Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Beloved Past time is slowly disappearing

     For centuries, horses have been a huge part of our lives.  They have been wonderful companions and hard working members of society in various venues.  With the implementation of technology and societal advancement, the way of the horse is slowly disappearing.  Unless one is determined to work and make a living with them, horses have taken a backseat to progressive technology. 
     In many cities horse and buggy rides as well as the more glamorous carriages have been a staple of tourism.  People have traveled from distant lands just to experience one of the most iconic settings in America.  Many who arrive here have inquired about the famous carriage rides in New York City.  
     Recent news has brought the business of horse drawn carriages to light, claiming animal cruelty is a major issue.  Other resources have shown that the current New York City mayor is determined to ban all horse drawn carriages from the city stating, “We are going to get rid of horse carriages, period. We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape. . . They are not humane. They are not appropriate for the year 2014. So, just watch us do it.”   
     Mayor de Blasio as well as a handful of others who want to outlaw the industry say it's cruelty to animals.   The business owners defend their trade with claims there are very few industries with strict regulations as theirs.  The mayor wishes to replace the horses with antique-like electric cars.  We can say that if the mayor is going to put an iconic New York industry out of business on the grounds that its practices are inhumane, those who will lose their livelihoods as a result at least have the right to demand he first prove it.   What are your thoughts?

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Stubborn Mule Myth

We've all heard it said "You are as stubborn as a mule!". But the truth is, a mule is no more stubborn than a horse or any other creature.  It is simply more cautious and full of thought. I've often said, the trouble with a mule is, they are SO smart, that if you aren't careful, they will spend more time trying to out-think you than just do what you ask. You see, mules take after the inquisitive side of their sire, the donkey.  They are often hard to convince into doing something they perceive as unsafe thus making unfamiliar riders and handlers have a rather large equine that is persistent on their hands.  One way to put it, mules make up their own minds and will not take your word for anything.   More often than not, they decide for themselves.
   But, one can get through to them with patience, persistence and being firm when training.  When the mule is focusing on you, it is less likely to react to obstacles that often spook any equine on the trail.  To keep the mule busy, direct where its feet go instead of letting it wander around aimlessly.  You can teach mules to sidepass or even back up a few steps to regain its attention, and this will reduce the chance of it panicking with something new or scary.   Practice this before you go out on the trail, and in time the mule will understand that not everything is 'going to eat him'.   Each time you ride your mule, it is in training.  Training happens each time you interact with an animal. Being consistent and firm is part working with mules.
     Horses and mules both respond to pressure-release training techniques. Once you have established where the responsiveness in a finished horse or mule lies, you will be amazed in just how receptive a mule can be with years of training.  There is no quick way to get this achieved, and instant gratification does not exist.   Mules respond to pressure by pushing, and handlers often tend to pull against that pressure. But pressure itself does nothing for you.  The release of that pressure is what teaches the mule.
     Trail riding is full of teaching opportunities.  However, many people do not work with mules at home to teach them all the possibilities of disaster while on the trail, and positive reinforcement is wasted on the mule.  Preparing for obstacles while at home can be easy, such as crossing streams and puddles.  At first the mule will do everything it can to avoid it by sidestepping or even jumping across.  Be prepared for this, using your reins and legs to guide it through the stream or puddle.  Once it makes even the slightest attempt at this, reward it by releasing that pressure.  A mule needs to know it will be rewarded for trying.
     Unfortunately people are more likely to jab or spur their mule forward instead of releasing the pressure.  This teaches the mule that puddles and streams are scary and is less productive in training.  Mules can make up their own minds about things and people need to understand that they need reinforcement when dealing with fear.
     Approaching bridges can be a chore, but working with the mule in the same way as crossing a stream or a puddle it can be done.  Guide the mule to the bridge, and let it stop and reward for the smallest try.  Remember, patience and persistence are key in training mules.
     When teaching a mule to walk around boulders or large rocks, guide it gently going both directions. Getting them used to going back through the obstacle helps mules understand they can get through tight spots.  Going one way is not enough.  A mule needs to learn lessons on both sides of its body.  Sometimes on trail one may need to mount or even dismount on the right side.  Training a mule to be two sided is key in trail riding.
     Most mules would rather jump over an obstacle while on trail.  Teaching them to walk across objects such as fallen logs and rocks is important in both the animal's safety as well as the rider.   Start with landscaping timbers on the ground, asking the mule to walk across, then gradually raise the height accordingly to get the mule adjusted to walking over things on the trail.
     There are two kinds of lessons that last: those that scare the heck out of you, and those we learn out of repetition.  Lessons learned over time are the safest, and creating situations at home in training are easy to do.   Practice and prepare in a safe environment, and remember that the more precise and consistent you are when teaching your mule, the easier it is for your mule to learn.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A single gene controls movement in vertebrates

Scientists have found that one gene is responsible for variability in locomotion in horses and mice.
Traits such as height are determined using as many as 700 genes.  So, it comes as a surprise there is only one controlling movement in horses as well as mice. Research has discovered that the gene DMRT3 has been found in an unknown set of neurons in the spinal cord of vertebrates.
Several researchers from Uppsala University have found one very strong signal on one chromosome that has led to the identification of the DMRT3 gene.
     Horses were the perfect choice for testing as there are many different variations in locomotion.  They have numerous forms of gait, including walc, trot, canter and gallop.  Factor in gaited horses with each breed's own form of naturally occurring gait such as the tolt of the Icelandic, the running walk of the Tennessee Walking horse, and the pace found in the American Saddlebred.  Scientists wanted to understand why some horses have more variability in their gait than others and began research on how this could be explained.
    A single base change in the gene DMRT3 was the result in the shortening of the gene itself. This mutation was associated with pacing in horses. The mutation inhibits the transition from trot to gallop and allows the horse to trot at a very high speed.  This is most common in the Tennessee Walking Horse and the Paso Fino breeds.
    These Swedish scientists performed further research on the DMRT3 gene in mice and how it affects locomotion.  Mice lacking the gene did not develop properly and thus had an altered means of locomotion.  These mice could eventually move somewhat normally, which suggests other neurological circuits compensate for the loss of DMRT3. This shows how the neurological system is able to adapt to the absence of key genes.
   There are plans to continue further research in experimenting with horses and the DMRT3 gene.  The first will have a look at the evolutionary aspect of the origin of the gene and its distribution worldwide.  This research is not only valuable in the breeding of horses and other domestic animals, but it will also affect human research as well, in hopes to help those with spinal cord injuries regain the ability to walk.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Demon Sled

“Now, make sure you drag your toes in the snow. Kneel down in there and drag your toes behind you.” Dad was saying. It was the winter of 1988, or there about, I was a sophomore in high school and the smartest person I knew. (Or so I thought at the time.) Dad had just made us a sled using his harness and a hood off of an ol‟ 50‟s model car. Where he had come up with that I don‟t rightly recall, likely from one of the old Junkers my grandfather had on the back of his place. We were hitching up Hobo to the sled, and he was telling me how to keep the sled from bumping his heels. “I know, I will!” I was saying. “Well, you‟d better or it will bump his heels and then all bets are off.” We finished hooking up the horse, and I piled in. We led him on down below the barn, in to the bottom pasture, where there was plenty of room to play, and for him to pull. I had been driving him for a couple of summers now, skidding posts and such, and we had both done a pretty fair job of it. I had just enough experience driving and working him to know EVERYTHING there was to know about it. I clearly remember thinking to myself “I got this. This is gonna be a piece of cake!” So away we went. We started making laps around the field, and I was having a grand time. All the while, I was making sure to drag my toes in the snow behind me. It must have been about thirty minutes later, when I started to get comfortable enough to speed him up a bit. It was along about then that I forgot to drag my toes. Hobo gave an extra hard pull and we started down a little slope. Just then, the sled bumped his heels, this of course startled him and he jumped a little. When he did, the sled bumped his heels a second time. This time he jumped HARD and took off like a rocket! I fell out of the back of the sled and Hobo, with no one to check him, lit out of there like his head was on fire and his tail was catching. He made straight for the gap in the two fields, headed towards the barn at a dead run. I‟m sure he thought some new type of panther was chasing him, intent on having him for lunch. Well, he wasn‟t about to stick around to oblige. With the sled bouncing and the reins flapping like the wings of a goose, flogging him for all it was worth he gained a gear and then he REALLY took off. Running full tilt, hell bent for leather, he shot through the lower gate. On his way past the barn, he caught the poor, much lamented sled on a four by six corner post and demolished it. The harness was busted and the single tree snapped in half. What a racket! All the while, he could see this demon hot on his heels. Now, not only was it a flopping, writhing demon, but a banging shrieking demon as well. Hobo didn‟t even pause; he shot through the gate and headed towards the house. Through the yard, and down to where we kept my sister‟s horse, Sugar Foot. Earlier in the summer we had put up three strands of Gaucho wire there. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Gaucho is normally used for cattle. It is very sharp, and very strong. I‟ve seen it cut after being up for a couple years and it will automatically coil back up. Hobo was giving it all he had, determined to shake this thing that was chasing him, when too late, he seen the wire. I watched in horror as he tried to stop, turn, and jump, all in the space of about two seconds. He hit the wire full on with his chest, flipped over in a somersault, and landed on his back. The demon had caught him. He resigned himself to his fate and lay there, waiting for the end. Dad and I came running. Much to his credit, he did not struggle at all once he was down. We quickly cut him out of the wire and examined him. He had some pretty good cuts on his chest, and one real good one on his leg. We led him to the barn, sweating and trembling. (Both of us) Dad stitched him up, as we could not afford a vet call. I held him as still as I could while he worked on Hobo. Luckily, they were pretty superficial cuts, and no tendons or nerves were damaged. Once he was stitched up, and the first aid was done, he stopped trembling. I wish I could have. I don‟t recall being that scared for him, or for anything, in my short life. I realized that maybe I didn‟t know it all. It was a hard lesson to learn. I treated him religiously with the medicine, twice a day until he was healed. It took a bit, but before spring, he was right as rain and we were back to riding all over the country side again.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Natural Horsemanship for Kids

Teaching youngsters to have better control and understanding of horses starts early on with training, both with kids as well as the horse.  And what better way to start-right at ground level.  This is the very same way a horse trainer starts an animal when it first comes into training.
    1.  Draw and Drive
This is the most important way to bring handler and horse together by enabling trust through movement.  Applying and releasing pressure to enable a response can be learned by this method.   In order to 'draw' a horse to him/her, a handler must stop all movement and pressure on the animal. This lets the horse know that it is ok to come forward and be touched.
To 'drive' a horse is to encourage movement away from the handler. Applying pressure by walking toward the horse and using vocal commands usually makes the animal move away. If this does not, sometimes twirling a lead rope might be enough to get it moving.  With the help of an adult, youngsters can learn the safe way to do this.
     2.  Finding the Drive Line
To find the drive line on a horse is finding the point where pressure is to be applied or withdrawn in order to achieve a desired response.  No two horses are the same in energy level and personality. This will depend mostly on whether the horse is active or lazy.  To draw a horse toward the handler he must position himself parallel to a point just in front of the drive line.  To drive the animal away the handler must position himself at a spot behind the drive line, such as the hip.
     3.  Yielding the Hip
Asking a horse to yield its hip is a way to teach a handler how a horse responds to pressure.  The handler must position himself on the side of the animal just behind the drive line and then applies pressure towards the hip in order to elicit movement away from the handler. Once the horse moves away, release the pressure immediately.  Usually all it takes is just one step, but some horses move more, often jumping or running away.  This takes practice.
     4.  Going Left and Right
The handler faces the horse, then applies pressure by moving toward the animal.  To move the horse to its left, apply pressure on its right side.  To move the horse to its right, apply pressure on the left.  This starts out with the nose, then neck, shoulder, and finally the horse's front legs and feet in the desired direction.  Once that smallest movement takes place, remove the pressure immediately. Don't forget horses are two sided.  Practice moving on the right side as well.  It gets the animal accustomed to having someone on both sides, and not just on the left.
     5.  Longeing
When both horse and handler have gotten used to moving left and right, they can begin longeing.  This is gaining more control of a horse's feet while on the ground.  As the horse responds to a cue to yield, the handler positions himself at the drive line and moves the horse forward, away from him.  Increasing that pressure at the drive line encourages movement into a circle; the handler pivots in place while the horse moves around the handler in a large circle.
     6.  Gear Safety
Adults should perform a tack inspection with the youngster before saddling and bridling a horse. Both adults and children should share this responsibility as there are times an adult will not always be available to ensure the safety of the rider.
     7.  Saddle Without Tying
To prevent a horse from developing bad habits such as pulling back, saddling without tying a horse is safer.
If a horse moves while being saddled, the handler can make the horse move its hip until it is encouraged to stand still for the saddle.  Sometimes it is best to have a professional trainer give a few lessons to the horse on standing while being saddled.  Once accustomed to this routine, many horses find that standing still is by far much better than having to move.
     8.  Correct Saddle Position
Place the saddle slightly in front of the horse's withers, then wiggle the saddle horn until the saddle slides back into its natural position.   This helps a youngster better understand where the saddle fits.
     9.  Give Breaks
Kids get bored easily and start to lose attention when lessons are given.  Give them a few minutes to relax and change up the routine a bit to encourage involvement and attention.  Keep it fun and educational and kids will enjoy spending time with horses.
   10.  Praise
Adults should give lessons that a kid will succeed at and later progress as they learn and become more acquainted with the horse
.  Praise them when they succeed.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Friday, January 24, 2014

Back From the Dead!

Back from the dead! No, they're not zombies, just the last species of truly wild horse left on earth. Often, when we think of wild horses, we imagine the proud, but quite feral Mustang of the west, or the equally noble, yet still feral Brombie in Australia. These breeds certainly do fit the bill of free, but not really wild.  Przewalski's Horse is not a domesticated breed. Once almost extinct, there are now approximately 300 in the wild, and around 2000 in cpativity, in breeding programs. Have you ever seen a wild horse, or even one of the feral breeds?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

End Of The Year

Well, 2013 is almost gone, and a new year is right around the
 corner. I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on this past 
year. We rode a lot of miles, and had a LOT of fun this year. 
We had great mules and horses both to ride. Some of the most memorable were Teddy, the Mo Fox Trotter, Dhalia the TWH, 
Sonny the TWH Mule, and Molly the draft mule. We enjoyed 
every minute of our time with these animals and wish we had
 a dozen more just like each of them to train. We had some
 rough patches too and got a bit banged up by a couple, but
 thankfully nothing serious. We also had some serious health
 concerns in the family this year, but, with God's grace, 
everything turned out well. As this new year approaches, we
 eagerly anticipate the start of the 2014 training season. 
We thank the lord for blessing us with the talents to do what 
we do and the opportunity to help so many equines and owners 
come together as a team. It is you folks, our clients and friends who help us learn and grow. Thank
 you all for your steady, and loyal support this past year, and your continued support in this new year. 
Just remember, "Go Gaited or Go Home!"


One of the most important things you will ever do to and with your horse is to groom him. Remember, a clean horse is a healthy horse. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your horse and get to know him. It’s also a great opportunity to inspect your horse and make sure he doesn’t have any dings or bangs or cuts. You can inspect his feet for thrush, or other foot disorders when you pick his feet.
     When brushing my horse, I normally use a rubber curry. It’s not as harsh as the metal combs, and it feels better to him. Let’s face it; wouldn’t you rather have someone scratch your back with a rubber comb instead of a metal one? You should brush him all over, including his mane and under it. Sometimes horses with a long mane could cover an injury underneath.
     Next we want to discuss bathing your horse. I’ve often heard that you shouldn’t give your horse a bath to cool him down. This is absolutely false. It’s been proven in several studies that horses cool down much better, faster, and safer when bathed in cold water. So don’t be afraid to hose down your hot horse.
     First you want to tie up your horse using a quick release knot. Choose a space where the water will drain away to tie him. Most stables have a wash rack or a place to tie them specifically for bathing. You can either fill a bucket with warm water, or you can simply wet him down with the hose. Next, I fill the inside of a rubber curry comb with shampoo. You can use the mane and tail shampoos or you can simply use people shampoo. This is usually cheaper and works just as well. Taking the curry, you want to work the shampoo into his body, scrubbing him good. This includes his mane, his belly and his legs. Horses are more than just a broad back.
     You should also wash his tail, especially if it is light colored. Washing the tail won’t give him a chill, so you can wash it any time. Again, you can either fill a bucket with warm soapy water, or you can wet it down with the hose. Next, you want to apply the shampoo liberally to the tail. Scrub it in good, making sure to scrub the tail bone as well, top and bottom. Let it set a moment or two, then rinse it well. Make sure you have all of the shampoo out of his hair, on his tail as well as his body. Leaving shampoo in his hair isn’t good for him, and may cause hair loss. When you have all the shampoo rinsed from his body, you can condition his mane and tail. Apply the conditioner, and no need to skimp on it. Once you have the conditioner thoroughly worked into his hair, you can let it set for a couple of minutes, then rinse. You can actually leave just a little bit of conditioner in the mane and tail and it makes it easier to comb out, and won’t hurt them at all.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Herd Dynamics and Your Personal Space

    All too often I get an animal in to train that is pushy, disrespectful and almost dangerous. The most common thing I hear is, "I don't know WHY he does that!" Well, I'm here to tell you it's because people "train" their horses to do these things. I know you think it's nice when Spot (or Fluffy, or George, or w/e you call your mighty steed) comes up and rubs his head on you. You may think this means he loves you, but what he's really telling you is "I dont respect you or your personal space." Let's just say for instance Spot was out in the pasture with a herd of assorted mares/geldings. There will be one old mare who be the undisputed BOSS of the herd. What's gonna happen if Spot goes over and starts wallering ol' Missy? Well, one this is for certain, if Missy doesn't feel like being pestered, and doesn't "invite" him into her personal space, she's gonna get miffed. First she'll threaten him. If this gets no response she'll use stronger language. If at last, he doesn't move off and leave her be, she'll kick or bite him to tell him in no uncertain terms to leave her be. In this manner, she teaches him to respect her and her space. You should remember this when Spot comes to rub all over you. Do not let him rub on YOU. YOU need to be the one doing the rubbing. Keep him out of your space unless you invite him in. I knew some folks once who had the cutest colt; he was such a little charmer. He loved to play and they loved to play with him. They used to let him rear up and put his feet on their shoulders. This was fine and dandy until one day, he was all grown up. They darling baby was now a gigantic, dangerous, 1300 lb spoiled brat! It wasn’t the colts fault, he wasn’t trying to be mean, and he just wanted to play. The trouble here was twofold. First and foremost, he did not respect the boundaries. This is because there were none established. Second, he did not respect his owner as the boss. Although this was an extreme case, I’m sure you can see now how establishing personal boundaries and respect are of the utmost importance. You should start establishing your boundaries from day one. Every time you lead your horse, remind him that he is to stay out of your “bubble”. You can achieve this by the following method. When you are leading good ol’ fluffy, he will try and crowd you, or even try to pass you as you lead him. The thing to do is to stop suddenly, raise your arms up and move backwards towards him, shooing and making noise so as to alarm him. Now, keep in mind, you’re only trying to move him back a little, not give him a heart attack or scare him into the next county, so use judgment as to how much to use. He will back up from you, and then you cluck to him and move out again. Every time he tries to crowd you or pass you, repeat the procedure. It won’t take too awful long until he gets the idea that he’s supposed to follow, that YOU are in the lead, not him.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Stretching or Parking Out

Why, you ask, would we want to make our horse stretch out? Well, there are a couple reasons for this. First, it helps a horse learn to stand still after you saddle him. It gives his something else to think about aside from taking off. Second, it helps teach patience. He can learn to park out, and stay there until you move him off. It’s easiest to start this with your horse saddled. Take him out into the barn isle, or anywhere else that’s relatively level and smooth. You want to be standing at his on side shoulder. Take the rein in your left hand, and place your right hand on the saddle horn. While pushing away on the horn, you want to bump his left front heel at the bulb with the side of your boot, just below the coronary band. Now, here again, you want to be cognizant of the fact that when we start out, we’re only looking for the smallest try. Ideally, when finished, we want him to pick that foot up and move it forward, while keeping his back end still. Initially though, we will accept him just picking it up. When he does, praise him, and really make big of him. Next, you want to pull him towards you, causing him to take the weight off of the right front. You want to repeat the procedure you used for the left foot, only with the right. You should be telling him to Whoa, and using the rein to keep him still. It’s going to look a lot like a slow motion shuffle; first one foot goes out, then the other. Remember to help keep his hindquarters stationary, you should initially bend him towards you just a bit. It helps him keep focused on you and what you’re asking of him. When parking him out, remember not to park him so far out that it’s uncomfortable to him. If you make it difficult, or painful to him, it only makes your job of teaching him that much harder. When he’s parked out as far as you want him, make him stand there for about 45 seconds. This helps to confirm that he can’t just take off whenever he likes. Walk around him and pet him and tell him what a good boy he’s being. This will not come easy, not at first. It will take time and work to get him parked out, and then keep him still after he’s parked out. When he’s stood at least his 45 seconds; back him out of the park. IF he will not back, push is reins back, TELL him back, and then push on the corner of his shoulder with your thumb. When you’ve got him parking well, then you transfer it into the saddle. Ask him to park out, and then mount up. Make him wait his 45 seconds, then back him out of the park. Once he’s back up straight, make him wait for a few more seconds before you just take off with him. You should ask him to stretch out before every ride. Consistency is the key with any type of training. Make sure to do the same thing, the same way while you’re teaching him.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

What Is Basic Training

Have you ever wondered what goes on during your horses "Basic Training"? Well, if you were in the military, it's is similar to the process there. You want to build a horse from the ground up the way you want him. The first thing I do is an evaluation. What does he know? What has the owner taught him, if anything? Does he have any bad habits? These are some of the questions that will need answering so that you can decide where to start. Basic training will entail all of the things needed to get a colt "started". It includes things like round penning for respect, lateral flexion, saddling, sacking out, and the first ride. There are many things that go into your horses basic training and not every horse or mule undergoes the exact same process. For example, Horse A may not need to learn to accept the saddle, while Horse B does. Basic training at its core means that you are giving the horse the basics of the education that he will need for you both to become part of the team that makes you both whole. Be aware though, that just because a horse is finished with his "basic" training, that does not make him anything near what I would call a "broke" or finished horse. Depending on the skill level of the rider, and what you are wanting out of your horse, he may need much more work. For example, in 30 days, you can expect a horse to turn left, right, start and stop and hold a gait. You can NOT however always expect one to neck rein, side pass, dance a jig, fly a kite or any other sort of advanced technique. These things quite simply take time. If there is one thing I've learned in my many years as a rider, it's that there are NO shortcuts in the equine world. Anything worth doing is worth doing RIGHT the FIRST time. Anyone who tells you different is selling a gimmick, NOT good training.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

What Does It mean To "Set" A Gait?

I've been asked by my friends, who are less fortunate than I, who ride straight going stock to explain what I mean by "Setting a gait". To explain what it means to set a gait, first we must discuss the Naturally Gaited Horse. A "Naturally Gaited Horse" is a breed of horse that has been specifically bred for a smooth easy gait. These include your Tennessee Walking Horse, or the Paso Fino, or your Missouri Fox Trotter. These animals have been bred for many years to produce these easy gaits. However, Some horses are naturally more talented than others. While they are all of them able to do their natural gaits, it requires a bit more from some to learn to do it whilst carrying a person on their back. This leads us to the setting of a gait. Plainly put, to "set" a gait means to have them hold the desired gait indefinitely. So, when we are setting a gait, we are encouraging the equine to not only hit the desired gait, but to hold it until we ask him to change. This requires just as much from the rider as it does the equine. Your horse must be taught to understand when he is in the "right" gait. Whether it be a fox trot, a running walk, or a rack, you must be able to communicate with him to let him know he's in the right gear. This also requires that the rider know the difference between gaits. It does him no good if you don't understand gait. So, first learn your gaits, then you can teach them to you horse. Happy trails!

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Is My Horse Naturally Gaited?

      As you know, not every animal is the same. What works on horse A, may confuse the heck outa horse B. Pushing one through the bridle IS a great way to collect one to help him gait. I've done all this, and more to help set gait. Why, do you ask, do they NEED set? Aren't they NATURALLY gaited? While it is true that they are naturally gaited, it is a matter of balance. Let's say, for instance, that you LOVE to tango. Your instructor tells you that you have a natural talent for this. One day, your instructor comes to you and puts a 200lb pack on your back and says "TANGO!!" Well, you remember the steps, but your balance is not the same. You have to relearn how to make these moves with the constantly shifting weight on your back. It's much the same for a gaited horse. They have to relearn, in a way, how to gait while carrying someone. If you get them well, and truly "set" in their gait, then yes, you can let them go for extended periods and they still pick it up. But let's face it. Not all horses (or people for that matter) are equally talented. Some horses are just not that graceful, or smart. It doesn't make them "bad", just not as talented. Some of these take a bit more training, but all can gait. Also, in reference to hill work, a long slow hill is EXCELLENT for developing gait, but I've found that working them down a really steep hill will help to develop overstride. There are LOTS of ways to develop gait, or to encourage the correct gait. For instance, I wrote an article not long ago, about the two dirty words for gaited people. One is "Pace", the other is "trot". While any horse can walk, trot and canter, gaited horses were bred to gait. If we wanted one that just trotted, we'd have bought a Quarter Horse! So we get our bright shiny new Fox Trotter out and lo and behold, he PACES like a CAMEL! OH NO! Now what? You may ask, "So what if he paces, isn't that a gait?" Yes, it is, and for some breeds, such as the Standardbred, it is desirable. When training Fox Trotting Horses, however, It is NOT a desired gait. So what do you do to fix this? Deep footing is one way to help "break up" the pace. It encourages them to lift higher, and in turn also helps to break up that pace.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

First Trail Ride

It was an awesome, if long day. I took Sonny out for his first ride, and he promptly REFUSED to step even ONE foot on the blacktop! LOL It took a bit of coaxing, but I got him on it. It took a bit MORE coaxing to get him to cross the wooden bridge that crosses the river.He did the same thing as when he seen the blacktop. He put on the brakes and stopped on a dime. He wouldn't step not a toe on the bridge. I worked him for a bit from the saddle, then decided we'd be best to try it from the ground. I got off and led him to the edge, he still wanted to balk, but eventually he stepped up on it. I led him back and forth several times, without letting him step off it. I then mounted up and rode him back and forth a few times. Then, we rode off the bridge and down the road a about a quarter mile to another bridge. This was a small, low water bridge that had a waterfall coming off of it. It was not deep, but was pretty noisy. My goal here was to just get him to it. I achieved my goal, rewarded him by taking off the pressure, petted and loved on him, then headed back the way we came. We went along at a pretty good clip for a bit up the wide open trail, then he, with great flourish I might add, fell flat on his nose! I, meanwhile, practiced my technique for gravel diving. I find that I can still take a nose dive into the gravel with the best of them. It was only AFTER I picked myself up and got down the road a ways, that I found something dry and witty to say. The only think I could think of to say while I was watching the ground come up, unfortunately for me, was "OH CRAP, YOU CLUMSY BAS&*%$D!" When one takes a dive like this, it should be noted that you should ALWAYS have something dry and witty to say while doing so. You know, something like " GERONIMO!" Or, you could try "BONZAI!!" But, OH CRAP doesnt really count.....
     BUT, Amos got his hair cut and he looks slick as a baby's butt with his new "Kojak" look. It took me 2.5 hours to body clip him. (yes, I know that's an awful long time) He was a good boy though. 

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

55 Excerpted from "Cinch Marks"

Its musty smell belies its use.

Its age belies its youth.

Creaking softly as it is picked up,

And carried.

Flung over, cinched down.

With a swish of fabric,

It is pushed down onto the withers.

Rushing wind, beating hooves, dripping sweat.

Gentle rubbing, lathering.

The wind stops.

Uncinched, creaking softly as it is picked up

And carried.

Its musty smell belies its use.

Its age belies its youth.

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Loss Is Inevitable

As a trainer, I've seen accidents happen to other riders, and had more than my share of bangs and beats as well. I feel like it's time to share this very personal, very sad story.Sometimes, bad things happen, even to the best of us.
Some years ago, when I was just starting out on my own;I received a curly horse called Traveler. I was still a very young man, just barely out of my teens. I just called him Larry (for the stooge with the wild hair). He had previously been broken, the people just wanted him rode for thirty days or so. I rode him for six days. The folks were having trouble mounting him so that is the first thing I did was work on making him stand while mounting. The next few days we worked on neck reining and crossing water. He was coming along great. He had the makings of a truly fine horse. On the sixth day, My sister, my wife and I went for a ride. I rode Larry over to a friends place so I could meet them there. They were going to ride Molly and Traveler(another fine foxtrotter) . We had a real good ride, Larry did real well. When we got back to my friends place, I took care of the other horses and left again. About a mile down the road, Larry got real bad stove up and would do no more than walk. I got off and led him for about a mile and a half. He was getting progressively worse, so I turned him and took him to a local barn about a half mile from my position (there were no celular phones in those days). I put him in a stall and rubbed him down and went to call the vet and my father. My father was on his way so I lead him out of his stall. He would hardly lead all the way down there and now was no exception. He got clear of the door of the stall and laid down in the sand of the arena. He would not get up. When my father got there he looked at him and thought I had ridden him too hard. The diagnosis was colic. When the owner of the barn got home, it quickly changed to a twisted gut. We had already called the owners who called their own vet, (as we could not get one to answer the phone) and they came right over. The vet arrived shortly after and quickly pronounced it as "tying up" or severe Azoturia (Exertional Rhabdomyolisis), a muscle condition that causes severe muscle damage. The Amish used to call it "Monday Morning Sickness". The vet said they were unsure what caused it, as little was known about it. The eventual verdict was that they would put him down. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I have never seen a horse do that before and I hope I never do again. I was in agony too. Here was a creature that had just given me his heart and soul, and now was laying there, dying on the floor of the barn. What a cruel thing is a fate that would subject us to these things. I guess it is all over now, but I cannot help feeling bad. He was a good friend while I had him. There really is no moral to this story, everything was done that could be done, I just wanted to share the story of a great friend, with a greater heart.

Cinch Marks: Misadventures and Tall Tales From a Self Described Curmudgeon can be purchased here

A Lesson Well Learned Is a Lesson Worth Repeating

I was reminded of a very important lesson today. I took a little John mule I'm riding l, and went with my son and a couple of my friends to Busiek State Park to ride. At the midway point, I was asked to ride my friend's mule to see if I could get him to gait.My son wanted to ride the one I was on; so I let him ride him. they did a very good job until we got to the creek and the little mule balked and refused him. My son did not have spurs so could not coax him very well. A battle ensued and my son was on the losing end. He quickly lost his temper and got quite frustrated with the little mule. It was at this point that I intervened. I had him hold the one I was riding, and i got on the little turkey. I had the same issues with him(which was to be expected). He tried to rear, and dance and side step, and refused to go in the water. With some coaxing, and a lot of patience, I managed to get him to walk down the creek a ways. I rewarded him with a lot of praise and no small amount of patting and rubbing and good boys. I then had my son get on him and walk him in as well. They both did well this trip. We resumed our ride and had a great time. My son, however was still miffed at the mule for misbehaving. It took him about 10 minutes to get over his mad.We finished the ride, loaded our stock and headed home. We got back to the barn and unloaded. It was as we were leaving that I asked him what he'd learned today. He said" I learned today that it takes a lot more patience, and knowledge to train and correct these animals than I have." I told him that was a very good observation, and that I was proud of him for admitting it. You see, we as horsemen are not perfect. Our mounts are not perfect. We should learn from our shortcomings, and try to improve. Not only as trainers, but as people. In my own life, I know I'm not always as patient with people as I am with a horse. I am consciously trying to work on that. Thank you son for reminding me of such an important lesson.

What's The Difference

So, what IS the difference between gait in a mule, and gait in a horse? I've been training and riding gaited horses for many years now. Some time ago, I started working exclusively with gaited mules. This was a first for me. I'd ridden a gaited mule once, many years ago, but not for very long. It's really different. Gait definition for horses is clearly defined most times. Occasionally you may get one that will fudge the line between gaits, or is just not very talented. You have a lot of room to play with the gaits. Gait definition for mules however is very different. Being a hybrid, they retain the gait of the mother, but the frame of the donkey. They CAN gait, and some of them gait very well. However, the gaits, and the differences between the gaits is not clearly defined. It takes a LOT of work to get and keep a mule in gait. Horses gait because gait is bred into their soul. Mules gait because we teach them it's easier on them to gait like we ask, than to not. You really have to have a good ear and a very good seat to train gait in a mule. It's very similar to teaching a horse to gait, with the exception that the mule is smart enough to know that it's a WHOLE lot easier to trot than to gait. It's similar in that it takes repetition in the gait. The donkey naturally has a shorter stride than that of a horse. The mule inherited this from his sire. It's our job to tweak that stride so it lengthens. It helps them gait, and helps us identify and set the gait. It can be quite challenging. Mules are a real challenge, but I still love my Foxtrotters.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

Dirty Words for Gaited Horse Owners

Are you ready to learn some dirty words? Well then, tune it!
     In every discipline, and every type of riding, there are certain things that are important and some that are just a no-no. When riding and training Gaited horses, you will find this is especially true. Gaited horses have been bred specifically for their easy gait. Whether it be a foxtrot, running walk, rack, tolt, corto or even the largo, the four-beat gait reigns supreme.The dirtiest word I can think of for Gaited riders is "trot". Trotting is definitely OUT of bounds. It isn't that these horses cannot do it, it's that it isn't what they were bred for. This breed of horses has a smooth, easy four beat gait that any Gaited rider will tell you is far superior to the trot. I suppose you could compare it to the difference between riding in a Ferrari and in a Rolls Royce. The Ferrari is slick and fast and corners well, and is fantastic for what it was designed for. The Rolls on the other hand, may not go from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, but it is definitely designed for comfort. The same can be said for the latter breed of horse.
     Another dirty word is"pace". A pace is the exception to the rule for gaited riders. It is an even, two beat lateral gait. Which means that the footfalls are side to side. He moves first one side, then the other producing an even, but not necessarily desirable gait. While it is an even beat, it is not as smooth as the foxtrot or even the rack. It's a very swingey gait that is frowned upon by most. It's all about being fast and smooth. I've ridden with a mixture of horses, and invariably, the rider on the quarter horse(or any other straight going animal) is forced to jog, or even canter to keep up with our Missouri Fox Trotter.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training