Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Are The Gaits Of The Horse?

First of all, I apologize. A post that was supposed to go out a month from now accidentally went out today - so if you're wondering where it is (and why it didn't make as much sense as usual) I put it back in its place.

So, today, I'm going to follow up by talking about the four gaits of the horse. Well, of most horses.

The standard four gaits all horses can do are:

1. The walk. The walk is a four beat, lateral gait. Horses walk most of the time - they only go faster if they have a good reason, although that good reason can include play.

This pack horse is walking off towards...actually, he's going back to the ranch with the trash.

2. The trot. The trot is a two beat, diagonal gait. That is, the left front hoof and right hind hoof move, then the other pair. Because of this, there's a lot of up and down motion in the trot. I'll talk about "posting" the trot in a specific post. A horse can keep up a trot for quite some time - it's a comfortable gait for them. The western jog is a slightly slower trot - and stock horses are bred to have a low, smooth gait.

A Quarter Horse mare trotting - one diagonal is on the ground the other is elevated.

3. The canter. The canter is also diagonal, but has three beats. A horse moves the right hind, then the left hind and right fore, then the left fore. Or the other way around - this is called the canter lead. Riding horses are trained to always canter on the "inside" lead, which means, paradoxically, moving the outside hind first. Wild horses will tend to canter on the lead they prefer. Western people call the canter the "lope". The canter also has a distinct moment of suspension.

Both of the ponies in this picture are cantering. The pinto in the lead is right in the "moment of suspension" with not one hoof on the ground.

4. The gallop. The gallop is just a canter extended until it has four beats. Right hind, left hind, right fore, left fore - or, again, the other way round. The gallop is the fastest gait for most horses, and most horses can't keep it up for very long.

These Thoroughbred racehorses are galloping. The middle horse is in the moment of suspension, the lead horse is in the fully extended phase of the gait. Source: Softeis via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition, there are the "extra" gaits.

1. The foxtrot. This is a four beat diagonal gait - essentially a "broken" trot. Right fore, left hind, left fore, right hind. Because the pairs are broke, the foxtrot is smoother than a normal trot. It's classic of the Missouri Foxtrotter.

A Missouri Fox Trotter. Source: Kayla Oakes via Wikimedia Commons.

2. The amble. The amble has several breed specific variants - it's called, for example, a running walk in the Missouri Foxtrotter, the singlefoot, the tolt in Icelandics, and the revaal in the Marwari and Kathiawari horses of India. Each amble is slightly different, but it's basically a sped up walk. And is very comfortable - at least the tolt is. Horses that ambled used to be prized as riding horses, but the trait is now limited to only a few breeds. Do your characters a favor - have the riding horses amble. Trust me.

An Icelandic horse demonstrating the tolt. Image source: Dagur Brynjolfsson via Wikimedia Commons.

3. The rack. The rack, also called the paso largo in the Paso Fino or the flying pace in Icelandic horses - is basically the amble sped up to a canter or gallop speed. It's harder to achieve. (For example, all Icelandic horses tolt, but not all can handle the flying pace).

A Saddlebred horse doing the rack or fast gait. (Note how far back the rider is sitting - this is correct for gaited horses, who need their shoulders free to move properly). Source: Heather Moreton via Wikimedia Commons.

4. The pace. The pace is a two beat lateral gait. You. Do. Not. Want. To. Ride. A. Pacer. Your kidneys don't want you to anyway. In modern horses, the pace is most commonly seen in harness racing breeds, because it's faster than the fastest trot. In gaited breeds being "pacey" is a fault and the pace is bred out of most horses (rack = four beats. Pace = two beats). Because your kidneys don't like it. (Camels also pace and people have been known to be motion sick on them!).

Harness racers at the pace. Source: MagicFlute1983 via Wikimiedia Commons.

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