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Varying Gait on the Trail
Some time back, I was of the mind that since the canter isn't judged in a driving class, it was best not to let a horse canter when in harness pulling a driving cart.

What does this have to do with trail riding? Bear with me for a bit, and I'll get there.

Then I watched a driving demo, and the gentleman giving the demo was cantering his horse pulling a jog cart much like mine. His way of thinking was the horse should be trained at all three gaits when driven because the horse should be in control at whatever gait you drive him in. Or something like that. This made sense to me.

Now to how this applies to trail riding:

I've trail ridden with people who sometimes don't want to ride any faster than a walk for the entire ride. Now there's nothing wrong with this. I walk maybe 90% or more of the time too. But I sometimes think about the guy doing the driving demo. That the horse should be able to do all three gaits but in control at all times regardless if you intend to drive (or ride) your horse that way or not.

On my last trip to Salamonie, I felt like doing some cantering and trotting on the trails. I was riding alone with no other riders in sight most of the time. I trotted Terra several times and hand galloped her twice on the wider fire lanes where it's easier to see anyone coming from the other direction. Every time I asked for these faster gaits, Terra came right back down to a walk when asked. IN CONTROL. Would she have walked the entire ride if I hadn't asked her for a faster gait? I'm sure she would. We've done it 100's of times. Did the faster gaits interfere with her going back down to a walk on a loose rein? No.

I enjoy an invigorating canter or hand gallop when I can do it safely on the trail. I'm usually by myself when I do it. I see nothing wrong from a training aspect to train my horse to trot, canter, or hand gallop once in awhile. But there are people who feel this will screw up their horse that they want just to walk the trails. This issue has been on my mind for some time, and I'm curious what the rest of you think. Is it wise to train your horse to do faster gaits on the trail even if you rarely want to do it or not do it at all? Is it actually better to do it in case for some odd reason, you need to ride your horse quickly to avoid a dangerous situation?

Again the key phrase in training a horse to do this is CONTROL. Otherwise, the whole exercise would be a waste of time... and dangerous to boot. So... comments, opinions, suggestions?

I also walk 90+% of the time when on a trail but do trot & canter some at times too. Joe has no issues with cantering then slowing back down to walk either. We've also cantered some with Beth & Gotone and have had no issues slowing back down to a walk. I really wouldn't want to canter with a group though. Heck...I don't like walking in a large group!

I think a lot depends on horse's personality, what the previous training has been and if there is "cowboying" (is that a word?) involved. By that I mean if there is whoopin and hollering and flapping going on that would get a horse excited which would then make it more difficult to calm down and walk. IMO, a horse can canter calmly without getting squirrelly if the rider is calm as well.

When I've had lessons on Joe, that's something we do... all 3 gaits and variations of speed within them. I don't know that someone who has not practiced cantering in a controlled situation would want to go barreling down a trail. I know I wouldn't want to meet them!

Karen ~ Trails  
Joe Paint Gelding
Paoli, IN

"My treasures do not sparkle or glitter, they shine in the sun and neigh in the night."
[Image: th_horse-galloping.gif]  

You raise a really good point IMO, PG. Remembering Seven as a three yr old, first time out on the continental divide trail... I let him canter - he took off like a bolt. In a matter of seconds he ran out of the wide open space that I had thought safe for the lope, and was blasting through trees, deadfall and who knows what. It took several minutes to get him back under control, and I was as scared as I have ever been on him. After that I made a point of cantering on trails whenever it seemed reasonable to do so, just so I could get him back to the walk. After some (probably dozens) repetitions, he got it - "go at the gait requested, and there is no such thing as an invitation to go however fast you want".

Highly recommend doing something like that with any horse that's going to spend time on trails. There are probably better ways that wouldn't take so many repetitions, but hey - not a problem to have to go out on trails to train, is it?
"There is something about the outside of a horse...that is good for the inside of a man." ~Winston Churchill~
Geez I can't seem to get my computer to post , will try one more time.I love to go fast as anyone who has rode with me knows.I also do actually go for long slow rides.I think it would be very uncomfortable to just walk for the whole ride for both me and my horse.A good short trot loosens us up and a canter is invigorating! Trust me that a 15 mile canter/gallop is hard on a body.Gotone loved it , me -not so much.Being in control is the main thing and if your not in control it is very scarybut there is an ocean on either side and ice on either end so you will have to stop sometime LOL
BethAnn Stewart

Lovie-gypsy vanner
Lad- Clydesdale

Do not take up the warpath without a just cause and honest purpose. Pushmataha-Choctow leader
The only time I've ever cantered out on the trails was when I was with people riding gaited horses, and I had to canter to keep up!

I have NOT appreciated it when riders have either run their horses up behind mine, or up to mine from the front, when out on the trails, so I figure other people are not going to like it any better than I do.

But, honestly...I just don't like to canter, and never have. Love trotting, though (I guess I'm probably just about alone in that!).

My thoughts are that the horse should be able to do all three gaits in control at all times when requested by rider/driver, and be able to come back to a quiet walk. When I did trail riding with my riding partner, we often did canter and gallop work and our horses didn't give us a problem in reducing speed or staying in control. We rarely rode with others though. The better behaved the horse, the more pleasant the ride.
EZ I agree about the trail ediquite-proper approach to other riders is important. I would never gallop full up to another horse from either direction. I would slow down at a distance and approach at a slow speed.
A lovely horse is always an experience...It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words. Beryl Markham
Riding is a complicated joy. You learn something each time. It is never quite the same, and you never know it all. Monica Dickens
PG; I totally agree. The larger the group the more dangerous it is to canter on the trails. Even a well trained horse will sometimes pick up on the other horses' excitement of going faster in what they would instinctively think of as a herd. Also, horses usually pick up speed to avoid danger. This could add to cantering a group of horses and turn it into a panicky situation from the horse's point of view. Two or three shouldn't be as much of a problem, but I sure wouldn't want to try it in a group larger than that.

AD; I agree that training for control of the trot, canter, or even a hand gallop should be done first in an arena (or the equivalent there of) at home. All training should start there and then be taken to more open spaces or away from home like a show environment. This teaches the control to get the horse to listen to the rider and look there for direction before the horse tries anything.

Beth; You bring up a point I forgot to add in my original post. I'm coming up fast on being legally a senior citizen. Oh, I've been fighting it every inch of the way, but old injuries are starting to bother me... like my knees on longer rides. Knee wraps, wider stirrups, and riding with a straighter leg has helped, but riding at a walk will make my knees hurt after 3 or 4 hours of riding. Trotting and cantering definitely helps keep those knees more limber and from aching so much. That's one of many reasons I like doing faster gaits on the trail.

EZ; Like you, there's nothing I hate more than meeting people coming at me at a canter or faster. Same thing for coming up behind. I've had it happen more often than I like. Many times it's riders who have little control over their horse... the type that needs lots of room to stop their horse once they get to running. Hate those types who don't practice good trail manners and think they own the place. That's why I rarely canter or hand gallop on anything that I can't see a good ways down the way I'm going. Like I said... on firelanes or trails wide enough for two horses to pass each other without having to get off the trail. Narrow trails are the worst place in the world for that, though I don't mind an easy trot on them.

Cayuse; You've brought up the whole point of this thread. Yes, it's great to have the horse under control at all possible gaits training in the arena or at home, but the horse must be then trained to do it anywhere that it can be done safely and in control, whether it's down the road, on the trail, or across an open field. To me, it's better for the horse, the rider, and anyone who might be riding with them or in the area. It makes for a better trail horse and a better partnership between you and your horse.

Great comments, folks[^][Smile]! Anybody else want to chime in?

"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses"
--Robert Browning

Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-- Author Unknown
Once Upon a Time I was a young trail rider[Big Grin] While I have never been one to do an extended canter on the trails, if you've got a good wide open space where you know there aren't any woodchuck or rat holes,(like a logging road, etc) there's nothing wrong with it if you're alone or your friends are ok with it.

I had trained my Arab/Saddlebred to lope so slow (and perform gradient speeds from that point) that you could get a 1-2 count between footfalls; I called it his "canter-walk" and he was better at it than any Walking Horse - lol lol

Point-being, he could keep up with any horse at any speed without jogging my capped teeth looseSmile

I have ridden Walking Horses for the last 21 years, so I don't need them to canter -- they will but they're rusty at it - lol I haven't run into any bears since back when I rode the Arab/Saddlebred and while he did get antsy he did not try to run away to the point where I couldn't control him. RIP My Sweet Sundance, who was born on my parents' farm, and whom I laid to rest with cancer when he was 29 and went on his last all day trail ride when he was 27.

I think continuing to polish your horse's canter on the trails is perfectly fine.

Since "I already are" on S.S., I can attest to the virtues of a gaited horse. You can always think about saving your trotting horse (you don't want to sell him) for the younger members of your family and buy a gaited horse. I would've had to quit riding 21 years ago had it not been for my TWHSmile
I hear you, Walkin', but I have no intention of getting rid of the best trail horse I've ever swung a leg across. I'll also admit I've never had a chance to ride a gaited horse either. Don't know if I'd change my mind though. I've never had a deeper bond with a horse than my Terra. I understand the need for older folks like us to ride a smoother gaited horse. Heck, my next horse, if I can still ride after Terra's retired, will probably be gaited just for that reason. Hopefully a FAHR registered Indian Shuffler. But I have no intentions of handing Terra off to someone else any time soon, and no I'll never sell her if I can help it. She's family.

It's hard to put feelings sometimes into posts, but please understand that I mean what I've said on the best of terms... no hard feelings what-so-ever [Smile][Wink].

"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses"
--Robert Browning

Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-- Author Unknown
EZ, your horse must have a far smoother trot than mine! I have on occasion thought to myself "oh, let's PLEASE just break into a canter so my spine can get a rest!" especially in a group of people where everyone's trotting briskly along... sigh.

I am a fan of cantering out on the trail for a number of reasons. 1) My horse loves it. 2) It's great training for her: she learns to canter evenly without having to turn an arena corner every few paces. She also learns that gait-changing that everyone has already mentioned: canter when I say, slow down when I say. Even, "canter at the speed I ask for." We did a lot of work on this on the way back to the barn -- I know some people say you should never canter on the way back to the barn because of the chance the horse will just ignore you and run all the way back from over-eagerness, but I used it as a training tool, starting about four MILES from the barn. Pepper knew we were "on our way home" so was eager to go, but I knew if she decided to "run all the way back", she'd give up from exhaustion before she ever got there, and would never get the "reward" of having made it back to the barn at a run. So we use that stretch to make SURE she knows to slow down when I say to. 3) If we don't gallop on the trails, my horse would never ever have the chance to really gallop, in her life. Arenas are just too small. Gotta pick a nice wide open straight trail with good footing for that, though! And of course slow down the moment you see anyone else on the trail.

And RH, I'm so with ya on the Indian Shuffler. Had an opportunity to ride one many years ago, and when I go shopping for my next horse, it's definitely something I'll be looking for!


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