FOSH Dressage for Gaited Horses

 FOSH Dressage for Gaited Horses

 January 1, 2014 –  the beginning of a new year and the beginning of a new FOSH program for gaited horses.  Dressage for Gaited Horses is a unique recognition and reward program for gaited horses competing  in the discipline of Dressage.  This new program  honors all gaited horses and the art and discipline of dressage.

 The philosophy is simple –  respect, recognition and reward for all gaited horses competing in the discipline of Dressage no matter the breed, the competition, the organization or the test.  This is a universal enrollment program developed to record the scores of gaited horses participating in authorized or recognized competitions under licensed judges.  These talented gaited horses will be permanently recognized, honored and rewarded for their accomplishments by FOSH.

 The rules of entry are simple.  The owner must be a member of FOSH, the horse must be gaited, the horse must be at least 48 months of age, the horse must be enrolled in the FOSH Dressage for Gaited Horses Program and the yearly participation fee paid.   In the introductory year of the program, the enrollment fee will be waived.

 The regulations are simple.  Competitions must be authorized or recognized by a governing body.  Tests must be written specifically for gaited horses.  Tests must be designed for gaited horses, published specifically for gaited horses and recognized as appropriate for gaited horses by organizations such FOSH, IJA, NWHA, TWHBEA, USEF, WDAA, NAWDA, and Cowboy Dressage.  Tests may be English or Western.

 FOSH respects the right of the rider or owner to choose. The rider/owner chooses the sanctioning body for the test ridden.  The rider/owner chooses the level of the test or tests ridden.  The rider/owner chooses the competition entered.  The rider/owner chooses the tests ridden at each competition.  The only restriction – the test must be from the approved list and judged by a licensed judge at a recognized competition.

 Annual awards will be presented to horses in the following categories: Two Gait, Introductory Level, Training Level, and First Level.  At least 3 scores of 60% or over at one level must be recorded before a horse is eligible for an award at that level.  This is an enrollment program that records and tracks scores over the life of the horse.  Awards will be given  for lifetime achievement.

Awards categories will be expanded as further tests for gaited horses are developed and approved.

 Complete program information may be found at  Dressage for Gaited Horses (Gaited Dressage) is a division of the FOSH Gaited Sport Horse.  Since 1998, FOSH is the only national organization dedicated to the promotion of the sound gaited horse emotionally, mentally and physically; fair competition; and humane training and education regardless of breed or discipline.

Dressage Question

Is the four-beat gait the suppling, strength-building, and rhythm creating gait to the gaited horse as trot is to the trotting horse?”  

The trot is a diagonal gait and the majority of four beat gaits are considered lateral. It is to be assumed that the lateral and diagonal gaits require the use of different muscle groups. Although I do not have extensive study in biomechanics and anatomy, I do believe I have read that the previous statement to be correct.

The question then becomes – can suppleness, rhythm and strength building be created from a four beat gait?

The walk is four beat gait considered by many to be the foundation for all movement. The walk is common to all horses. The quality of the walk may vary, but the basic elements of the walk are present. Suppleness and rhythm can be developed at any gait including the walk, the trot and the canter.

Riders of gaited horses may spend more time developing suppleness and rhythm at the walk than non gaited horses; however if the work is done correctly, suppleness and rhythm are the result. At any gait, the rider should be aware of the basic elements required in the exercise in order to determine if the outcome of the exercise is achieved. This is as true for the gaited horse rider as it is for the walk/trot rider. The rider must recognize the elements required to achieve rhythm and achieve suppleness while working on these elements in order to achieve the desired outcome.

Rhythm is defined as the sequence of footfalls and phases of a given gait. If the desired result is rhythm, rhythm can be developed at the walk if the rider is aware of the elements that make up the walk as well as the consistency of the rhythm. As the horse progresses or develops, the speed of the walk can be increased and the length of stride at the walk can be lengthened. This can be done while maintaining rhythm at the walk.

Suppleness means pliable and flexible. The degree of suppleness possible is different for each horse and is determined by the length of the tendons, ligaments and muscles, and the configuration of the joint faces. If the desired result is suppleness, suppleness can be developed at the walk and progress to work at the intermediate four beat gait and canter. Again I would emphasize that the correctness of the movement is as important as the gait at which it is performed. As the horse progresses in training, increased suppleness will result in greater balance and better gait.

Once the goals regarding rhythm and suppleness have been achieved at the walk, the rider will begin to develop both rhythm and suppleness at the four beat gait that is distinctive to the breed. It must be recognized that each gaited breed has a distinct intermediate or middle gait. This is an extension of the work done at the walk with the same goal – consistency of rhythm and increased suppleness expected at the level of training of the individual horse.

I have left addressing strength building until the end. I am not certain what is meant by strength building, but I assume it involves development of the musculature and stamina of the horse. From the question, I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that some believe strength building is best achieved at the trot or a diagonal gait. I would suggest that strength building can be developed at the four beat gaits. Consistency and stamina are elements of strength as is the ability to develop increased power from the hind quarters. As the horse develops, consistency should also develop if the rider is aware of the importance of consistency and rhythm at any gait. Stamina results from increasing interval training at any gait. As the interval of time increases at which a horse can maintain gait, balance and of course rhythm, so does the stamina of the horse. This can be done at the walk or at the unique four beat gait of the gaited breed. It can also be done at the canter or lope, another gait that is common to all horses no matter the breed. It should not be overlooked that correct transitions from one gait to another gait are also important factors in building strength.

When responding to questions, it is important to understand what is meant by the terms used. Often people use terms and assume they mean the same thing to all people, but in reality a term may mean something different to each person.

A number of days ago, Allanna posed the following question

 Thought question.  Is it appropriate to apply the term “collection” to the optimum balance and development of the 4-beat intermediate gaits?  When done in their best and purest form none of them are collected as the term is applied to the trot and canter and none of the 4-beat intermediate gaits can be fully collected since doing so turns 4-beat gaits into trot.

Thought Response:

This is a most interesting question and certainly not one that can be answered in a few words.  In my opinion, the basic premise of the question has to do with the word collection – by definition and by what people think it means.

 Collection is used in many aspects of equine sport and the meaning may vary with the discipline and the person.  For example, to some collection means head set, a round back and to others it means a tight rein.  However, this page is Fundamentals of Dressage for Gaited Horses, it is assumed the question applies to the discipline of dressage.  We must always remember that “the object of dressage training is to develop the horse physically and mentally, in harmony with his own natural way of moving and thinking.”

 The following definition or description is taken from the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms.


At trot and canter, a pace with shorter steps and a more uphill balance than in the working pace, without sacrificing impulsion. The horse’s frame is shorter, with the neck stretched and arched upward. The tempo remains nearly the same as in the medium or extended pace

At walk, a pace with shorter steps and a more uphill balance than in the medium walk, without sacrificing activity. To be shown with a steady neck (relative to the oscillation of the neck appropriate to the medium and extended paces) and frame same as above. The tempo remains nearly the same as in the medium or extended pace.

(Note: It is a common misconception that the hind legs step further forward under the body in collection. This is not consonant with the shorter strides required in collection. At the trot and canter, the hind feet are picked up relatively sooner after passing behind the hip and spend relatively more time on the ground [support phase] than in the other paces of the gait.)

 To paraphrase, the balance is more uphill, impulsion is maintained, the frame is shorter, the tempo is nearly the same as the medium and extended gaits, the steps are shorter, and the feet are on the ground longer than in the other paces of the gait.

 With considering gaited horses, the intermediate gait is not the trot, a two beat diagonal movement.  The intermediate gait is a four beat gait which may be lateral or diagonal, may be even or uneven with a length of stride that varies for each gaited breed.

 The question is at a minimum a two part question:

  •  can the intermediate gait be collected without losing the aspects of the gait that make it unique to the gaited breed?  Can the intermediate gait for the gaited breeds become more uphill, maintain impulsion with a shorter frame, maintain the same tempo as the medium and extended gaits and keep on the ground longer than in the medium or extended gaits?  Yes, the gaited breeds are all capable of a collected intermediate gait that fits the above description.  The degree of collection desired is dependent upon the unique qualities of the gaited breed and the ability of the individual horse.
  •  can the intermediate gait be considered the optimum in collection as applicable to dressage?  Is any gaited breed capable of performing the intermediate gait at the highest level of collection?  If by definition or assumption the highest level of collection is the piaffe, then no the gaited breeds can not perform the intermediate gait as defined by the piaffe which is performed at a trot.

 Dressage as a training method is for the benefit of the overall well being of the horse.  Again it is important to remember “the object of dressage training is to develop the horse physically and mentally, in harmony with his own natural way of moving and thinking.”

Dressage training is not limited to the development of the optimum intermediate gait of the horse.  It certainly helps in that development but that is not the only goal of the training.    There is a progression of tasks in Dressage whether ones’ goal is training or competition.  The order of progression from the bottom is Rhythm, Looseness and Relaxation, Acceptance of the Bit, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection.  Note that Collection is the last task to be addressed.   If the individual’s purpose is to use Dressage for training, there are many things to address before collection is encountered.  If the individual’s purpose is competition, the collected movements are not required at the lower levels.

 I do not have enough knowledge of biomechanics to know if optimum collection of the four beat gaits results in a trot.  This would be based on the assumption that when the intermediate gaits of any gaited breed is in the maximum collected state, the default gait of the gaited breeds is the trot.  If I am not mistaken, even at the highest levels, one fault of piaffe is that it is not 2 beat but rather 4 beat.

 When one applies the use of collection in Dressage, one is not using the same terminology as would be used in the gaited breeds.  The optimum description (not necessarily balance and development) of the four beat gaits is described by each individual breed.  It is my personal opinion that Dressage Tests that respect the unique abilities of the gaited breeds would consider the abilities of the breed as well as the ability of the horses.  Collection at the walk and the canter, gaits that are common to all breeds of horses, should be the same for the gaited breeds as it is for the trotting breeds.  Collection at the intermediate gait should be unique to the gaited breeds and should be what is appropriate to the gaited breeds rather than what is appropriate to the trotting breeds.

 Now if you want to discuss balance, that begins another discussion.