, feel the correct diagonal (when your outside hip lifts is when you go up). There are some articles on my website about posting diagonals and we have done an episode of Horse Master on feeling the correct diagonal.

That’s the skinny on posting. It’s a good skill to have and just like all riding skills, you can continually refine it so that you get better and better. There are many great exercises that will help with your posting, balance and leg position in Volume 3 of my riding series, Perfect Practice. There is an arena pocket guide for the exercises as well, that will help you and your friends work through the exercises while on your horse.


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