GAIT IDENTIFICATION MADE EASY
HORSE GAITS EXPLAINED
Gaited horses use their legs and feet differently than non gaited horses do. Some say gaited horse breeds inherit an extra gait and while travelling, will always have one hoof on the ground, ie, "single footers." In fact, they don't have an extra gait at all, and depending on the gait
performed, will always have at least one hoof in the air. Some horses perform diagonally and are not gaited while other diagonal performers are gaited. Some horses perform a hard pace and are not gaited, while others perform a stepping pace, and
are gaited. All horses can walk. Gaited horses when asked, will speed up and perform whatever gait they have inherited. Research on horse gaits is an interesting topic. We are explaining the horse gaits at this page in an easy language so any one can understand and trying to answer the questions what is a gait for horses?, and what horses are gaited?. The Tiger Horse Breed is primarily a gaited, working saddle horse which in addition to a walk and canter, must perform an even, natural intermediate four-beat gait.
Trotters and Pacers are outside the realm of middle gait, and will only be discussed briefly on this site. “Middle gaits” will be described quite fully and are divided in three categories; Diagonal, Lateral, and Square, each capable of different speeds doing what comes naturally to them. Each gaited horse breed gets its own name and each speed is individually named as well. Variations in stride and speed occur in all types, both gaited and non gaited. We have grouped and named them for easy identification, sometimes borrowing names already standard in the industry although not appropriate in every case. For example almost all gaits go from a 4-beat evenly timed walk where each hoof moves independently of the other three, but when asked to speed up will change dramatically from the evenly timed 4-beat rhythm of the walk to something else entirely. Lets see below the types of horse gaits.
TYPE OF HORSE GAITS
The Square Gait: This square gaited horse is gently carrying a timid rider at the walk. If asked for speed, her frame would round, her head and neck would rise and tighten into the bit, and depending
on the specifics of her particular gait or the speed she performs, her stride would also change. A square gaited horse speed up from the “walk” to the “running walk,” and then the “rack,” each time changing
the length of her stride. (“Rack” not to be confused with laterally gaited horses that are accepted by The Racking Horse Association who in recent years expanded their rules to include them).
To identify the square gait, observe the placed hind which has reached towards and placed belly center. Some horses will have a deeper or shorter stride. The same is true for non-gaited horses. Now look at the same off side raised fore. You will notice it is level to the placed fore which we shall call the “vertical.” Look at the beautiful square lines this presents. One fore is firmly placed and vertical to the ground, while the other is neatly raised and folded to the vertical. In the running walk or "square gaited" horse, you always want to see a level hoof placement,regardless of speed, the square gaited horse will always look like this and each hoof will move independently of the other three.
The Lateral Gait: This horse is also walking here, but notice how his raised fore is ahead of the vertical? This is what the stepping pace horse looks like at the walk. Same side legs will lift and
move forwards simultaneously but the hind will hit the ground first followed by the same side fore. The closer the ride is to square, the closer to the vertical the raised fore would be. If the horse were closer
to the hard lateral pace, the raised fore would be further extended and touch the ground only fractions of a second after the same side hind. This gait, like the square gait, is exceptionally smooth to ride
and is the fastest of the three middle gaits. The closer their gait is to hard pace, the more likely they will be to break to it. Never allow gaited horses to trot or pace while under saddle.
If asked for speed, he too should tighten his frame, lift his neck, and collect naturally into the bit. Although his gait is unevenly timed, the 4-beat rhythm should not change. Only the speed with which he performs will change. He and the hard pacing horses above are capable of great speeds, some clocked in excess of 27 mph. We call his gait the "Stepping Pace" and at greater speed, the "Flying Pace." Incorrectly named “....pace” because the hard pace is outside the realm of middle gait, we are using it in conjuction with “stepping” and “flying” because like the pace, it too is a lateral gait
The Diagonal Gait: This is a Missouri Fox Trotting horse at the walk She uses diagonal pairs much the same way as trotters do, except at the moment of impact with the ground, the raised fore will strike the ground first, followed by the opposite hind. This delay in foot falls shifts the gait from what might have been the hard 2-beat (bouncy) trot, to a quieter softer 4-beat ride. These horses travel along joyfully, head and neck naturally collected at all times, with a jaunty tail bounce and slight head nod. Compare this photo to the two above. The raised fore is behind the vertical but because this is a diagonal gait, shift your gaze to diagonal pairs. The near side raised hind is about to strike the ground but the opposite fore has already come down. This gait causes the horse to travel somewhat like a wooden rocking horse. Collection is tight and neat and the horse can travel rhythmically in this unevenly timed 4-beat gait for very long periods. It is an energy saving way of going.
The Glider Gait: This Gait is sometimes known as “the shuffle” gait. It always starts out as a diagonal gait but then at the moment of impact the hind will slide into place first, following closely by the
opposite fore which then drops into place. In this photo we see that the raised fore is slightly ahead of the vertical. It is almost a perfectly square diagonal gait but now look at the near side hind. Notice the
puff of dirt at the toe, yet the opposite fore is quitely placed, no dust? Horses will not perform this gait on a slick surface and will revert to the hard trot, but in a soft surface will extend and even hollow the
frame, head stretched out in front, use diagonal pairs but not in evenly timed rhythm. The hind will slide to a stop anchoring the horse momentarily while the opposite fore drops into place.
To ride the Glide, one should not restrict the horses frame in any way. Give it its head and go along for the ride. This is the glider horses preferred and most comfortable way to travel and it is much faster than the extended trot at 17 mph.
The Working Trot: This is the hard trot. It is powerful and energetic. Riders must rise and fall in rhythm with this 2-beat evenly timed gait (outside the realm of middle gaits) in order to have a comfortable ride. Diagonal pairs are working together and will lift simultaneously, move forwards simultaneously, and then strike the ground simultaneously. The trotting horse must bounce during transitions in order to propel forwards. Gaited horses do not bounce or propel but travel quietly and quickly allowing riders to sit comfortably in the saddle at all speeds. The working trot is clocked at from 6mph to 13mph at the extended trot.
The Hard Pace: The hard pace is not a safe ride. Horses that are bred for the hard pace are routinely used in harness racing and can reach amazing speeds in excess of 27 mph. Below left is an excellent example of the hard pace. This horse has all fours off the ground during transition but would have to roll from side to side like this mare below right, to get the opposite pair off the ground during transitions. Notice how lateral pairs are working together. The horse has extreme extension with the hind reaching well past the belly center. Same sides have lifted simultaneously, moved forwards simultaneously, and will strike the ground simultaneously in a 2-beat evenly timed rhythm. The lateral gait is outside the realm of middle gaits. This hard pace horse rolls from side to side to get the opposite side legs off the ground during transitions.
This mode of travel is impossible to sit safely or comfortably. Never breed to a hard pacing horse unless that is what you want in your herd. Tigre does not accept the hard pace unless the horse can also demonstrate an ability to travel in smooth middle gait, as some certainly can.
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