Gaited horses continue to gain popularity due to their smooth movements that provide the ultimate comfort for their riders. However, if you want to return the favor and improve the comfort of your horse as well, hoof boots from Scoot Boots are a great choice for gaited horses, says Tennessee Walking Horse breeder and trainer Jill Roberson.
By Helle Maigaard Erhardsen
Surrounded by national parks and extensive mountain ranges, the North West corner of the American State Arkansas is a gorgeous place to keep horses and go trail riding. This is also where Arkansas Walkers run by Jill Roberson, has been raising Tennessee Walking Horses and trained them for trail riding for the past 10 years.
“I used to ride a Quarter Horse that I was very happy with. But one of my friends had a gaited Tennessee Walking Horse and when I tried riding it, I was just like; Man! This horse is so comfortable! So from there on, there was no turning back from gaited horses,” Jill said.
The Tennessee Walking Horse is one of several different breeds of horses that has the natural ability to “gait”, which means they have more gaits than the usual three gaits; walk, trot and canter/gallop. The most famous extra gait of a Tennessee Walking Horse is the “Running Walk” where the horse, similar to a normal walk, always has one foot on the ground, only the horse can go much faster than in a normal walk.
When the horse always has one foot on the ground, it means he won’t bounce up and down like in a trot. The running walk is therefore an exceptionally comfortable gait for moving at speed across the landscape on hour long trail rides. In the following, we will explore more features of gaited horses and learn how you can use hoof boots to improve your horse’s gait and make him as comfortable as you are when he carries you in a smooth gait.
It takes Practice to Gait a Horse Correctly
Whilst most horse breeds can be taught to gait to some degree, it only appears naturally in horses that carry the gene to gait in their DNA. In fact, science suggests that Danish vikings played an important role in the prevalence of gaited/ambling horses around the world, as they selectively bred horses with the special “gait keeper” gene resulting in the famous five-gaited Icelandic Horse and frequently traded these horses on their worldwide journeys.
As vikings would have used their horses to carry them many miles across various rugged terrain, the smooth gait called “tölt” - similar to the running walk of a Tennessee Walking Horse - would have been an attractive trait. This way riding long distances is much less tiring for the rider as you can hardly feel the horse moving underneath you. As such, gaited horses with their gentle nature and sure-footedness makes for the perfect trail riding companion.
Today the smooth movements of gaited horses are also highly popular with riders that have knee or back issues. However, it’s important to keep in mind, that no matter how easy it might seem to ride these horses, they can’t make up for poor riding skills or imbalanced, inexperienced riders:
“You need the skills to encourage natural forward movement in the horse and make sure he’s relaxed and comfortable at the same time. It takes practice to gait correctly and some gaits can be quite wearing on the horse. You can’t get a horse to gait if he’s tense or has a sore back,” said Jill.
Jill gaiting bitless and barefoot wearing protective Scoot Boots on the rocky ground.
No need for Bit or Horse Shoes to Gait
Although gaited horses are perfect for trail riding, they are also sometimes in shows. In parts of the US it is unfortunately still legal to use inhumane devices to enhance the gait of Tennessee Walking Horses known as the “Big Lick”, like applying chains, heavy weighted shoes, chemicals that makes it painful for the horse to put weight on his front feet and sharp bits to exaggerate head bobbing or force unnatural high head carriage.
However, according to Jill Roberson, there is absolutely no need for either bit or horse shoes to make a horse gait. Jill likes to start all her young horses bitless wearing nothing but a rope halter to encourage forward movement and relaxation.
“One time I had a young horse returned to me for training because the owner couldn’t get him to gait, he just rushed forward. When I saw the kind of bit the owner was using on him, I clearly understood why. Once the horse came out of the pressure from the sharp bit and learned to relax, he gaited just beautifully,” Jill said.
Jill's horses are also kept barefoot, which Jill believes is better for the horse in the long run and keeps the frogs healthy. She went the barefoot way because she wasn’t happy with her farrier's last trim and asked a friend for help, who happened to be a qualified barefoot trimmer.
“I kept one of my horses shod because he had a large vertical crack up his hoof wall and I thought the shoe would help keep it together and heal it. Obviously it didn’t. But after finally deciding to get rid of the shoe, of course the crack went away as the new hoof grew out,” said Jill.
There is, however, one protective device that Jill couldn’t do without for her barefoot gaited horses, which we will look at in the following.
Scoot Boots are excellent for gaited horses because of their light weight and the low profile that doesn’t restrict any joint movements. This is Dark Chocolate, one of Jill’s Tennessee Walking Horse broodmares who has the beautiful “silver dapple” color.
Hoof Boots are Excellent Protection for Gaited Horses
As beautiful as the rugged landscape may be where Jill lives with her horses, it also poses some challenges for her horses feet. The very rocky highland terrain was the reason why Jill kept her horses shod and didn’t initially think her horses could do without the protection of horse shoes. Although she found the perfect solution with hoof boots and today she recommends everyone who comes to buy a horse off her, to get a pair of hoof boots as well.
“I stock different brands of hoof boots but Scoot Boots are my favorites, especially for gaited horses. Scoot Boots don’t interfere with the horse’s ability to gait at all because they are so lightweight. And Scoot Boots are great for trail riding here as they have good traction, last a long time and have many openings so dirt and rocks don't get caught in the boot,” Jill said.
If your horse has a tendency to over-stride whilst gaiting, you can simply add a bell boot on top of the Scoot Boot or add a gaiter to the boot, which will protect the entire heel area.
Jill also highlights the adjustability of Scoot Boots, that can be stretched to fit a larger heel bulb, have extra shock absorbing pads inserted and gaiters added to prevent rubbing. In comparison to horse shoes that are found to increase the concussion going up through the horse’s legs, Scoot Boots are made from highly shock absorbing and flexible material which will encourage heel-first landings and keep your horse comfortable and protected on all terrains.
About the author
Helle Maigaard Erhardsen is an investigative journalist specialising in environmental issues. Her devotion to the outdoors includes a life long passion for horses of which she has two: Pannigan, an off-the-track Thoroughbred and Audrey, a Shetland pony, who are both bitless and barefoot. Helle is born in Denmark, where she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2015. Her work is characterised by comprehensive research and she was nominated for the special media award Bording Prisen for her investigative reporting with the newspaper Ing.dk. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Journalism, Media and Communication from UTAS, when she relocated to Tasmania.