The perfectly square, evenly timed gait of the “Running Walk.” This type of gaited perfection is what we strive for in our Tiger Horse breed. This mare is travelling forwards and photographed at the exact moment of hoof transition. Notice the far side lateral pair. The hind is placed midway to the belly, while the same side fore is raised and folded back to be level with the “vertical,” (the vertical being the placed fore leg). The Running Walk horse uses each hoof independently of the others. This is a perfectly evenly timed gait with 4-beats to the rhythm.
The slow walk and the working walk in all horses are also evenly timed 4-beat gaits. The 4-beat walk is the one gait all horses have in common, but the running walk belongs only to gaited horses. When asked for speed from the rhythmical 4-beat walk, gaited horses never loose the even timing. Of course there will be physical changes during each speed, the same way as there are with any type of horse when different speeds are asked of it, ie, the horse will collect more, appear more upright, and the stride will shorten or tighten.
In the Running Walker, the faster the horse travels, the tighter the conformation becomes. Naturally gaited horses are born gaited, the same way as non gaited or trotting horses are born. The difference between the two types is gaited horses naturally move into the bit as they push from the rear, while trotting horses are taught to drive into the bit as they pull from the front. All others types will shift from the walk, into what comes naturally to their specific way of going. ie, trotting and hard pacing horses will perform a 2-beat rhythm. Trotters using diagonal pairs while Pacers use lateral pairs. Only the square gaited “Running Wal” horses will not falter in their perfect rhythmical way of going. Who could ask for anything better? And wouldn’t you think this type is the very best type for breeding gait into a herd?
LEFT The unevenly timed 4-beat lateral Stepping Pace gait. Focus on the offside lateral pair. The hind is placed midway to the belly while the same side fore is raised and ready to drop ahead of the vertical. (The vertical being the placed fore). Using lateral pairs like this is an indication that the gait is not perfectly square, but at times will appear lateral in nature.
The hind always places first in the lateral gait. How closely it is followed by the same side fore depends on how close the gait is in timing to the perfectly square Running Walk gait, or how close it might be to the hard lateral gait of the Pacing horse. If this horse were completely lateral ie, a hard pacer performing a 2-beat rhythm, same side hooves would lift together, move forwards together and strike the ground at the same time.
The hard pace! All horses will occasionally break from their specific way of going, the diagonal gaiters will prefer to break to a trot and the lateral gaiters will perform the hard pace. The perfectly square Running Walk horse can perform all of these variations but prefers to hold true to an evenly timed 4-beat middle gait. Lateral and diagonal gaiters perform a broken 4beat rhythm.
The closer the lateral gaiter is to being a hard pace horse, the more likely it will be to break to a hard pace, as exhibited in this photo. Notice how this mare leans to one side while her lateral pair of legs are lifting from the ground simultaneously. This is an unsafe mode of travel as the horse has to roll from side to side to change leg pairs. The laterally gaited horse with a tendency to break to the hard pace should be corrected immediately when riding. Keeping the lateral gaiters in middle gait is very important, but remember it is one thing to physically correct an error and entirely another to genetically correct it. Do not use extreme lateral gaiters like this mare for she will always produce sons that do the same thing. He daughters will do what their Sires do.
Even though her hoof placements are hidden in sunflowers, it is easy to see how she must lean onto the placed legs in order to lift herself forwards. This mare is not purely a hard pacer as she will at times also perform a smoother middle gait, but her preference when asked for speed is to pace offering a most annoying and uncomfortable ride. Pregnant gaited mares will sometimes travel in a hard pace way, perhaps to make more room for the swollen belly.
Hard pace riding is worse than riding a camel. Believe me I’ve tried
So as with the diagonal gaiters, lateral gaiters need to be kept in gait. Gaited horses that veer to the left or veer to the right of center (the square running walk gait), should never be permitted to perform the hard pace or hard trot. It is better to reduce speed to a walk if the horse keeps performing badly, or your liver may shake, rattle and roll, and the horse will develop the bad habit of doing exactly what it wants to do, the rough ride rather than the smooth one. Riding the hard pace is absolutely horrible, it is worse, or as bad as riding the Dromedaries (single hump) camel. The Bacterium (two humps) look smoother gaited? I haven’t tried them.
The Fox Trot gait had 4 unevenly timed beats to its rhythm. For ID of this diagonal gait you must first observe diagonal pairs of legs. Diagonal gaiters might appear to be trotting because trotters also use diagonal pairs simultaneously, but
with the Fox Trot, there is a dalay in timing changing it from a 2-beat hard trot to a 4-beat soft middle gait.
Notice how the placed fore in this photo is accompanied by a raised opposite hind. At the moment of impact with the ground, the fore has come down ahead of the opposite hind. If this mare were performing the evenly timed 2-beat gait of the hard trotter, diagonal pairs would either be on the ground simultaneously, or in the air simultaneously.
To confirm what you are looking at, we use the placed fore as the vertical, a perfectly straight up and down line. With that in place, shift your eyes to the near side raised pair. The hind is reaching forwards and about to strike the ground, while the fore is reaching backward and hanging behind the vertical. The diagonal movers all exhibit the hanging hoof behind the vertical while the lateral movers have the hanging fore ahead of the vertical. The perfectly square or middle gaiters, show the hanging hoof parallel with the vertical. Now wasn’t that easy to understand?
By sharp contrast with the Fox Trotter, the horse on the left is performing the hard trot. Notice how diagonal pairs are both hanging while the opposite pair are both placed. The trotter needs to bounce from diagonal pair to diagonal pair to move forwards and unless a rider knows how to rise and fall within the saddle in rhythm with this gait, it can be a most uncomfortable experience.
As few horses gaits are ever perfect, slight variations are tolerated. Obviously the most balanced individuals will give the most comfortable ride, whether gaited or not. Obviously when breeding either type, the most balanced individuals are the ones to choose. Rhythmical timing is what makes one horse more desirable to ride than another. For the perfect ride, breed perfect middle gait, to perfect middle gait and experience the difference.