Gaited horses are adored for their sense of balance and smooth ride. They are a boon to riders with aging bodies who are struggling to sit on “bouncy” horses. But are these smooth horses able to do more than trail riding? Can gaited horses do dressage?
Gaited horses can do dressage within USDF as modified Western dressage or Showing Gaited Dressage, which is specifically designed to feature a gaited horse. But to do an FEI test would require the gaited horse to perform the trot and canter like any other dressage horse.
Doing dressage on a gaited horse is possible. There are gaited horses who can learn the trot and canter without putting their bodies in unnatural positions and feeling unbalanced. However, it is essential to do what is best for the horse and not force them into moves that will cause the back to hollow.
Can Gaited Horses Do Dressage?
Here is a YouTube video demonstrating gaited dressage.
There are plenty of advocates and promoters of gaited horse dressage. The National Walking Horse Associating (NWHA) is another excellent resource. As well as an Independent Judges Association manual for gaited dressage. The IJA’s dressage test can be found here. The WDAA has its tests available online. There are also online dressage competitions. Those who have an Icelandic gaited horse can take part through the Tolt Club.
Do Gaited Horses Compete Need a Long-shanked Bit?
No. It is a myth that gaited horses require a long-shanked bit at all times. Gaited horses can be ridden in a snaffle bit just fine. Even riders who prefer the trail do not need to be using a long-shanked bit with a gaited horse. It is all about training, using pressure and release, to get the horse to understand what you are trying to communicate.
Do Gaited Horses Need a Special Saddle?
No, gaited horses do not require a specialized saddle. There are saddles sold specifically for gaited horses. Most people in the horse world consider this a marketing ploy, however. This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with buying a saddle designed for a gaited horse.
Like any horse, the saddle needs to fit correctly and suit the discipline. A trail saddle in a dressage test would not do. Yes, you do need to make sure that the saddle provides plenty of movement in the shoulders and hips. Nor should you be placing the saddle mid-back to provide more room in the shoulder.
Also, once you’ve found a saddle you think fits, remember to double-check that it still works once a rider is on the horse’s back. Some weight distribution problems are not apparent until a rider is on the horse.
Here is a YouTube video on fitting a saddle on a gaited horse.
Do Gaited Horses Need Special Shoes?
No, gaited horses do not require special shoes. Some people put special horses on gaited horses to cut corners in training. Gaited horses are like any others, some will have special needs, and others will even be happy going barefoot. It depends on the specific horse’s requirements and the local terrain.
10 Top Gaited Horse Breeds
- American Saddlebred. Known as “The Horse History Made,” this popular breed is considered to have a “show-stopping action” and a proud disposition. This intelligent breed comes in a large variety of colors. It has two extra gates: slow gait and the rack. They are 15-17 hands high and weighs between 1,000-1,200 pounds (453.59-544.31 kg).
- American Standardbred. These horses are popular for harness racing and are considered to have excellent stamina and endurance. They have two main gaits: pacing and trotting. The pacers are thought to be the faster of the two. American Standardbreds are between 14-17 hands high and weigh between 900-1,200 pounds (408.23-544.31 kg).
- Appaloosa. These hardy and intelligent horses come in gorgeous patterns. Not all Appaloosas are gaited; those that are have a four-beat gait known as the Appaloosa shuffle. This breed is between 14-15 hands high and weigh between 950-1,200 pounds (430.91-544.31 kg).
- Icelandic Horse. This breed is one of the most famous of gaited horses. They came to Iceland on Viking ships between 860-935 AD. Icelandic horses are known for their five gates: walk, trot, tölt, canter, and the flying pace. They are between 12-14 hands high and weigh between 730-840 pounds (331.12-381.01 kg).
- Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse. This breed is reported to be a descendant of the Mountain Pleasure Horse and is the parent breed for the Rocky Mountain Horse. Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses are thought to have a gentle and determined disposition and are intelligent and agile. They come in numerous colors and have a four-beat ambling gait. Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses are between 11-16 hands high and weigh between 950 – 1,200 pounds (430.91-544.31 kg).
- Marwari Horse. This rare Indian breed has a four-beat ambling gait and is rarely allowed to be exported. They are an endurance horse which is also popular in polo or lower level dressage. Interestingly, while they come in various colors, a white coat will disqualify them from the breed. Marwari horses are between 14-16 hands high and weigh between 750-1,000 pounds (340.19-453.59).
- Morgan. This breed was developed in the United States, with Arabian, Thoroughbred, and some other breeds. Morgans are considered cooperative and have an “eagerness to please.” They come in a variety of colors and, due to their mixed background, are not always naturally gaited. Morgans are between 14-15 hands high and weigh between 900-1,100 pounds (408.23-498.95 kg).
- Paso Fin. The Paso Fino found its way to North America via the Spanish 500 years ago. They have a rhythmic four-beat lateral gait that can be performed in three speeds: Classic Fino, Paso Corto, and Paso Largo. The Paso Fino comes in a variety of colors, is between 13-15 hands high, and weighs between 700 to 1,100 pounds (317.151-498.95 kg).
- Peruvian Paso. These horses originate in Spain, finding their way to Peru via the conquistadors. The gaits of the Peruvian Paso are almost all forward-moving, meaning there is virtually no bounce, requiring little effort from the rider. These horses are considered a friendly and curious breed. They come in a range of colors: chestnut, bay, dun, black, buckskin, palomino, grey, and roan. These horses are between 14-15 hands high and weigh between 900 to 1,100 pounds (408.23-498.95 kg).
- Tennessee Walking Horse. Known as the Walking Horse, this breed was developed through crossing breeding Canadian and Narragansett Pacers, Thoroughbred, Morgan, and Standardbred horses. Tennessee Walking Horses have three four-beat gaits: flat-foot walk, running walk, and canter. This generally calm breed is between 14-17 hands high and weighs between 900 to 1,200 pounds (408.23-544.31 kg).
Gaited horses can do dressage. However, those wishing to participate in high-level FEI may want to think carefully about their goals and their horse’s needs and build. But the gaited horses come in a variety of wonderful breeds and can be a true pleasure to ride.