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Dressage with gaited horses

From: Sheila

Every now and then I hear or read someone who has a gaited (meaning that the horse's intermediate-speed gait is *not* the trot) breed of horse such as a Tennessee Walking Horse or Paso refer to doing dressage with their horse. In some instances it definitly seems the person is talking about dressage *competition*. My question is, do they mean special dressage classes at breed shows? Are they using specially created tests for their breed that use the horse's natural gaits instead of the trot? Or do they mean they have taught their horses to trot for open dressage tests? How difficult is this (I know it would depend on the individual horse) and does teaching a gaited horse to trot on command keep it from performing its natural gait properly?

Best regards,

Sheila


Hi Sheila! It's an interesting question, but I can offer a few answers from my own experience. You're right, a horse MUST trot in order to perform a dressage test. Fortunately, many "gaited" horses do trot, either instead of or in addition to one of their expected gaits.

I've worked with Pasos, and I enjoy them, but I can't say that I've ever met one that I thought would be suitable for the dressage ring. Not all horses ARE suitable -- and there's no need for them to be.

TWHs are another matter. I own a TWH mare from a family with a very strong trot (most TWH lines are either "trotty" or "pacey", and their training for the show ring version of the running walk varies accordingly). I bought her very young and completely untrained, and never showed her in any breed classes. We competed in hunter shows, and then evented for years, and finally focused exclusively on dressage. She did very well at all of it! Her half-sister, another TWH, also evented and foxhunted before she too became a full-time dressage horse.

There ARE special dressage classes at breed shows, and breed classes at some big shows, and they can be very disappointing for dressage aficionados, because quite often the performance that wins such classes would NOT win at an open show. But if you attend a lot of open dressage competitions and talk to the horses' owners, you'll be amazed at how many breeds, including "gaited" breeds, are represented. Many Morgans and Saddlebreds that are successful in park and pleasure classes can become excellent dressage horses. It's less usual to find a TWH in dressage, but it isn't unheard of, and some TWHs and TWH crosses have done well at very high-level competitions! Do you remember Gwen Stockebrand's wonderful gelding Bao, from a few years ago? He was a TWH x TB!

- Jessica

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