How to Ride a Gaited Horse

The variances and styles of each animal can be very different, so there will always be different techniques used when learning how to ride a gaited horse. This is true even when looking at professional riders.

Yet there is also a few things that can be done with every gaited horse to make sure the riding experience is safe for everyone. Almost everyone can ride a gaited horse because there is a lack of “bounce” due to a lack of trotting. This makes it a great beginner’s experience, a good equitation option, and it is even a riding option for children.

The fact that riding gaited horses is such an easy thing to do also creates a unique problem. Because many new riders find it a simple task to ride a gaited horse, they never really progress in their riding skills. There are no shortcuts. If you want to know how to ride a gaited horse properly, here is what you’re going to want to do.

#1. Stay in balance with your horse.

You will need to ride over the strongest part of the horse’s back with a majority of your weight. This is the only way the horse is going to be able to maintain the smooth gait that makes it such an easy riding experience.

In order for you to keep your balance in this position, you must also know how to maintain your own balance while riding a horse. Maintaining a balanced seat that is not forward is ideal. This means making sure that your heels, hip, and shoulder are all in-line with each other throughout the gait of the horse.

#2. Get to know the signature movement of the horse.

When you’re riding a gaited horse, you’ll notice that there is a “signature movement” the horse has. You’ll be able to feel this movement in the seat. By recognizing the movement, you’ll be able to feel balanced instead of trying to stay focused on maintaining a balanced seat. This will help you to relax, which helps the horse begin to relax.

Many riders, especially beginners, tend to be very stiff in the seat. This causes the horse to be stiff as well. Even though it might feel strange or even uncomfortable, it is necessary to be relaxed in your balance in order for the horse to “unlock” the back. When this occurs, you’ll both be more comfortable and the gait will be smoother.

#3. Think about standing instead of sitting.

Good posture is something that is thought about by anyone who needs to sit for long periods of time. By sitting with your back, neck, and shoulders in certain positions, you can remove a lot of the fatigue and pain that occurs with extended sitting. The same principles apply when learning how to ride a gaited horse.

Except when riding the horse, the proper posture is more like standing up than sitting down. 

Think about what your posture happens to be when you stand up. Your legs come together. Most of the weight is placed on your feet. Your hips and knees are in position to absorb the shocks that occur while walking. This is what is needed when riding a horse.

Most people, especially when they sit on a horse for the first time, tend to put all of their weight on their sitting bones and their feet. This causes the legs to separate, but also brings the feet toward the body of the horse. It is a position that hampers the gait, which changes the riding experience on a fundamental level.

So you’re sitting on a gaited horse, but think about standing and that will provide a better ride.

#4. Grasp the reins with proper position and grip.

When riding a gaited horse, the reins should come into the hands from the bottom up. The thumbs should then be on top. This creates a ride where the fingers and wrists are more flexible, but won’t move on their own during the ride.

It helps to create a “soft” fist when grasping the reins. You need to make sure the reins aren’t going to fall out of the hand, but you also don’t want to hold the reins in a death grip.

You’ll be holding the reins just over the withers of the horse. Keep your hands down while you maintain your balance and this will help you to maintain a proper level of communication with the horse during the ride.

#5. Use body position to move the horse while riding.

The movies tend to show us that riding a horse means using verbal commands, whistles, and lots of leg action as the hands snap the reins. With a gaited horse, none of that is true. You’re more likely to have the horse look at you with its “Are you crazy?” look than receive the movement that you want.

Gaited horses need pressure in order to make a turn. When you’ve achieved a proper balance, you can use the pressure from your sitting bones to help turn the horse. Keep applying the pressure by leaning toward the direction you wish the horse to turn. Once the turn begins to happen, begin releasing the pressure.

Sometimes you may have a horse that is a little stubborn when it comes to listening. In this instance, using a pressure aid may be beneficial. It must be the proper aid for the type of communication that is desired, however, for this to work and it should only be used by those who are familiar with the tool.

#6. Have fun.

Once you’ve learned the basics of riding a gaited horse, it is time to relax and have some fun. You and the horse are one entity who will communicate well with one another when you each get used to the other.

One way you can further familiarize yourself with a gaited horse is to understand the difference between a “level” back and a “ventro-flexed” back. Specific gaits are associated with these two types of back shapes. 

Because the ventro-flexed back tends to have the withers come closer to your sitting position, it offers a rider better balancing options. This allows for several more gaits compared to the “level” back. On a level back, a gaited horse will usually walk, flatwalk, runwalk, or foxtrot only.

Learning how to ride a gaited horse may take some time at first, but it is one of the easiest riding options that is available today. The key to unlocking a successful ride is to keep practicing so that your riding skills can be honed. Never assume that because you’ve learned to ride one horse well that the same situation will apply to all horses and this will encourage your progression.