How to Ride a Gaited Horse

Three Parts:Preparing to RideUnderstanding Your Posture and BalanceCommunicating With Your Horse

We've all seen people that appear to effortlessly ride horses. They may just be on television, but it is possible to enjoy a gentle ambling ride in real life. Gaited horses are well-known for being smooth to ride and are good for beginners. Do your research as to the specific kind of gaited horse you want to ride; their gaits are unique. Once you've positioned yourself correctly on your horse, you're ready to communicate and ride. With any luck, you'll be riding effortlessly too!

Part 1
Preparing to Ride

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    Choose what kind of horse you want to ride. Be aware that there are many types of gaited horses that vary considerably. Here are just a few of the most popular:
    • American Saddlebred - known for stylish presence and gentleness
    • Missouri Fox Trotter - known for its stamina, useful for trail riding or ranch work
    • Paso Fino - varies by kind, but can be favored for shows or trail rides
    • Tennessee Walker - has a flashy movement, but calm disposition
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    Take a few lessons. Once you've decided what kind of gaited horse you'd like to ride, find someone that offers lessons with the specific kind of horse you've chosen.
    • Taking lessons from an instructor can help you become more comfortable with your horse, safer on the trails, and a better rider in general. Don't assume that lessons only teach show tricks.[1]
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    Find a horse to practice riding. At the stables, look for a gaited horse that is gentle, already trained to carry a rider, and has been used for trails.
    • Pick a horse that you connect with and you won't regret it. A happy horse won't try to throw its rider or impatiently mouth the bit at all times. Riding should be an enjoyable experience for horse and rider.
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    Get a saddle and bridle. Some gaited horses tend to have high withers so you might need to purchase a saddle with a high swell on the front. It can be very uncomfortable for any horse to wear an improperly fitting saddle.
    • The ridge between the horse's shoulder blades is the withers. Set the saddle slightly forward over the withers, then let slip it back till it seems to come to a natural stop. Your horse should not mind wearing the saddle; if it shows discomfort, readjust the saddle.[2]
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    Find a well-fitting headstall and bit. Choose gear that is the most comfortable for your individual horse. Don't choose a bit based on breed or gait.[3]
    • Get advice from a professional or ask the previous owners what bit they used. Try a few different ones till you discover what your horse prefers.
    • If you're taking lessons or just riding at a stable, chances are you won't need to worry about the headstall, bit, or saddle. They'll already be chosen and the horse will be used to the equipment.

Part 2
Understanding Your Posture and Balance

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    Mount up! Stand next to your horse or on your mounting block and hold the reins in your left hand. Place your left foot in the stirrup and swing your right leg over the horse. Gently lower yourself into the saddle.
    • If someone is giving you a leg-up, place your left foot into the stirrup and hold the front of the saddle, or pommel. Pull yourself up and swing your leg over before gently lowering yourself into the saddle.
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    Let your legs hang naturally. Avoid the urge to grip your horse with your legs. This will send confusing messages to your horse. Your legs should gently touch the horse's sides while your knees are bent and your heels are lower than your toes.[4]
    • If you find yourself continuing to grip the sides of the horse with your legs, check to make sure your stirrups are properly adjusted.
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    Sit straight up with your shoulders, hips, and heels aligned. This will evenly distribute your weight, making it easier for your horse to carry you. You should be able to imagine a straight line running from your ear, shoulder, hip, and heel.[5]
    • If you are out of alignment, your horse will find it difficult to carry you for long. You may notice your horse becoming uncomfortable or changing his gait to accommodate you.
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    Keep your back relaxed. While your back should be straight, make sure not to arch your spine. The curved spine will make you sit too far forward which can tire you and your horse.[6] An arched spine can lead to overall tension.
    • When you're tense, your horse will become tense as well. This can cause it to speed up or run off and make you unnecessarily tired and sore.[7]

Part 3
Communicating With Your Horse

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    Relax. This may seem like a strange way to begin riding, but realize that your horse will pick up on any tension or anxiety. When you're relaxed, your horse will relax too, allowing its joints and muscles to become more flexible.[8]
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    Hold the reins firmly, but don't pull. This lets your horse know that you're there. Be sure not to pull tightly on the reins, though. The horse will need space in order to move its head.
    • Use gentle hands to communicate through the reins. Work with a bit of slack in the reins. Your horse will pick up on the slight vibrations in the reins.[9] If you constantly pull on your horse, it will become desensitized.
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    Guide the horse with your body. Use your pelvic muscles to suggest a direction to your horse. Drive your pelvis forward or backward to encourage your horse in those directions.[10]
    • Developing these cues will take time and practice. Keep working with your horse to create this intuitive method of instruction.
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    Talk to your horse. Use simple verbal cues to back up physical cues. For example, you can encourage your horse to move and stop by saying, "walk," "whoa," or "ho."
    • Be consistent in giving verbal directions. You should also give positive encouragement and support when your horse follows through with a direction. You can say, "good horse/boy/girl," or rub its neck.


  • Take good care of your horse. Establish a connection by giving it treats, grooming it regularly, riding it, and talking to it.
  • Once you are comfortable riding, grooming, and working with your horse at home, think of fun events and places you can ride. Besides showing and trail riding, you can ride in parades, enter endurance or trail-competitions, and even teach your horse tricks.


  • Be careful! Gaited horses, mainly young horses, can be very spirited and frisky.
  • Some gaited horses are known as "hot-blooded." While these energetic horses might settle down with age or trust in the rider, they can be too much to handle for a beginner or timid rider. So get a calm, experienced gaited horse.

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Categories: Riding | Sports and Fitness