Most people choose gaited horses for their flashy knee action or exceptionally smooth gaits on the trail.
Like most animals, horses of all breeds can pop over a jump here and there if they have to, but some breeds are better designed for it than others.
Can a gaited horse jump?
Gaited horses can jump with a little extra training and guidance help – and some can even reach high levels of jumping competition.
However, all horses have their strengths and weaknesses, and gaited breeds are typically better suited for flatwork and trail riding than showjumping.
All horses have the biomechanics to jump small obstacles whether they are gaited or not.
Presuming they are in good health and willing to jump, you can theoretically teach a gaited horse to jump just as you could teach a horse that’s bred specifically for Olympic-level show jumping.
As a rule, many gaited horses can physically jump – but whether or not they do it well or comfortably is another issue entirely, and one that is often best decided by each individual horse and rider team.
If you do plan to teach your horse to jump, make sure you set a good training foundation and remove any special gaited gear before you begin (stacks, padded shoes, etc).
Gaited Horses Are Unique
Most non-gaited horses can perform four distinct gaits (way of moving) – the walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
Each of these gaits is defined by how the feet hit the ground.
The walk is an even four-beat gait where each foot hits the ground separately.
In the trot, the feet move laterally in diagonal pairs.
The canter is a three-beat gait in which the horse is propelled by one of the rear legs, and is an important movement to master for jumping properly. (source)
Gaited horses can often achieve these standard gaits, but they are usually distinguished from “non-gaited” horses by their ability to perform various four-beat ambling gaits, or quick two-beat lateral racing gaits.
For example, Tennessee Walking Horses have a smooth “running walk” that is comfortable to sit, but may look a little funny if you’ve never seen it up close.
Standardbreds may be inclined to pace, rather than trot.
These breeds (and many more) developed over time as “trail and road horses” – comfortably traveling bumpy roads or wilderness in a smooth and efficient way.
Ambling gaited horses are designed to travel comfortably over long distances, not propel a rider over a course full of obstacles. (source)
The Mechanics of Jumping
Jumping might look effortless to a bystander, but a horse needs to successfully negotiate the five separate phases of a jump – the approach, takeoff, flight, landing, and recovery.
These are most successful when performed at the canter, as jumping can feel a lot like taking a big canter stride.
A good jumping horse needs to have a powerful hind end to propel his body over the obstacle and land in a smooth, rhythmic motion.
To compete at the higher levels, the horse also needs a well-balanced and adjustable canter to create the best approach and recovery.
This can be difficult for horses that don’t canter well (whether they’re gaited or not), because the approach and the takeoff are more disorganized for both the horse and the rider. (source)
Gaited horses often need training to be taught how to canter at all, and jumping large obstacles can be downright impossible without the proper impulsion from behind.
Despite this, plenty of gaited horses can easily clear small jumps at the trot, as long as they have plenty of momentum and they understand what you’re asking them to do.
Successful Gaited Jumping Horses
While you may not see many gaited horses in the hunter/jumper or eventing world, plenty of them succeed in competition.
Many American Saddlebred owners participate in eventing, where an ASB’s grace under saddle and bold attitude can be an asset in dressage and cross-country.
Then there’s the story of Pete, a double-registered Tennessee Walking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse, who regularly competed in both the hunter and jumper rings – successfully clearing obstacles up to 4 feet high!
During his jumping career, he regularly cleared courses of 3’3” fences and is an example of the versatility of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. (source)
Though many gaited horses aren’t as physically suited to jumping like Pete, they’re still often known for their easygoing natures and willingness to please.
That means with a little effort, a Paso Fino or Rocky Mountain Horse could become an excellent jumping horse – as long as you both enjoy it.
Teaching a Gaited Horse to Jump
Cantering and jumping can be valuable skills to teach a gaited horse. Especially if you plan to take them out on the trail.
Most trail horses will encounter a fallen log or other obstacles at some point, and knowing how to tackle it can mean the difference between forging on ahead giving up and turning around.
There are many different ways to go about this, but you should choose a strategy based on how your specific horse moves.
If your horse only walks and gaits, you may want to spend time getting a good trot (and then canter) before moving on to jumping.
However, with a little forward momentum, most horses will naturally hop over fallen logs and smaller obstacles if they’ve had some practice with poles or small jumps in an arena. Here are some things that can help:
- Gymnastics exercises using strategically placed ground poles can help your horse find the appropriate rhythm for the canter, as well as for takeoff. Evenly spaced ground poles can also help them develop the necessary balance and impulsion necessary for jumping higher obstacles.
- Short and relaxed training sessions. It’s important to keep your horse relaxed and happy when they’re learning something new, especially with a new skill like jumping. Knocking poles can be scary at first, and having a positive experience with the training will help improve progress.
- Focus on developing the standard gaits first. “Pacey” horses may have trouble figuring out where their feet should be for takeoff and landing. Trotting and cantering over jumps is often much easier, so focus on developing confidence in those skills first before moving on to jumping.
Gaited horses can be taught to jump if done correctly.
It is important to make sure that you and your horse are both comfortable with jumping before compelling your gaited horse to do this.
Be sure your horse has been taught the fundamentals of cantering and trotting before moving on to jumping.
This will help assure yours and your horse’s safety and health.