Filed in Category: horse training
The Quality Of Gaits Of A Horse
I was reading an article on a web site a few days ago by a well-known and highly acclaimed dressage trainer and rider.
The thing that caught my attention was the claim that the quality of a horse’s walk and canter were fixed at birth by genetics, but the quality of the trot could be improved with training.
I don’t mind stating emphatically that he was speaking utter rubbish. All gaits can be improved or ruined by training. Genetics plays a role in determining the limit of the quality of a horse’s gait. The potential for how far a walk, trot and canter can be improved is determined by a horse’s genetic conformation. But anything short of a horse’s full potential is largely determined by training (except in circumstances of injury).
The dressage “master” did not explain why there is so much room to play with the trot, but so little room with the walk or the canter. He just makes the bold statement without any clarification or explanation.
In my experience, training can modify all gaits. It is largely dependent on the degree of relaxation and straightness. I have seen horses that appeared dead lame at all gaits until they learned to relax; when the lameness magically disappeared.
I do think the hardest gait of all to achieve brilliance is the walk. The trot and canter have their own degree of innate impulsion that can be used to create expression. But often the walk is quite flat because of the relatively low energy a horse brings to the walk. Often times in order to create energy to a walk and bring engagement, a rider will put a rush in the horse and ruin both the rhythm and relaxation that is so important in a quality walk. I think if a rider can train a good walk in a horse that is not naturally inclined to it, the trot and canter are pretty easy in comparison.
My own horse, Riley had a terrible trot and walk, but a naturally great canter. The trot was stilted and short and quite jarring to the bones. And the walk was like a retired trail riding horse. But both improved dramatically as Riley learned to get off his forehand and carry himself better. It required more impulsion and softening through his topline. On the other hand, Six (my mare) had a brilliant soft walk, but struggled at the trot and canter. She naturally had a terrific level of energy at the walk, but at the trot and the canter that energy led to a hurry. By getting her to soften through her whole body she became much straighter and the trot and canter have both improved beyond recognition.
In short, I think the limitation on improving a horse’s walk; trot and canter come from their genetic potential at one end and our ability to train them at the other end. I believe all gaits are susceptible to change from our influence to train them. To buy a horse on the quality of just one or two of its gaits seems very short sighted to me.