I was asked one time by the owner of an older pacy sorrel mare if I could start some changes in her horse. The rider (not the owner) was an excellent horsewoman and understood various ways to help keep a horse in balance. Because this rider had a good “feel” for a horse’s movement and could recognize the instant things were beginning to change, I knew I could explain what I wanted and she could make the needed adjustments in order to modify the mare’s frame and head carriage.
I usually start all my gait training in a round pen while I am on the ground encouraging the horse to go forward. Later on when I think the horse can handle the additional weight I will add a rider. However I began this session with the rider aboard moving forward in the round pen just to assess the mare and see if she had any other gait besides a pace. I asked the rider to speed her up a bit. With some speed, I saw the beginnings of a hard trot. This was encouraging and a good sign. At least now I knew I could get a pace and possibly a hard trot from this mare. Next I decided to see if this exceptional horsewoman could get the mare to hard trot around the large indoor arena. I felt with more room maybe the mare would come to a hard trot sooner than if we stayed in the smaller confined area of a round pen. As I gave the rider instructions, she could feel what I was talking about and quickly make adjustments which sped up the entire process. In about 15-20 minutes she had the mare doing a long hard trot around most of the arena. The mare was only pacing when she lost her frame and then the rider could reframe her and she would hard trot again. This mare had paced for so long that it would take time before she acquired the muscle memory to move diagonally instead of laterally but before the session was over she seemed to be getting more comfortable hard trotting.
I don’t recommend keeping a gaited horse in a hard trot for extended periods of time. However when you have a pacy horse sometimes you need to go to the other end of the gait spectrum to change the horse’s muscle memory from pace to something else. Then as the horse feels more confident, let’s say doing a hard trot, you can start to slow her down and see what happens. There should be a “sweet spot” (smoother gait) somewhere before your horse again goes to a pace. In that sweet spot you may find she will do a fox trot, a stepping pace or maybe a running walk. Be prepared for that sweet spot because it may be there for only a split second. You may have just a moment to notice what kind of a frame your horse’s body is holding and also the level of her poll. You should already know what kind of a frame she has and at what level she keeps her poll when she is pacing or hard trotting. Why are these important things to know? Because I have found when a gaited horse changes gait she also changes something in her body and/or poll.
Unfortunately I didn’t ever get to work with this particular mare again but I did get to see the rider later on and asked her how the mare turned out. She told me eventually she was able to have the mare switch from a hard trot to more of a fox trot. But before the rider had a chance to get the mare smoothed out in her gait and consistent, the owner decided she wanted to breed her and that’s as far as the progress went.
It is much easier if you have an experienced person watching and encouraging you to try something that seems counter intuitive but not everyone has access to such a person. By having the courage to experiment on your own, you may find when the wrong thing might be the right thing.