Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gaits part 1: What is meant by "impure gaits?"

The first time I attended Dressage at Devon, I saw an upper level horse do something very weird. Leaving the ring on a long rein walk, the horse started lifting his front feet unnaturally from the knee/shoulder and stomping down, for about 20 strides. The audience tittered; the rider seemed embarrassed. I'd never seen anything like that action...

Until now...
I found this video posted in a thread on the COTH dressage forum (opinions of this horse).

The walk
There is something going on with the walk, but what? It's a less exaggerated but otherwise identical version of what the Dressage at Devon horse was doing. Is it a riding method, prior use of artificial means (e.g., weighted shoes), something else? I don't know.

The not quite trot/not quite passage
A lot COTH members tore this gait apart; one COTH'er remarked, "it's like watching two men in a horse suit." I agree with the general opinion on COTH -- this horse, who seems to have good natural ability, is not exhibiting pure gaits.

  • So much flash in front, with that knee action and toe flick, yet so little energy in back.
  • This is exactly what is meant when someone refers to a "passagey trot" (it's not a good thing)
  • The half pass seemed disunited front to back.
  • An overall impression of sucking back, even in the still shot at the start of the video.
But back to the walk -- anyone know what causes that high-stepping walk?

Oh, BTW, I'll probably be writing more about gaits, so stay tuned. And hey, if you have any topics related to gaits you're interested in, let me know...


  1. The boots may have something to do with it, but the horse tends to have that toe flipping thing that deceives the eye into thinking the gaits are dramatic.

    Personally, I think too restrictive training tends to ruin the horse's natural gaits. Some trainers put a young horse in tight side reins from day one and the horse never learns to stretch through its back (Tight side reins in the this demanding that the horse carry itself in an upright frame.) The horse is forced to move within that restriction and develops flaws in its natural gaits.

    It's a failure to follow the true principles of the training scale in order "make" a horse as quickly as possible.

  2. Ooh remember that post you did with the horse heros or whatever and the horse totalas (sp?) he did that exact same gait if I remember correctly. I can't find the video however.
    Looks like another sick trend to me.

  3. It looks an awful lot like weighted shoes to me. I don't have any evidence that either horse carried weighted shoes, but that's the same way heavy and lite shod TWH's walk.

    Here's a "lite shod" Walker who had been shown in heavier shoes previously. Here's another. Keep in mind, "lite shod" shoes are still way heavier than anything used by other disciplines.

    It just looks like the same type of motion to me. :-/

  4. This horse was trained in Europe and someone used the same sort of elastic bands around the front legs that US riders use on Saddlebreds to get high action in front. The elastic bands produce, in some horses, the very distinctive "goose step" that this horse has.

  5. I knew a hunter horse who would do the same thing occasionally in the walk. He would be walking totally normal and then suddenly just fling his front legs out much like the horse in the video. It was really weird to watch...

  6. I agree - there is no impulsion from the back end. He never truly steps under and through to the front for that level of action.

    I'd almost say he looks sored in the front like saddlebreds or twh (or some arabs). Could be shoes.

    Or his back is so long compared to his legs.....

    The walk isn't a true four beat walk. He's racking or pacing or something - if you watch, its a two beat. And his trot looks almost four beat than two. Very weird.

    But the front end is ALL Action, with no back and through push from the hind end.

    Thanks for posting!

  7. This horse is a "leg-mover" but not a "back-mover." It's front end appears disconnected from it's back end because literally, it is! If you watch only the front, and then only the back, they appear to be from two different horses. It is most obvious in the canter, where its back end gets left behind. You can see the frustration the horse displays when it is unfairly asked to perform lead changes, without having its rear end properly engaged. Hence, they showed very little canter! In the trot, and/or passage, the horse's extravagent front legs distract the viewer from seeing the whole picture. . .which is not a good one. In the walk, the horse is traversing, which is a major fault and not a true walk.

  8. Wow, his gait is seriously out of wack; and he looks pretty darn miserable too (poor guy). This might sound really strange, but he almost looks like he has been "sored". Can't say I've ever seen it happen outside of the Walking Horse breed, but that "flash" that you were referring to is alarmingly familiar. We have a former "Big Lick" horse here that was horribly abused (my avatar, actually), and even though the horse in that video is not hitting the same height as a Walker would, the way he is almost throwing his front feet out is a mirror image of a sored horse (just on a smaller scale).

  9. All that being said (and I think commenters have nailed it), I'm touched by how focused the horse is; he's really trying hard.

  10. i don't get it. If dressage people want this kind of action, why don't they just ride saddleseat?

  11. The first thing I saw was the crazy goose-stepping walk. Then, I immediately noticed that the rider isn't allowing the horse's head to move one iota away from perfectly vertical. There's no give and take to accommodate his natural movement--just iron hands holding his face in at the correct place. He's concentrating and trying, but he's registering his discomfort by swishing his tail and expressing strange gaits.

    I agree with everyone who said it's like watching two different horses smashed together and trotting around. His hind end is practically dragging while his front legs are flashing out everywhere. He clearly has a good mind if he can work with that level of focus and not blow up.

  12. That canter work was really awful. I'm not surprised they showed so little of it. I don't know what they did, but they did something; I don't think the horse was born moving like that.

  13. All marching and drums in the front, and nothing in the back.I can't help but think this is what happens when dressage becomes all about movement, (which is why I'm not so fond of Quarterback.) It says the horse was sold. I wonder what the new owners got?

  14. I just have to say that I really enjoy your blog. I have learned so much or become aware of so many things from reading it! Thank you!!

    As a side note - before reading your post, I would have thought this was a perfect example of dressage (knowing next to nothing about it). After reading, I was totally able to see not only the strange walk, but the difference between the front end of this horse and the back. It's like 2 different horses.

    BTW, this horse is much loftier than a saddle seat horse :).

  15. That kind of reminds me of Zenyatta before a race


  16. I really think that this is the "amatuer's" fault, not the trainer riding in the clip. I looked up other clips they have of sale horses and the horse being discussed is really one of a kind.

    Here is an example of another horse ridden by the same trainer. The hind is much more connected, the gaits truer, and a real lengthening.


    And I agree that the discussed horse is definitely a trier. Only problem is that, even when one tried their heart out, if they are incorrectly taught, then it is still incorrect. Poor dude.

  17. The rider appears to be pretty accomplished, at least in terms of her seat and overall appearance. I'm not sure why you would "push" a horse that is not moving in a unified way.

    When Harvey is really tense he'll sometimes feel disunited, and it is a hard feeling to ignore.

  18. I have to agree with everyone, it looks like they have used a training shackle and/or weights and pressure shoeing to get this movement. The biggest giveaway is how stiff the horse's back is. This horse is in pain, is being forced into a retro-flexed frame by the riders hands, but in spite of all that is still trying so very hard to do what the rider wants.
    What is really sad is this horse looks like he could really be a nice dressage mount, if they would only take the time to train him instead of using gimmicks.

  19. Speaking as not a dressage rider, but a 'hunter-princess,' my first reaction was, "OMG! Let go of his face, put him in a snaffle and see what he does then." That quarter or half-pirouette was barf-y.

    I agree with the others, the canter work as a whole was awful. You can not ask a horse for a change with no engagement of the back end.

    I'd like to see him in a snaffle, loose rein and in a friggin' bigger arena... not to mention pushed FORWARD to see how he moves then.

    Awful! I bet they wanted a gazillion dollars for him, too? The rider has nice form, but isn't responding to what the horse needs. Like an eq rider... beautiful on a push-button horse... a harder horse to ride... not so beautiful.

  20. I agree with all the previous comments, I can't help but think something spooky is going on with this horse's training. He does look a bit stressed when he lands with each beat, like he's either a bit sore or tense.

    On a different note, I've scored at different Dressage breeding shows and have seen lots of foals with the exaggerated elevation. Not as bad as this but still all front movement and no impulsion in the back. The judges that I spoke to weren't particularly happy about it but it does seem to be something that people are breeding for in dressage horses now too :-(

  21. The only thing I can add to what everyone has said, is that it almost looks like the horse was taught to Spanish Walk, and is reverting back to that (a pure dressage horse at my eventing barn will do that every once in a blue moon, and his previous owner taught him to Spanish walk).

    I have a question: I was always told that toe flipping (when the toe is angled upward, in a broken line from the pastern) is bad. That it shows that a horse was asked for extension too early. But recently someone told me that their coach has said it's a good thing. Shows expression and extension. But to me, I still see it as an impure gait, and if the toe has to come back towards the body before it hits the ground, I think it's ugly. What do you say?

  22. I love the Zenyatta clip!

    As to toe-flipping, I'm no expert but have seen young horses (in a field, at breed shows) toe flip and I want to say that Trakheners have a greater tendency in that direction but I can't say where I got this impression.

    It make sense that a horse that lacks strength may throw his legs around when pushed too hard, and I suppose that can result in a toe flip. But to me, you have to look at the whole outline/big picture. If the horse is sitting down and using himself, I wouldn't complain about a toe flip.

  23. Re: the toe flip... Before we were married, hubby (then, boyfriend) was a working student at Tempel Farms in IL. The head trainer for that farm (who was gone before hubby got there) was George Williams. That farm is very big into classical dressage and does very well competitively as well. The toe flip is a HUGE no-no there. Like I said previosuly, I'm just a hunter princess, but hubby is a dressage queen! :)

    In the last 5-7 years, there seems to be more and more of a seperation between "competitive dressage" and "classical dressage."

  24. Another interesting post topic!

    Very sad for the horse, who is trying his heart out. He probably knows no alternative training style. I can only imagine what kind of training he has endured.

    This kind of flashy movement blurs the true meaning of dressage. It contributes to people purchasing large, robust horses for thousands (millions) of dollars, horses who can (will?) tolerate this kind of training. I am sure that this horse had beautiful, impressive movement before training. That was not good enough?

    I do not consider this example to be development of the gaits. There is an expression for the way this horse is moving: "Lion in front, mouse behind."

  25. Could there be a possibility, rather than the first conclusion of abuse, that maybe the horse is still in a learning stage, and that when he gets tense or uncertain he is just trying to do too many things at once, because he is not being allowed any freedom or being stopped or shown what is correct?

    I do agree with everyone that the gaits are really off and not right at all.

  26. My first question is what breed is this horse? Like someone else mentioned, it almost looks like he's doing a Spanish walk or like he is of Spanish decent. I also think the bell boots are exaggerating the fault. The Youtube snippet says he was trained by an amateur and that may be part of the problem.

  27. I don't have experience with gaited horses or weighted shoes, but as a equine massage therapist, I have a some experience with horses that are stuck in the shoulders. All of this horse's gaits look restricted behind the shoulder to me, and the flick is in response. Instead of being able to move out from the back of the shoulder, a horse's response to beind held up is to whip the energy out the front, think bull whip action as opposed to elastic band.

    Try it with your own arm -- if, you're 30yo+ you'll probably crack/pop/release some joint in your arm. [If you have a shoulder injury, don't try it.]

    The walk really gives it away.

    It may be a training problem, but before we bash the horse, who is putting in an honest effort, or rider, one should consider that it could be a saddle fit issue.


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