While some horses just gait, because they were bred with lots of talent. Other horses are not so lucky. They will do lots of other gaits, but not the one you are trying to get. So, you send them out to a trainer, who then gets the horse to gait nicely. They show you what to do and everything is good for a while. Till life gets in the way, and you do not have much time to ride. Or winter comes and you cannot ride.
You end up riding here and there but not consistently. Overtime, your horse stops gaiting so nicely and goes back to his old ways of trotting or pacing or doing some other gait you did not want. What's happened?
Your horse lost his conditioning. That's right. Your horse needs to keep his muscles strong, to gait. Standing in his stall or in the pasture eating grass does not keep them in condition. Even running around the pasture with their friends will not keep them in gaiting condition, since they are not gaiting consistently when they are loose. Sure, they may do it here and there but not enough to keep those muscles strong and not enough to create muscle memory.
Now some of you will say here, well my horse does. But that is not the horses I am talking about. Yours was probably bred well and trained well. I am talking about the horses that trot, pace, or do a different gait when they are loose, not the ones that come gaiting out of the womb and that's all they do. Lucky you, but your friends may not be so lucky.
To understand this, compare this to athletes, some are just full of talent. It is so easy for them to do sports and sometimes many different sports. But other people, must work very hard to be good. They must lift weights, do endurance training, and train all the time to keep their muscles strong and their reaction time quick to do the sports. If they quit for a while or stop training so hard, they lose their edge and no longer are as good as they once were.
That's how it is with many horses. If you do not ride them in gait consistently for long periods of time to build up their muscles, then they lose their gaiting muscles. What you or the trainer worked so hard to get, can go away within a month of not gaiting. Sad but true.
To build muscles to gait, you usually need to work the horse 3-5 times a week, just like you going to the gym. So, riding them once a week or every two weeks is not going to cut it. You can work them from the ground on a lunge line, but you must make them gait on it, not just run around and pace or trot on the lunge line or let them keep switching gaits. You will not build muscle for a specific gait if the horse constantly changes gaits. You must make them stay in gait and then build their muscles, so they can hold it longer and get faster over time.
Ok, now I know, some of you are going to say well in winter there is nothing we can do. That's just fine. But remember when spring comes, you must slowly get your horse and his mind back in shape to gait. Not just take them out and ride 4 hours when they have not been ridden all winter. Otherwise, you will just make them sore or cause an injury. Slowly work them back into condition and once they can hold their gait, then each week try to gait a little longer until they are back in shape.
Horses with years of good gaiting, will come back faster, but the young horses or horses who finally learned to gait well in the past year or two, will not come back so fast. It takes time and patience, and yes, I always say that.
If you do not want to take the time to do that, then pay a trainer, we all need work and have the trainer get them back into shape to gait and trail ride. Plan about a month ahead to start them working so when the trainer is done you can get back to your trail riding.
Sometimes we don't think about this, or we think they all just magically gait. But if you are on my page, you know that is not true or I would not be so busy. Again, some of you are lucky and have that great gaiting horse, that gaits no matter what, but the rest of you should realize they need to stay in gaiting shape, or they won't gait no more.