Help, My Horse Won’t Gait!

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506

Jazz, first started under saddle as seen here, typically offered a trot or broken trot when started.

The most common question I get asked is what to do with a horse that won’t gait. The term easy gaited horses can be a misnomer, as some horses do not make it easy at all, and others will never offer a step of anything other than the perfect gait. If it were as simple as having a horse read a manual, this article would not be necessary. Unfortunately horses can’t read, and even if they could they have their own ideas on what to do to keep us riders on our toes. Some take an act of congress to achieve any gait other than a hard pace or a jarring trot. It depends on several factors, and takes troubleshooting of sorts to determine what the issue is. The important thing to remember is: it happens sometimes, it just does.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506

Rain at Jumpstart Horse Trials with rider Lauren up.

When posting my controversial article about trotting the gaited horse, one person even went so far as to say they would trash the papers and sell the horse if it took a step of trot, which would be a waste. Here’s the thing – nearly all gaited horses are multi-gaited. This means they have the potential to offer every single range of gait that the different breeds are known for, including non-gaited horses. There are several things that can affect the gait – conformation, breed, training, saddle, bridle, and rider position.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506

CJ had a well established gait that did not vary.

Conformation can affect how the horse gaits. For instance, a short, upright shoulder and pasterns will make the gait stride shorter. A long, sloping shoulder and pasterns may make the horse have a longer, more sweeping stride. The angle of the hindquarter can either make the horse stride further under or take shorter strides behind. The horse’s breed will have different ideal conformation, which will make them lean towards one style or the other, having them more likely to runwalk versus saddle rack. However, this is not a one hundred percent guarantee, as other factors outside of this can affect how they gait.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506

When Rain was first started, with a very ill fitting saddle. She would not gait (surprise, surprise)

First and foremost is saddle fit. Like wearing shoes that are too big or too small – if the horse is focusing on an ill fitting saddle they will not be able to properly perform a gait. Too wide a saddle is just as bad as too narrow. The most important is scapular clearance; allowing the shoulder blades to clear the saddle without pinching. Experienced saddle fitters can help with this. I have found that it’s not necessarily whether the saddle is gaited or not, more that the saddle just has to fit. Gaited trees can work but my preferred saddle for training and trail riding is a dressage saddle.

If the saddle is determined to fit, next look at teeth and bitting. Another common question is what bit to use, and the answer is: it depends. These factors depend on a few things such as the horse’s mouth shape: do they have a low palette or a large tongue? It also can vary based on whether they go well in a snaffle or a curb. If the horse in constantly fussing with the bit, they will not be able to focus on the gait and may toss their heads, which will alter movement. A competent equine dentist should be used yearly or at their recommendation. Teeth constantly grow and erupt as the horse gets older. If not filed down, they can create sharp points that when the bit has pressure applied, will draw the soft flesh of the cheek into the point and will create pain. When these are removed, the pain will be removed as well.

The bit itself can vary. Walk into any tack store and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the choices involved. Single joint, double joint, straight bar, roller; there are different length and style shanks and weights of the bit itself. If the horse does not work well in one bit, it can be a good idea to try another style and see if it works. The best rule of thumb is the least amount of bit possible. Sure, a horse might go in a mouthpiece with a chainsaw mouthpiece and 12” shanks without killing the rider, but should it? The horse won’t have much tongue left by the end of it.

Around the farm, everything goes in a French link snaffle or a myler shanked bit. I’ve tried most of the fads over the years and I have an entire tack box filled with different style bits. The French link snaffle and the myler have become my go-to bits, as my mare has a very low palette and small mouth, which creates a nutcracker effect in the roof of her mouth when a single joint bit is used. She much prefers an oval lozenge in the middle and won’t mouth or duck behind the bit with it. The Myler has a similar style with less give – it has a shank to help collect a little further with just the tiniest communication between my hands and the horse’s mouth, which is perfect to show.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506

Rocket showing a wonder bit.

Another common bit is the wonder bit, which can offer a ton of different mouthpieces, but the most common one is a single joint. The bit is set on large rings with a shank off of it. This bit operates on the idea that as the shank has pressure applied, it moves the mouthpiece up the ring and applies pressure to the mouth and the poll. This will ask the horse to drop its head and put its nose in. I have showed many a horse in this bit successfully, and like most bits it is the rider’s hands as much as the bit itself. It wasn’t until I found Rain absolutely despised them that I changed over to the Myler. That doesn’t mean it is a bad bit – just that it didn’t work for that particular horse.

The most cost effective way to try multiple bits is to buy used. It is important make sure to clean them properly before use. If the bit doesn’t work, it’s easy to sell it on without losing a ton of money, or put it in reserve to try for another horse. Remember that horses are not machines as well. While frustrating, sometimes a horse will love a bit one day and hate a bit the next. It can depend on how their mouth is feeling that day – for instance a young horse will have changes frequently as teeth erupt and caps (baby teeth) fall out. Sometimes it can be an extremely frustrating venture.

If the horse is accepting the bit and not avoiding it, the next thing to look at is how the horse engages when working. The rider cannot sit like a bump on a log unless the horse is so well gaited it could do it in his sleep. Jolene, my chestnut mare was just like that. At one point I actually tried to teach her to trot and with her head in her chest and the reins slack on the buckle, she only gaited. I know the concept of training a horse to trot seems the opposite what the norm is, but I have done it before (see Trotting the Gaited Horse for more information). This mare was not one of those horses, which was completely fine.

The thing to keep in mind is how the horse is working and using its body. Frame and headset are things that people commonly use to describe how a horse holds its head, but it is so much more than that. The horse, just like a trotting horse, needs to be using its back end to push up to the bridle, which will in turn help them have the right headset.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506

If the horse has its head up and neck and back hollow, they will likely pace or step pace, as there is no engagement in the back end due to the hollowness of the back. The rider needs to ask the horse to move forward without going faster by holding their hands to steady the head and use the legs to ask them to step underneath themselves. They are too tight otherwise and it will make the body move laterally, creating that pace or stepped pace.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506A horse with their head too far down between their knees will likely trot or do a broken trot. This is because the nuchal ligament in the neck cannot be activated with the head that low. This creates the motion to trot, or if the ligament is somewhat activated, the broken trot or fox trot. In a broken trot, the diagonal pairs will step down a few moments apart. It can be just as smooth as a saddle rack. If the horse is destined for the show ring, however, it is not acceptable for the Rocky Mountain breed shows.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506The ideal headset will vary some between the breeds, so we will look at the Trail Pleasure Mountain Horse in this instance. Show Pleasure will have a higher headset and higher step, but the vast majority of people want a Trail Pleasure horse. The head should be well above the withers, with nose on the vertical or slightly above. Behind the vertical means the horse is avoiding the bit and may be more likely to bobble in the gait. The reins should not be too tight, but the rider should be able to feel the mouth. If the reins are too loose and the horse does not gait automatically, the horse will likely break into a pace or trot.

So, the horse has a fitting saddle, doesn’t mess with the bit… and still doesn’t gait. Don’t give up! Now it’s all about how to engage the hindquarters. There are several exercises that work to help the horse use its back end. One is rollbacks. No, I’m not talking about lowering prices at Wal-Mart – this involves gaiting, stopping the horse at a fence or wall, and then asking them to move into the wall and turn the other direction and gait off again. This is something used frequently in reining horses and reined cow horses, but we will use the exercise at a much slower pace. It’s not about trying to get the horse to take off out of the rollback – instead it is about having the horse learning to move weight onto its hind end to turn around or else it will hit its nose on the wall. The horse should stop right next to the wall, not far away from it or it can be lazy and turn on the forehand. Don’t allow the horse to get panicked and try and take off – this will defeat the purpose of the exercise. They need to move slowly out of the rollback and then go out into a gait. Any time the horse breaks into a pace or trot, rollback the other way. The rider should feel the horse move more on its back end and create a better, smoother gait.

If that doesn’t work, try finding a sweet spot in the gait. If the horse goes too fast or too slow, they may be more likely to not gait right. Each horse has a different sweet spot, so it is up to the rider to figure out what speed works best. Start at a walk and ask the horse to move up to the gait without letting them break into a trot or pace, and gradually add speed to see if the horse will start gaiting. Find the fastest speed they can work without breaking into a separate gait. If they break into a different gait then slow back down and see if that will bring them back. It’s not about taking the horse around at breakneck speeds – it’s all about what is comfortable for them and you.

If the horse drops its head and tries to trot, the rider can attempt a few things to get its head up. One is to bring both hands out to the side in a straight line to ask the head to lift. Another can be to lift one hand straight up, like pulling a carrot out of a hole. It should add enough tension that the horse feels it and brings the head up, but not so hard that the horse has its mouth ripped to pieces. This should lift the head and with leg pressure from the rider, help them move from a broken trot to a saddle rack.

Conversely, if the horse is stargazing with their head too high, the rider can lower their hands to the saddle and ask the horse to drop their head. Either problem could be due to the bit – make sure that is not too much bit or the wrong mouthpiece for the horse to use. By setting the rider’s hands on the horse’s neck or the base of the saddle, the horse will only pull against itself, not the rider who may miss the right point to release or hold on. When the horse drops the nose down, the slack will go into the reins and provide a release automatically if the hands are set on the neck.

Once the horse starts to gait properly, the rider should sit and allow the horse to gait properly without continual interference. If the horse gaits well on a stretch, allow them to walk to reward the horse for doing the right thing. If the horse stops gaiting and hollows out or trots, try one of the above techniques – either rollback, pick the head up or ask it to drop depending on what the horse does. If the horse starts gaiting again, allow him to gait without interfering. It can be a slow but rewarding process.

If none of these things work? Sell the horse and buy another. Just kidding, of course. There are other ways to help the horse, but it is all on an individual basis, one that videos need to be seen to identify what the horse and rider is doing. I am more than happy to help, just message me or send me an email and be ready to provide video – there is not much I can do by just telling me the horse won’t gait.

Help! My Horse Won't Gait. Having issues with a horse that may trot or pace? This article can help by providing different techniques for gaiting and cultivating it. Read more at http://www.singlefootfarms.com/blog/?p=506By ensuring the saddle fits, the horse is happy with the bit and the teeth are done, the rider is eliminating any possible discomfort that will keep the horse from gaiting properly. Then it is up to the rider to use a few of the above techniques – rollbacks, asking them to lift or drop the head, and the horse should start to gait properly. If not, having a gaited trainer or rider can also help the horse achieve that perfect, smooth gait. It’s all a matter of time and trial and error. Then, it is time to enjoy!

Equine Marketing 101 Part 4: Putting it All Together

The previous three articles illustrated why it was important to use good photos, how to take those photos, and how to add details and a description to catch the attention of the buyer. Now, it’s time to finish and put it all together. Here are few tips to add a bit of extra polish.

 

1.         Use a professional photographer.

The vast majority of photos used in the previous articles were all taken by amateur photographers with either a basic point and shoot camera or an iPhone, except for the final entry in quality in section 2. They capture the basics and translate well enough, but lack the quality of a professional photographer. Good professional photographers have an eye for angles and will create a higher quality image to use. This is especially helpful with action shots.

 

2.         Take your horse to a show to get breed or discipline specific photos.

The best way to prove your horse is prepared to show is take them to one! There are several different options depending on how well the horse is prepared. If a schooling show, opt to either go fully turned out for the show ring or at least wear a nice shirt or polo that is tucked in and pants that fit the discipline shown.

 

 

3.         Create a mock show.

If transportation or budget issues prevent the horse being shown, the next best thing is to create a mock show environment. Find a ring to ride in, dress in show clothes, and groom the horse to a spit shine. It can be easier to do a photo session this way since there are no other riders to interfere or cover up the horse and rider pair as the photo is taken.

 

 

4.      Show off those skills!

If the horse isn’t a show horse or isn’t being marketed it as one, show what it can do. Trail horse? Show it crossing water or navigating a trail. Just make sure the rider’s dress is appropriate and withhold any adult beverages from the photograph.

It is important to create a truthful resume for the horse and provide photos that clearly illustrate what it can do.

 

5.       Videos are a great asset… If done correctly.

Most buyers will want to see the horse at the walk, trot or gait, and canter. If the horse isn’t under saddle, in a round pen or on a longe line will work as well. Follow the suggestions from part II and make sure the horse is clean, the equipment fits properly, and get help from others. Keep the camera steady or use a tripod to prevent viewers from getting motion sickness. Videos are especially useful if the buyer is coming from out of state, so they can rule out horses without racking up frequent flyer miles.

 

6.       Be prepared for questions, and lots of them.
Remember, people may still ask for more photos or information no matter what you do. If you provide only under saddle photos, they may want conformation photos and vice versa. They may want specific video, or current photos, especially with young horses. It is best to smile and get the images requested unless the request is unreasonable, remembering not to sacrifice quality for speed. If the horse is covered in mud and burs, it does no good to snap front and back photos of the horse to suit a buyer.

 

7.         Be prepared for people to lowball the price listed, and for tire kickers.

It’s a part of life, and it will never end. People are willing to take a chance and ask, because one will never know unless they try. Either counteroffer or politely decline. One of the worst things a seller can do is go on a tirade or rant about people wasting time – it is a huge turnoff for buyers and the equine world is a much smaller place than one might think. Being professional in responses will help immensely, especially if planning to sell more than one horse in a lifetime.

 

In Concusion

In the end, selling a horse can be frustrating, or it can be rewarding. Remember that photos are the first thing people see and can either intrigue a buyer, or turn them off to the horse. Ads need to be descriptive (but not too lengthy), spell checked (while still remembering that spell check isn’t always right), and price is important to list. Following the guidelines listed in these articles will help ensure an ad will not end up gracing the pages of satire blogs across the internet. It will also help garner more interest and may help selling the horse more easily.

For more information on how to (and how not to) video a horse, stay tuned for the next article!

 

 

 

Equine Marketing 101 Part 3: Keeping the Buyer’s Attention

There are thousands of horse advertisements scattered across a vast array of equine hosting websites, making it infinitely easier for the buyer and seller to be matched up. With any luck the photo has attracted the buyer’s interest; they have clicked on the ad to see more about the horse. Now it’s time to keep the buyer’s attention. Think of a horse’s ad as a resume providing credentials on what it has accomplished – if one sent out a resume full of spelling errors and only providing minimal information on tasks accomplished chances are it would quickly be dropped into the trash bin. It’s not much different in the equine world with one difference; social media means thousands of people see the ad and can critique to their heart’s desire.

Online equine ads have become a form of entertainment with entire websites dedicated to the laughable content of misunderstood and poorly written ads. The question is this: why are these ads so bad? Why is so much information lost in translation? There are many factors; similar to what happens when a photo goes wrong. Here are a few tips to help troubleshoot and ensure an ad doesn’t end up gracing the pages of those satirical websites.

1.         Always use spell check, but don’t always trust it!

For those who are spelling challenged, there is no better way to double check than the trusty red lines that draw under misspelled words. Unfortunately, spellcheck in programs like Word can also be the bane of an ad-writer’s existence. Autocorrect can be a source of extreme frustration, as quite a few equine words do not grace the pages of the typical spellcheck database. Common words such as coggins, gait, filly, and Thoroughbred are some of the most oft misspelled words. For instance, this phrase:

“Thirteen-month-old red roan Quarter Horse filly; very well bred with nice conformation. Has started to work on longe line training and has three great gaits. Stands for vet and farrier, up to date on shots and current coggins.”

Quickly becomes:

“Thirteen-month-old red roam Quarter Horse philly, very well bread. Has nice confirmation and has started two work on lounge line training and has three grate gates. Stands for vet and Ferrier, up too date on shots and current coffins.”

This ad has efficiently removed any understanding and gone from somewhat acceptable to laughable and incoherent. When in doubt, look the words up and re-read the ad. Don’t write it in a hurry and immediately post it. Instead opt to have a knowledgeable friend edit the ad and make sure it all makes sense.

2.         Punctuation and capitalization is your friend.

Nothing is as confusing as an ad that has no punctuation. Using the example above, even with all the words spelled correctly, the ad loses all coherence.

“thirteen month old red roan quarter horse filly very well bred with nice conformation has started to work on longe line training and has three great gaits stands for vet and farrier up to date on shots and current coggins”

 

Then add in the poor spelling auto-correct provided, and the ad completely fails to make sense.

“thirteen month old red roam quarter horse philly very well bread has nice confirmation and has started two work on lounge line training and has three grate gates stands for vet and ferrier up too date on shots and current coffins”

Those words begin to blur together and it is difficult to discern what the buyer is even looking for at that point. This is where a knowledgeable equine friend becomes a great resource, to look and make sure that ad makes sense and helps the buyer realize what they are looking at.

3.         Provide all the details you can think of.

Buyers want to know how old the horse is, what breed, color, gender, and height.  When they go looking for a horse they will generally have a shopping list of what they are looking for such as a 16.3 hand bay 5-7 year old Thoroughbred gelding. That means they need to rule out things that don’t fit that criteria and that is where ad details come into play.

Let’s start with a basic ad.

“Horse for sale, rides good.”

Doesn’t provide much information, does it? Believe it or not, ads show up online just like this. This could be a Quarter Horse, an Arabian, or a unicorn – you never know. It could use just a bit of elaboration.  If the buyer is looking for that 16.3 Thoroughbred gelding, they could inquire and find out the horse for sale is a 2-year-old chestnut Tennessee Walking horse filly – not exactly what they want. It is not very time efficient to email every ad and find the plethora of different horses that are available in the world as it is a waste of time for the buyer and the seller.

Let’s try this again, adding in some of the details requested above.

“7-year-old 15 hand palomino overo Paint mare for sale.”

Adds a lot more information and tells the buyer that they need to look elsewhere, as this is certainly not a Thoroughbred gelding.

4.         Price the horse!

Buyers want to know if the horse is in their budget or not. There is no point in finding all the details they need to know about the horse and seeing it fits the criteria they want, only to realize the horse is $5,000 over their budget because the ad said, “inquire for price”. Some people don’t want to include price, but unless the horse is selling in the five to six digit range it is generally unnecessary to leave it as private treaty. Instead, save the buyer and the seller time and list the price.

 

5.         Hands are measured in 4” increments.

There is no 14.5 or 15.6 hand horse. I promise. The measurement goes as such:  14.0, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3, 15.0, 15.1, etc. Time and time again people will laugh if someone lists a horse as 15.5. Along that line, please measure the horse – there are tools out there specifically for measuring them. If someone is looking for a 16.2 horse, the ad lists it as such, and they go out and see a horse that is not an inch over 13.3 they will typically be rather unhappy.

 

5.         Be honest.

Not every horse is going to be the next Olympic hopeful, and that is okay. It is important to make sure to highlight the good but don’t over exaggerate.  If selling a 23 year old long backed, behind at the knees gelding with legs that look they are going to buckle at any moment with navicular and minor arthritis, chances are it is not going to be an FEI level dressage prospect, but it might be an excellent children’s mount if it has a suitable temperament.

6.         Please, be honest.

Yes, it’s there twice, but it’s an important bullet! If the horse is green broke and bucked off its three previous riders and the cowboy down the road, it’s not a kid’s horse, and chances are likely it won’t become one. Remember that if the horse is listed as something it’s not, it is more likely than not that the buyer will realize the horse is misrepresented and the seller may be legally liable. Caveat Emptor, or buyer beware, is important but doesn’t give the seller a right to pad the horse’s resume and the buyer gets hurt because they believe they are buying a finished reiner instead of the horse who has had two rides three years ago. Don’t go through the heartbreak and make sure to only list things that the horse has actually done.

7.         List the things the horse has accomplished or has performed.

If the horse placed top ten at AQHA Congress, now is the time to list that. This is what is going to tell the buyer if they want to click that button to email the seller or go to the next horse. This is where the seller wants to explain exactly why the horse is priced as it is. Show results provide a very tangible list of accomplishments, providing how a third party person felt about the horse on that particular day or set of days. If it is a trail horse, include the obstacles the horse has crossed and the level the seller feels it is performing at. This part of the description is the “job duties performed” part of the resume.

Using the paint mare as the example, let’s expound on the original set of details.

“7-year-old 15 hand palomino overo Paint mare for sale.”

 

It’s shown what the mare is, but not what she has done.

“7-year-old 15 hand palomino overo Paint mare for sale. Shown lightly as a four year old before she became a broodmare. Recently put back under saddle, where she walks, jogs and lopes on a drape rein and has a good halt. Would be suitable to show on the APHA circuit in Western Pleasure and Horsemanship with a little more work, as she has a nice, flat-kneed jog and lope. Went on her first trail ride two weeks ago and rode alongside traffic, crossed several creeks, and flushed ten wild turkeys without batting an ear. Is quiet, but best for an intermediate rider or above.”

 

This provides a lot more information for the buyer, who can then decide if he or she wants to take on the horse.

8. Understand when to list quirks and lameness issues.

There is nothing more controversial than when to tell the buyer what is wrong with the horse. Some opt to tell everything straight out, and others are deceptively vague.

There is no such thing as a perfect horse, sad but true. But ask 10 people when to tell the buyer about any issues about the horse and one will receive 12 different answers in return. “Issues” can be defined as anything negative about the horse. This is as diverse as the opinions of what to say about those issues. If a horse cribs, requires joint injections for maintenance, or has navicular – it is important for the buyer to know before they write that check.

Soundness issues are one of the biggest concerns as a buyer. Nothing hurts more than buying a new partner only to realize that horse that was touted as a 1D barrel horse is crippled and can’t even complete the pattern at a lope without limping back out of the arena. When is the best time to tell the buyer? The general consensus is before that buyer ever goes to look at the horse, whether that is in the ad or if the buyer emails or calls depending on the severity of the quirk or lameness. For instance, telling the buyer on the phone the horse cribs is much different than telling them the horse is only pasture sound after they come out to test ride a horse who is supposed to be a dressage schoolmaster. Use discretion and understand that sometimes people can’t deal with a particular issue.

In Conclusion

After the photo, the description is the most important part to garner interest and sell a horse. Consider the description as the horse’s resume and remember not to pad it with false accomplishments. Honesty is the best policy and will generally help protect the seller if something goes wrong. Remember to use spell check, but don’t blindly trust it – this is where a knowledgeable equine friend is the best way to make sure a horse has a coggins instead of a coffins. There is no horse that stands 14.5 hands high, and punctuation is a seller’s best friend. Don’t forget to add a price, and provide details on what the horse has accomplished in the show pen or on the trail. And finally, no horse is perfect but it is important to disclose quirks and lameness issues, generally before the buyer comes out to test ride the horse.

Now, on to the finishing touches and adding the polish to the ad!

 

Equine Marketing 101 Part 2: Making the Photo Count

In Part 1 of this series of articles, the perception of market value was discussed and how the photo impacts what a buyer thinks the horse is worth. It made thousands of dollars of difference in what survey takers thought a horse was worth between a poorly groomed horse and a well posed and turned out horse. So the question is – what makes a good photo? The answer is simple! It’s all about grooming, equipment, position, background, and quality.

1.      Don’t forget to groom!

Ah, the horse owner’s nightmare:  a muddy horse.  It is quite inevitable that one will deal this kind of mud at one point or another. It is the bane of a sales horse photo. To the viewer, it can be considered laziness on the seller’s part. The horse should be spotless, sleek and white socks should be white, not a cappuccino color as seen in the back foot on this gelding who clearly enjoyed his spa day in the mud.

There are a myriad of books that illustrate how to groom a horse and provide tips for getting that show ring shine on the coat. Here are a few basics to help.

2.         Bathe the horse beforehand, and make sure it dries completely.

If the weather is warm enough, make sure to take the time to bathe the horse, including shampooing the mane and tail and conditioning it, and then let it dry adequately. Taking photos of a wet or nearly dry horse is just as bad as taking photos of a muddy horse. It can look like an attempt to misrepresent a horse by making a color darker than it seems, or to show spots and color that hide on a gray horse, for example. One mare on the farm was a gray tobiano who had a neat pattern when wet, but when dry it disappeared completely. Trying to show that she had visible spots would be misleading.

If it is too cold to bathe a horse, or it’s in the winter months, consider hot toweling instead. That is the process of bringing out buckets of warm to hot water and dipping a towel in the water, wringing out the excess, and currying the horse with the towel. It is important to change the water frequently, and depending on the temperature, using a fleece or wool cooler to keep the wet parts of the horse from chilling. It is important to use common sense if it is far too cold and not put the horse at risk, but this can be an option. There are also waterless shampoos out there – but make sure to try before hand instead of the day of the photo shoot. If it is too cold for those things, make sure to just groom the horse as thoroughly as possible.

3.         Clip or trim as necessary.

If your horse tolerates clipping, it is best to at least trim the hairs on the outside of the ears, along the jawline, and the bridlepath. This can make the difference between a horse looking like a fuzzy yak and a show horse. It is a personal decision whether to clip the muzzle or the eyelashes around the eyes – a lot of people opt to leave those for protective reasons, while others prefer to clip it. In most cases in a photo, those hairs will not show.

Make sure to follow proper protocol for your breed. Some prefer not to have short or no bridle paths, and others such as the Arabian have longer bridle paths to accent the neck.

This is especially true to follow breed protocol when looking at manes and tails. If trying to sell a hunter or a western pleasure horse, a long mane typically isn’t going to cut it. When a buyer is looking for a particular type of horse, they typically don’t want to imagine what that horse will look like after the mane is pulled, or the horse is clipped. They want to see the horse finished and ready. Pulled is better than left long, but braided or banded depending on discipline is best. The braids need to look neat and tidy – an uneven or poorly braided mane is worse than no braids at all.

4.         Brush, Brush, Brush.

Besides proper nutrition, there is no other way to get a good shine on a horse than to brush them. It’s why those who prep for Thoroughbred sales curry and brush the yearlings daily, to help get that show ring shine. Once the shine starts showing through, there are some wonderful sprays and conditioners that help enhance it and really make the horse sparkle.

 

5.     Use Proper Equipment.

Nothing speaks louder in a photo than properly fitted and good quality equipment. It can make a wonderful horse look terrible. Here we see a saint of a gelding, seen in the previous article, who put up with a terrible fitting synthetic saddle and a pad designed for an entirely different discipline. The halter underneath is too big and is falling back on the neck of the horse, and the mismatched colors really stand out.

Now, that is not saying you have to go out and spend $5,000 on a custom saddle. While nice, it is not necessary. If on a budget, look for nice used tack. It is quite feasible to buy a good used saddle and bridle for between $700 and $1000, and have something to use in the future as well.

In the second photo, the horse does have a custom saddle, but the important thing is the bridle fits, the saddle fits and the pad is not garish and fits the saddle as well. It is important to note that this would not be appropriate for a hunter show. The horse should be braided and present a better picture with a fitted fleece pad and a hunter bridle, rather than a figure eight.

Not only is it important to have proper, well fitting tack when the horse is under saddle or in harness, but it is also important when showing conformation shots. Pay attention to what discipline that the horse is being presented as – for instance a hunter or jumper is typically presented in a bridle, a western horse in a show halter with silver accents, a gaited horse can go in a Saddleseat show halter or a Arabian style halter. Seeing a thoroughbred shown in an Arabian style halter may look a little off. When in doubt or if finances are an issue, a clean well fitting leather halter can be substituted. Make sure the leadrope is clean, not brightly colored, and fits with the style halter. A silver western show halter should have a leather lead, with or without chain. It would not go well with a bright pink nylon leadrope. When in doubt remember: make sure it is clean and fits well.

6.     Timing is everything.

Whether it is a conformation shot or an under saddle photo, position of the horse makes all the difference. For instance, look at the two photos to the left. The first one shows a horse that is off “sequence”, where the hind leg is stepping forward and the front leg is beginning to raise. The horse is in the proper gait, but is at the wrong timing in his footfall, which makes it look awkward.

The second photo shows just a few shutter clicks later in the photo sequence. The front leg is now at the height of its lift and the back leg has set down, presenting a nice photo. It’s quite frequently said to get one good photo, one has to take a thousand, and it can certainly be true! This particular photo shoot involved about thirty minutes and well over a hundred photos, only taken by a basic iPhone. A nice camera would make the photo clearer and brighter, but it gets the basic needs across. The best thing to capture a horse in motion is the multiple shot option – new phones thankfully offer this as well.

Conformation photos can be the bane of any horse owner’s existence as well. If one thing was said time and again in the survey given in the last article, it was that potential buyers wanted both under saddle and conformation photos. Some horses, such as the foal shown in the second photo, have no setting but “cute” when it comes to taking photos. Others, like the foal in the photo to the left, like to be a little more difficult. They cock a leg, swish a tail and kick at flies, or have a dour appearance and refuse to put ears up. In the end, the handler looks like a clown trying to shake something or jumping up and down.

 

7.         Practice makes perfect.

Few horses come with picture perfect conformation stance as a natural option – most of them need some help to stand them properly. That’s not saying they are conformationally deficient, it is saying they may want to cock a leg or move. So before photo time, make sure that the horse reliably and consistently stands in a breed appropriate stance, whether it is standing square such as with a western horse, parking out with a gaited horse, or where one can see all four legs. Spend time patiently setting the horse up and get some test shots to see what shows the horse off the best.

8.         It takes a village – have several people!

Taking a photo with just one person is nearly impossible.  Unless the horse stands stock still for minutes at a time, it ends up a frustrating venture to try and keep the horse’s head up, legs squared, and ears up. Tying a horse is minutely better but typically it is difficult to achieve the right position and angle on the horse. The best option is to have one person holding the horse, one photographing it, and a person using some sort of noisemaking material or object to get the horse’s ears up.

9.         Make sure the horse is on flat ground.

There is nothing more frustrating than taking shots and seeing the horse is standing in a hole in the front, making them look downhill. Standing uphill can be deceiving as well. It is best to find flat ground, which is not easy in the rolling foothills of Kentucky, but it is certainly possible! Also make sure that the grass is not knee high. Buyers want to see the hoof and pastern angle and see how it relates to the shoulder and hip angles.

 

10.      Choose the right background.

Imagine the photo of a horse for sale is similar to selling a house. Which would gather more interest – a clean, uncluttered house or one that has garbage strewn about and dirty clothes? The background of that conformation shot is the same.  For instance, the mare in this photo is nicely conditioned, groomed and clipped, but the background is cluttered and distracting. The pink leg wraps draw the eye away from the horse, and the lighting is off making the horse darker and out of focus.

Compare to this photo. The lighting is good, and the background is clean with no debris strewn about to draw attention away from the horse. Her hind legs could be squared up just a bit more, and she is in better condition in the first photo, but overall the image is more pleasing than the darker photo taken in the barn.

 

11.      Quality is important.

The photo to the left is the exact opposite of nearly every bullet above. The horse looks bored and stands against a cluttered background. He is also standing downhill with his shoulder closer to the photographer and front legs are not , making his proportions off. In addition to the clutter there is a plastic bag in the forefront where the handler was futilely attempting to catch the horse’s attention. Finally, the photo is so dark it is difficult to discern any features on the horse besides a lovely light colored mane and tail.

Compare to the photo on the right, a professional photo of a gorgeous stallion. It illustrates the proper way to execute a 3/4 shot of the horse and is an overall better quality photo. He shines from proper grooming and shows off the champion ribbon he earned.

There is no one perfect way to make sure the horse catches the buyer’s attention in a thumbnail in a list of horses on an equine marketing website, but the tips above will help even the playing field. By making sure to properly bathe the horse, clip or trim the horse to look appropriate for its discipline and brushing them thoroughly, it will make the horse look its best in the photo. It’s then time to enlist help of others to hold the horse or get the ears up through something that makes noise, make sure the horse has the proper equipment, and position it correctly. The overall quality of the photo can make the difference between a buyer clicking on the ad, and the buyer passing up the horse. After that, it’s up to the ad itself to help convince the buyer to email or call the seller, and that’s where part three comes in!

Equine Marketing 101 Part 1: Perception of Market Value

Equine Marketing 101 Part 1: Perception of Market Value

There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, and no statement rings truer in the tough equine market. A photograph can mean the difference between grabbing a potential client’s attention to having them pass over the horse completely. With online equine marketing sites and social media at the forefront of selling a horse, it may be asked why so many of the online advertisements seen every day by thousands of potential buyers are downright terrible. There are a large number of websites, forums, and blogs dedicated to poking fun at those marketing fails. Why do so many photos fall flat in such a competitive market?

There are three parts to an ad: the photo, the description, and the details on the horse. In this first part of the series, the focus is on the photo. With a little more time, grooming, and knowledge, a horse’s photo will grab the attention of a potential buyer faster, and it may mean the difference between a horse being perceived as being worth $500 versus over $3,000. A seller could potentially double or triple the revenue on the horse simply by taking a different photo.

As part of a senior research project in college, I proved just that. Six horses were photographed in different situations and a survey was set up to ask participants to value the horse based on what they saw. Keep in mind that these photographs were taken by an amateur and even though they were an improvement on the “before” photos, it doesn’t mean they still couldn’t be more polished or better posed. Critiques will be offered in each set to show what is missing on them.

The photo is the first thing that a potential buyer will see when they search for a horse, and first impressions are everything. If they don’t see something that catches their eye in that tiny thumbnail, they will just click on the next photo. Having a poor photo can make it difficult to find an interested buyer, especially if they are looking for a particular set of qualities. There are always exceptions to the rule – people who know to look beyond the photo and want a project or to find a diamond in the rough. But for the general horse population, good, clear photos make a huge difference, as seen in the photos below.

Horse 1

Photo A
Horse 1 is a seven-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse mare. Photo A was taken when the mare was very overweight, covered in mud, and the camera malfunctioned which turned the background pink. She looks trained enough to have a rider on her, but not much beyond that is shown. She does not look to be suitable for much other than trail riding, though she looks to be at risk for laminitis due to her excessive weight.

Photo B

Photo B shows her three months later, at a manageable weight. It shows that she is able to compete, that she did not founder despite the weight in the first photo, and that she would be suitable for someone looking for a horse to compete the next season. No picture is ever perfect, so ideally it would be best to move her to a less cluttered area for the photo, since there is a man standing in the background.

Results:

For photo A,  the price range average assigned was $600 – $1,600. When asked what was liked about the photo, most responded that they liked that she was under saddle. Some mentioned they liked to see her ridden without a bit, while others wanted to see her ridden with a bit. Most thought the seller was lazy for not actually grooming the horse before hand. One mentioned she was wringing her tail and had a sour expression.

With Photo B, the price range average jumped to $3,000-$7,300. Most survey takers like that she was photographed in a show situation with a rider on and that she had nice movement. When asked what they would change about the photo, one mentioned that it was an amateur shot, quite a few thought it lacked clarity, and others wanted the picture to be cropped closer. The price assigned to this horse with photo A was $1,180, and for photo B it increased to $6,700, giving her an improvement of 470% with just one photo, the most dramatic change of the project.

Horse 2

Photo A

Horse 2 is a five-year-old Kentucky Mountain Horse mare. Photo A was taken at the beginning of the winter months after a large rain turned the entire field a gigantic mud puddle. Her halter is far too low on her face making her head appear larger than it is, and she is moving her leg in the process of taking the photo which makes it appear broken or extremely crooked. It would be very easy to pass up a horse like this for fear of soundness issues.

Photo B

Photo B was taken a few months beforehand, with her summer coat. Her long mane – which was not visible in the first photo – is down and she is in a show halter appropriate for her breed. She is posed on the grass and is standing correctly for her breed standard.

Results:

Horse 2 showed the second most dramatic change of the survey. With horse 2’s first photo, most people mentioned her nearly being an ASPCA case, that she would be considered more of a rescue than a purchase. However, a few people did point out that the grass behind the horse was very green, seeing beyond all of the mud. Photo A was the only picture that had people consistently assign her the price of either under $500, or between $500 and $900. Most people considered her suitable for trails only. When asked if they would consider contacting the seller for more information, this horse was the only one given the answer no 100% of the time. The results were the same when asked if they would consider purchasing this horse. The average price range assigned to this photo was $93 – $900.

With photo B, one participant wanted her three-foot mane trimmed, and another mentioned they did not like how the barn in the background was positioned right on the top of her back. When asked if they would consider contacting the seller for more information, the percentage jumped from 0% in the first photo to 86%. 35% of participants would consider purchasing this horse. Once she was well groomed, shined and stood up outside of the mud, her price range jumped to an average of $2,800 – $5,200. A very interesting price change indeed since it took a small amount of grooming and positioning, and people considered her ready to step into the show ring, instead of being an ASPCA case.

Horse 3

Photo A

Horse 3 is a seventeen-year-old Half Arabian/Paint mare. In Photo A, she is actually four years younger than in Photo B. However, she is in a bad pose, she is covered in dirt, and there is a time stamp on the bottom of the frame. There is another horse in the background, she is dripping water out of her mouth, and you cannot see her feet. She is fat enough that she looks either pregnant or a founder risk, which she was neither, but would cause concern. Interestingly enough you can see her tobiano spots, which are hidden under her gray coat in the other photo.

Photo B

In Photo B, she is standing more appropriate for her breed, she has been bathed and her tail brushed out. Despite the increase in her age, she is in better condition than in photo A and is at a good weight. It is to be noted that photo B was used to successfully advertise and sell this mare.

Results:

Horse 3 had another pair of photos that showed a decent change with a better photo. Her first photo was assigned the average price range of $750 – $1,600. Comments included that it seemed like she got along with other horses; that she looked healthy and well maintained, and that they liked the fencing. When asked what they would change, it was stated that it was a bad angle to judge any conformation and the photographer needed to take a little more time to not get a backyard shot. Explanations for why they would or would not purchase the horse included that you could not tell if the horse was broke, crazy, or unmanageable. Another stated she was not their breed of choice, that they didn’t like white horses, and that she was overweight. 35% of the participants would consider contacting the owner for more information, and only 7% would consider purchasing the horse.

When the second photo was shown, the price average was $2,600 – $4,800. Survey respondents indicated that they liked the fact the photo looked professional, and that she was well groomed and clean. 79% of participants would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 29% would consider purchasing the horse. When asked what they would change, many mentioned they wanted the dark spot on her hip to be cleaned better – though it was not a dirt spot, but a patch of several flea-bitten grey areas that were very close together. Survey respondents did not want to change much about the photo, but they did want to change her background a little. One participant stated that it “looked like a tree went up her muzzle” speaking of the fact that there were quite a few trees in the background and they found it distracting. Another did not like that her feet were hidden by grass. One asked if this was the same horse from the first picture, being the only person taking the survey to acknowledge that any of the horses where the same. The price increased from $1,500 to $3,700, a 142% increase with a more professional looking photo.

Horse 4

Photo A

Horse 4 is a three-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse Gelding. In photo A, the horse is outfitted with a baby blue hunt seat saddle pad under a western saddle, purple polo wraps, green splint boots, pink bell boots, and a red browband with a purple rope halter hanging underneath.  The rider clearly does not understand proper turnout. She should be using more conservative colors and better fitting tack instead of a very ill fitting synthetic saddle. In addition the rider is looking down in an attempt to watch the front leg of the horse instead of watching where she is going. The photo lacks quality. The horse does not look like he is gaiting properly as the photo timing is off, and there is a thumb cutting off the corner of the photo.

Photo B

In photo B, the image quality is not as clear as it could be and the background is cluttered. However, he is collected nicely and the photo shows he is gaiting properly and is being trained for the show ring. The rider is sitting properly in the better fitting saddle, though she could have her legs under her better and in less of a chair seat, and his tail should be down. Picture A did prove that this particular three year old was a saint when all of these things were piled on him.

Results:

Horse 4 was one in the middle range of improvements. In Photo A, the average price range assigned was $780 – $1,800. Quite a few people did not like anything about this multi-colored photo. One participant did say they liked that he was well groomed, clipped and that his tail was up. However, the general thought was that everything was distracting, and that he looked upset with the extra equipment. Another participant mentioned that with the exhibited bad equitation, bad training was also assumed; while a different person noted the rider did not seem to want to make a good impression and that the horse looked sour. 29% of respondents said they would consider contacting the seller for more information, and only 7% would consider purchasing the horse.

In Photo B, the average price range was $1,800 – $3,700. The participants liked that it looked like a show horse practicing, and that he was actually tacked nicely, but that the rider needed to be in show clothes and the background was distracting. The other thing that was repeated quite often was that the tail should be taken down. 79% of participants would consider contacting the seller. 35% of participants said they would consider purchasing the horse, an improvement from the first photo. Some thought he was a cute horse with a good front end, and that they would buy him for a show horse and that he looked fun. However, 65% said they would not, and mentioned they would want to be able to try him first. Between Photo A, which had a price of $1,300 and photo B, which increased to $3,700, his value improved 183%.

Horse 5

Photo A

Horse Five is a five-year-old Quarter Horse mare, which was an example of what Photo Editing can do to a picture. In Photo A, she is standing in a mediocre pose, but the editing makes her look more like a child’s fantasy than an actual Western Pleasure prospect. Her un-pulled mane and pose make her look unfinished. She is standing in an extremely cluttered background, though you can hardly tell with the color and sparkles.

Photo B

In Photo B, she is standing square, her mane is pulled and she is clean. To make this look more polished, she should have been banded and a show halter put on. The photographer should be positioned a little closer to the hind end as it makes her shoulder look out of proportion and larger than her hind end, however this photo would be acceptable to place in an ad and expect serious responses.

Results:

Horse 5’s price did not dramatically increase by using a different photo, however it is to be noted that her photos were not radically different, and that her good photo could still be vastly improved. The biggest difference was that consumers as a whole considered her more valuable in the better photo than in the photoshopped one. Comments for the photo A included “I like the horse, but the picture looks done by a 10 year old.” When asked what to change, one user commented that the whole picture should just be scrapped and started over again. Another mentioned it looked like she was lame in the left front leg due to standing with her leg out at an odd angle. It was also stated they would not buy the horse in order to not continue funding such awful pictures. 43% of participants would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 29% would consider purchasing the horse. The average price range assigned was $900 – $2,200.

In photo B, the average price range moved slightly to $1,300 – 3,100. Participants liked that she was a nice horse in a good background. One commented she was standing nicely and you were able to judge conformation without tack to disguise any faults. It was pointed out her eyes were closed and she was semi-parked out. One participant did not like the photo very much, stating “it provided little information to the buyer except for obvious conformation problems. I would put a show halter on the horse to make it look more formal as if to be entering the ring at any second.” Half of the participants would contact the seller for more information, while only 7% would consider purchasing this horse, with one respondent stating that there was nothing spectacular about the horse, and another mentioning she was not built how they liked. She was assigned a value of $1,600 in photo A and $2,900 for the second photo; an 81% increase and the second lowest of the survey. While the value did not improve dramatically, the amount of participants who would consider contacting the seller did.

Horse 6

Photo A

Horse 6 is a seven-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse mare. It is to be noted that both photos were taken on the same day, in the same area, showing that it is possible to take two photos and make the horse look completely different. In Photo A, she is walking towards the camera, and this stance makes her ears look almost mule-like, even though they are clipped. Her legs look black and fade into the arena footing, and her tail and forelock are up in a braid.

Photo B

In Photo B, she is stood up fairly square, and her ears are up and she looks well proportioned. She is in her winter coat, however it is clean. Ideally, the photographer should have let her tail down.

Results:

Horse 6 also had a less dramatic improvement in price based on a photo. This could be due to the fact the photo was taken on the same day in a different area. It proves the difference between a poor photo and a good photo is mostly about background, positioning, and timing of the shot.

In Photo A, the average price range was $700 – $2,100. Participants explained they didn’t like the saddle on without a rider since it may cover any faults or defects. Others liked the fact there was a saddle on, explaining it showed she accepted a saddle at that point in time and did not run off. 35% of the respondents would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 14% would consider purchasing the horse.

In Photo B, the average range allocated was $1,300 – $2,100. Comments included that they were happy the horse was well groomed, alert and seemed happy. Participants liked the relatively uncluttered background, and that they could see all four legs. However, they did not like her tail up and would like to see her without tack, and did not like that she was fuzzy and somewhat muddy. 79% of participants would consider contacting the seller for more information, and 29% would consider purchasing this horse. The price for photo A was $1,400, and photo B was $2,300; a 63% increase and the lowest price increase in the survey.

The survey indicated it is nearly impossible to please everyone with an ad photo as some people just aren’t looking for that kind of horse. They may not like the background, the shadows, the halter, or the build of the horse. However, it also illustrated that by taking the time to bring the horse out of the field, groom it, and stand it appropriately for the breed, people are less likely to pass up the horse and more likely to contact the owner for more information. And that’s the point of marketing: to get the consumer’s attention. If a photo catches the eye of the consumer and they contact the owner, then half of the battle has already been won.

 

Trotting the Gaited Horse

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

Rain at Jumpstart Horse Trials with rider Lauren up.

The words “trotting” and “gaited horse” are hardly synonymous. In fact, most people choose a gaited horse specifically so they don’t have to post, and think people who choose to partake in that particular activity are crazy. Some say it ruins the gait and will make a horse unable to ever gait again. However, it’s quite the opposite and possible for a gaited horse to display a lovely trot, as well as compete and hold their own against non-gaited horses in the show ring!

The question generally asked is: why attempt to trot a gaited horse? And the answer is simple: why not? This article will not recount the myriad of ways trotting helps a gaited horse since, unlike the canter, the trot does not strengthen the same muscles that are used to gait. However, it can make the horse stronger overall and develop the topline so they can carry themselves more correctly at other gaits.

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

Jazz, first started under saddle as seen here, typically offered a trot or broken trot when started.

As always, there are caveats. If a horse has trouble distinguishing cues between the trot and the gait, or is having difficulty in maintaining gait for long periods of time; this may not be for that horse. There are some horses that will never trot a step in their life, and again this is not for that horse. There are some people that may shake their head reading this article, and that’s okay! This is not for that person. The point is to simply extrapolate why to train this particular gait and to help determine if a horse should add a fifth gait to its repertoire. In fact, there are several breeds that regularly perform all five gaits. The two most popular are the Saddlebred and the Icleandic Horse. The five-gaited Saddlebred is a sight to behold and easily switches between the gait and the trot. Most Icelandics offer both the trot and the tolt, or gait, and even do the flying pace as well!

First, examine the mechanics required to gait versus trot. Trotting and gaiting the same animal can be very confusing to the horse if the rider does not give clear aids, so it is vital to realize what is required to do each gait. In order to perform a saddle rack, the nuchal ligament must be in active use in the horse’s neck to allow the four beat footfall. The left back foot will land, then the left front, then the right back and the right front. If both feet on one side lift at the same time and set down at the same time, it is a pace. If the fore foot is only set down a half second after the back foot, it is a stepped pace. The true four beat saddle rack gait is best described as sounding like “ticka-ticka”. It is continuous and on pavement makes a melody that is really fun to listen to.

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

Frosty seen exhibiting a stepped pace. It is important to note this was just a fraction of a step and in the next frame, he was back to gaiting.

If the horse is tense, with neck inverted, nose in the air and the back hollowed out, the horse will inevitably pace. The horse does not necessarily need to be on the vertical as far as head placement goes, instead with nose out, but they should not be “star gazing”, or with nose skyward and head parallel to the ground. These can be damaging to the horse. Nor, should they go with nose buried to the chest or with neck below the withers, as this will lead to the trot or broken trot. The rider will stay put in the saddle or very gently feel a sway back and forth – any jarring and the horse is not in a proper gait and might be step-pacing or pacing.

In the trot, the horse is loose and balanced, allowing diagonal pairs of legs versus the lateral movement of the gait or pace. The trot is typically performed with a lower head and neck, and to be done properly the back must round and the hind end be engaged, allowing the hindquarters to push the horse instead of being stuck on the forehand, allowing the front end to drag the horse along. It is possible, but not correct, for the horse to trot with its head in the air and back hollow – this is not comfortable for horse or rider and can cause long-term damage.

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

Rain when we first started trotting.

Next, it is important to decide which cues to use to differentiate the two gaits. There have to be two distinct cues, as otherwise the horse will guess what they think is needed and it may be wrong. The cues that I found work best with Rain were hands up, contact with the mouth but not a death grip on the mouth, which helps bring her head up where it needs to be. There is consistent leg pressure at her barrel, asking her to move up into the bit and keep her body “together”, so to speak, allowing her to gait properly.

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

Trot poles can be helpful to develop the trot.

With the trot, it is the opposite. Hands go down closer to the withers, beginning with little to no rein pressure and then taking up contact to ask her to drop her head. It is more comfortable to post, and leg pressure is used mostly to ask her to keep from dropping her shoulder in the turns, generally one leg at a time. She will start rounding if asked properly and engaging her hindquarters.

If the horse will not trot, there are a myriad of different techniques to use. Ground poles can be helpful, spaced to encourage the trot. Sometimes circles help on a long rein, as it is more difficult to keep the gait with bend in the body. Asking the horse to drop their nose and relax is generally helpful as well. Please note it can be awkward when the horse tries different gaits to figure out what the rider wants; pacing, step pacing, and cantering can be some of the options they try. This is normal. Hills are also helpful on a loose rein, making sure to keep some contact so they do not charge up at a canter.

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

CJ was a horse that absolutely refused to trot. Or canter.

Keep in mind some horses will never trot except upon an act of congress. Jolene had a wonderful canter, but would gait even with her nose buried in her chest. While that is great if riding down the trail or showing in breed shows, it is not so much if the desire is to event, where a proper two beat trot is required in the determination of soundness and for dressage tests.

It is worth noting that it is not possible to “break” a gaited horse (meaning it will not gait again) by trotting or cantering it. Even now,when Rain gets tense or excited, she naturally breaks into a gait. In her last event, when competing cross-country she was so excited she gaited nearly the entire course. In fact, when she was first started under saddle as a three year old, it was nearly impossible to perform a gait. Exasperated, I finally relented and let her trot. Trying to certify her to breed was out of the question because she did not take a step of gait under saddle. It was not until two years later, when taking lessons from a qualified gaited trainer I realized that it was all in the cue to request the gait and slowly, she developed first a stepped pace, then finally a saddle rack. She was certified to breed and then had a show career. Frequently, people mention they are terrified to break the horse, but that is just not possible. All a rider needs to do is learn the proper cue and they can “fix” it and get the horse gaiting again.

Trotting the Gaited Horse - This article is for anyone potentially interested in the somewhat controversial act of trotting the gaited horse. It can be an excellent option to add some versatility to the horse!

Nothing to see here, just doing cross country on my Rocky…

Some people ask why not buy a trotting horse instead of fitting a square peg into a round hole. However, some are more an octagon – edges just need to be rounded slightly to fit into a different discipline. If a rider feels like adding another gear to the horse’s repertoire and are up to try it, know that it is possible for the vast majority of gaited horses to do. It’s certainly not hurt my mare, who still relaxes and gets back into that gait quietly and easily when we hit the trails. In fact, I’ve had so much success with her that I plan on doing precisely the same thing with Vegas when he’s started under saddle. If you are interested in keeping up with the adventures of the eventing Rocky, just keep reading this blog!

Cantering and the Gaited Horse

There seems to be some sort of mysticism surrounding cantering a gaited horse. In some places it is considered highly taboo with the thought that it will

CJ, the only horse I ever had trouble with cantering. But he still did it beautifully on the ground!

result in the horse never being able to gait properly. In my experience, that just is not true. After all, several associations offer 4-Gait Classes – Walk, Show Gait, Pleasure Gait, and Canter. Nearly every horse, gaited or not, will offer to canter in the field. Please note the “nearly“ part of that statement as it is true that there are some horses that are so naturally gaited they will only offer to rack in the field. If that is the case it may be rather difficult to achieve a true three beat gait. There are certain horses that it takes an act of congress and a prayer to canter and in the process it is an ugly sight that involves a lot of clipping of the bulbs of the heels with the back feet and possible pulled shoes. This comes from personal experience – see CJ in the photo to the side. If you happen to have one of those amazingly naturally gaited horses understand it may require bell boots, splint boots, and a small prayer to achieve anything faster than a gait without pulling a shoe and it might be terribly uncomfortable.

Cantering is a fantastic tool for teaching freshly started horses as well. Young horses should be allowed to move forward when started under saddle. Putting too much pressure in their mouths and worrying about making them gait should be the lowest of priorities. On the farm, a gaited horse starts identically to their trotting counter parts; accept the saddle, accept the

Frosty, UMH Reserve WGC 4-Gait Horse, cantering.

rider, begin to learn cues, and move freely under saddle. Movement is vital, whether that is a trot or canter. Only after consistent forward motion is achieved should one begin to worry about whether the horse gaits or not. The gait is a natural part of the horse, yes, but that does not completely weed out any other movement. Some will offer to trot, foxtrot, pace, or step-pace. This can occur naturally and only requires a little more work and hindquarter engagement to really get the horse to step up and work from behind resulting in a lateral four beat gait.

What is most important is how the canter is achieved. A properly executed canter or lope will aid the horse in body control, help strengthen muscles, and can ultimately assist in allowing the horse to be forward enough to gait. When first starting under saddle, the horse can be allowed to canter however they see fit. Asking for a proper departure and slow, correct canter would be akin to teaching a toddler the alphabet and then asking him or her to form complete sentences in mere moments. It will confuse the young one and if irritated enough, could cause them to throw a temper tantrum.

As the horse gains more experience under saddle, it is then that the rider should refine how they cue the horse. Ensure that the horse can canter on both leads as this is how a horse balances when going through a turn. If they are on the wrong lead, it is more difficult to balance and the horse may stumble. While it is true that one man’s wrong lead is another man’s counter canter, it is best to save that for after the horse knows how to pick up each lead. Asking a gaited horse to canter is no different than asking a trotting horse to canter though the purpose of this article is not how to teach it. I will leave that to the many excellent articles that properly cover body mechanics and rider aids.

Sometimes horses will decide that cantering is their new favorite thing and they should do it all the time, even when asked to do a traditional gait. I’ve

Jolene Cantering. Notice it is a little more lateral than Frosty's above, though still very comfortable.

found that the best thing to do is to slow the horse back to a walk, and ask them to gait again by lifting their head with my reins slightly and gently squeezing them forward with my legs. If they start to canter, slow them back down to a walk and ask again. It’s important not to punish them for cantering but not to let them continue to do so. The key is to ask with both legs, gently bump their head up with your reins, and ask the hind end to come under them to properly gait while keeping them slow enough not to canter.

When done correctly, the gaited horse can learn to really balance and work in the canter and it will keep him or her refreshed mentally. It can help him strengthen his body, work muscles and build stamina. And when executed properly there is nothing better than a lovely canter down the trail.