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What are Gaited Horses?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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Gaited horses are horses which are bred or trained to utilize distinct movement patterns which are not like the walk, trot, canter, or gallop. Many breeds of horse are renowned for their gaits, including the Icelandic, Tennessee Walking Horse, Saddlebred, Standardbred, Peruvian Paso, and the Paso Fino, among several others. These unique gaited horses may naturally have an additional gait, and they are subjected to additional training to bring the gait out and smooth it. Many riders greatly enjoy gaited horses because of their smooth, pleasant motion, and gaited horses are also stunning to watch, leading many people to compete in gaited divisions at horse shows.

Almost all horses can naturally walk, trot, canter, and gallop. Each of these gaits has a distinct pattern, starting with the four beat pattern of the walk, moving into the well known one-two pattern of the trot, and accelerating into the three beat canter, a fast but still flowing gait. At full speed, horses revert to the four beat gallop, using huge strides and powerful muscles to cover the ground at high speed.

Gaited horses are capable of the pace and/or amble in addition to these four gaits. In some cases, a gaited horse will amble rather than trotting, which is one of the reasons gaited horses are so popular with riders, because the amble is very easy to sit, unlike the trot. A pace is a lateral two beat gait, meaning that both legs on the same side move forward at once. At high speeds, a pace can be uncomfortable, because the horse moves in a side to side motion, with two feet off the ground, but it is very effective for harness racing. Pacing is not actively encouraged in many gaited horses, although some Icelandics can perform the flying pace, a high speed pace which is generally used for only short distances, because it is highly demanding on the horse's body.

More commonly, gaited horses amble. Unlike a human amble, an equine amble is a specific four beat gait. In a lateral amble, the horse starts by moving a rear foot, moving to the fore foot on the same side, and then repeating the process on the other side. Gaited horses may also use a diagonal amble, in which the horse moves a back foot, and then the alternate forefoot. When a gaited horse has been well trained, these gaits are flowing, beautiful, and very distinctive, although they may seem hard to understand in print. They can also be sustained for long periods of time on the trail, leading many people to use gaited horses for trail and endurance riding.

The specific movement patterns of many gaited horses are specifically named, allowing riders to distinguish between them. The Tennessee Walking Horse, for example, has a gait known as the running walk, while Saddlebreds rack, and Missouri Foxtrotters fox trot. The famous fluid and distinctive gait of Icelandics is called a tölt. To see gaited horses in action, you can visit a horse show with a gaited division, or seek out gaited horses in your community; these talented athletes are growing increasing popular in many parts of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are gaited horses?

Gaited horses are breeds that have the ability to perform smooth, natural gaits beyond the typical walk, trot, canter, and gallop. These additional gaits are often four-beat movements that provide a more comfortable ride due to their reduced bounce. Breeds like the Tennessee Walking Horse and the Missouri Fox Trotter are well-known for their unique gaits.

How do gaited horses differ from non-gaited horses in their movement?

Gaited horses possess a genetic predisposition for alternative gaits that are smoother and less jarring than the standard trot. These gaits, such as the running walk or the fox trot, involve each foot hitting the ground independently, creating a steady, even rhythm. This contrasts with the two-beat trot of non-gaited horses, which can be bouncier for the rider.

Are gaited horses faster than non-gaited horses?

Gaited horses are not necessarily faster than non-gaited horses; their specialty lies in their stamina and the comfort of their gaits over long distances. While certain gaited horse breeds can maintain their unique gaits at higher speeds, they are generally prized for their endurance and smooth riding experience rather than outright speed.

Is it easier to ride a gaited horse?

Many riders find gaited horses easier to ride due to their smooth gaits, which can be less physically demanding and more comfortable, especially over long distances. The reduced bounce and jarring motions associated with non-gaited horse gaits make gaited horses particularly appealing to those with back problems or other physical limitations.

What are some common uses for gaited horses?

Gaited horses are often used for trail riding, endurance riding, and pleasure riding because of their comfortable gaits. They are also popular in show rings where their unique movements are showcased. Historically, their smooth gaits made them preferred mounts for long-distance travel and tasks that required spending extended periods on horseback.

Can gaited horses perform the same activities as non-gaited horses?

Yes, gaited horses can perform many of the same activities as non-gaited horses, including trail riding, showing, and various forms of competition. However, they may not be the preferred choice for disciplines that require the traditional trots and canters, such as dressage or jumping, where specific movements and gaits are scored.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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