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Do gaited horses need to be ridden differently than “regular” horses? Should they be trained differently?

These are questions I’m often asked, so I went to the expert – Larry Whitesell of Gaited Horsemanship.


My focus as a trainer has been on understanding and solving behavior problems versus training for peak performance or competitive success. A benefit of this focus on behavior problems for me is I can work with a variety of horses.

I get to ride all shapes, sizes, and breeds, from ponies to drafts, and also work with horses of all disciplines – reiners, trail horses, jumpers, fox hunters, and dressage horses. Thoroughbreds to Quarter horses, Percherons, Paints, Mustangs, Welsh Ponies, the list goes on… I also occasionally work with different gaited breeds, and I have always had a special fascination with gaited horses since many of my early riding days and long-distance riding was on two Rocky Mountain mares.

With the gaited horses that have come here to my farm for training, my focus was usually not on their gait, but on working through other problems. However, as I’ve recognized the large role that movement and self-carriage play in emotion, and therefore in any behavior, I began to ask more questions about the best way to help gaited horses, especially those whose owners wanted to ride a very nice smooth gait.

This led me to a clinic and interview with gaited horse trainer, Larry Whitesell, and co-trainer Russel Terry.

Hit play below to watch the interview and learn the biggest misconceptions around riding gaited horses.


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18 Responses

  1. Love this interview! His transformation from a trainer who won in the gaited show world to one that focuses on “soft eyes” and horses that like their people is so good to hear. (It’s what I try to accomplish with my own clients.) I compete in USDF dressage, and I’d go to one of his clinics!

  2. I have been to two Larry Whitesell / Jennifer Bauer clinics and they represent the best of the horse world. I don’t ride ‘dressage’ — but the principles are applicable to everyone.

  3. We just rescued three very neglected horses two weeks ago: One of them is a Tennessee Walker mare. What a Sweetheart!!! I’m working with her to get her back into shape, starting with walking in the round pen and short rides in the arena. This gaited horse video was very informative for me, because as a H/J barn, we are not knowledgeable about gaited horses.

    Thank you so much, Callie.

  4. Wonderful interview. Love his line “you have to convince the horse that this is for him”. My Spotted Saddle Horse mare imported from Tennesee as an 8 year old has always had a strong sense of “self preservation”. Interesting that much of her unconfident behaviour may be caused by gaps in training so typical in gaited breeds. I’m going to buy Larry’s DVD and soak it up . He really seems to have the horses” best interests at heart. He’s a gem. When’s he coming to Canada?

  5. I have hosted many clinics here in Canada over the years with Larry Whitesell and Jennifer Bauer. You can’t find better horse trainers, not just gaited horse trainers than these two. They have also trained many of my horses. My horses come back with sound minds and athletic bodies that are soft and supple. I can’t praise them enough about their training techniques. The best thing about them is they never stop learning and applying what they learn to the horses they train and the riders that ride them. Glenda Newland

  6. What a terrific, intelligent, sensitive and educated horseman! Great interview, lots of useful and horse friendly information. Thank you.

  7. Great interview. I really liked what Larry had to say. I really don’t know much about gaited horses. Honestly, i have been turned off to them largely because of the harsh training tactics used. It is so good to hear from a trainer who specializes in gaited horses and is training for developing good healthy movement and encouraging good riding. Someday i would love to ride a gaited horse (for fun) with a horse that is happy and healthy like i would imagine one trained by Larry would be. I would bet that would be a blast!

  8. Great interview with Larry ~ I too enjoyed what he had to say and it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for another great interview.

  9. I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said above, but I wanted to add that I found the interview very interesting. Having little experience with gaited horses (other than what I have observed in the horseshow world) I am happy to learn that there are good trainers of gaited horses out there who are truly focused on the mental and physical welfare of their horses. Nicely done interview Callie!

  10. Thank you Callie for this wonderful interview.
    Just had my second riding lesson and I have to say that I am honestly re- thinking the attitude of the trainer.
    One remark that I can’t get out of my head…… are the words ” don’t make me hurt him” which meant that I was not keeping the horse close to the wall while riding and now he was doing what he wanted to do and that was not allowed ? Mind you I was not sure what I was doing at that point,the trainer was trying to protect me maybe?
    Part of me gets it !!!
    I have trained many Dobermans and volunteered for a rescue so…. I understand that I need to let the dog understand that his or her behavior was not good ! , not at the cost of hitting the dog !!!!
    I have learned the difference between a hard and soft dog.
    Now remember that this was my second lesson only ?
    Truly do not know much about horses or riding. Very glad that I found your website.
    I’m one of those people that have paid to ride on a trail while on vacation, never really having control of the horse ,just put in the saddle and followed the leader ….. have always believed in positive reinforcement with my Dobermans.
    Now that my husband and I live in Phoenix we thought we would like to learn more about horses and take riding lessons.

  11. Thank you Callie for providing this information as I have been one of the many requesting information for gaited horses. I was fortunate to host Larry at our very small barn about 2 years ago for 2 days and he was awesome! He worked with us (not all of us had gaited horses) on how to help your horse become balanced and relaxed. This was the goal, NOT gaiting. He stated that if your horse was relaxed and balanced, he/she would OFFER gaiting, and after a few months of practicing what he had taught, my big boy offered gait! I was ecstatic. I now work more on relaxation and balance, never before realizing the importance of both. Larry Whitesell , for having Grand Champions many times, is a very humble man. He told us that one day he looked at his wife and said that he didn’t think that his horses “liked” him. Thus began his quest for taking a different approach with his riding and his horses than what is often than not seen in the horseworld today in all disciplines. He is one of a kind. Truly cares about the horse’s comfort and the relationship between horse and rider. Thank you so much for providing this interview!

  12. I have heard of Larry, but haven’t discovered what a gem he has been to the horse world. I want to thank you for this interview. I have ridden Arabians for many years with softness and sensitivity being a key training goal. I am currently riding Walking horses and live in Kentucky. The gaited world swears that you have to have the 10in shank and keep a good hold on them. I threw away the bit that came with my horse and ride in the same bit I have always used or sometimes a snaffle. I have a pacing mare that is improving every day, as Larry has reminded us, the key to getting the gait is simple-stay balanced, soft and listen to your horse. Thank You Both.

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