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What is Galloping?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Galloping is the fastest of horse gaits; horses can achieve speeds of up to 30 miles an hour (50 kilometers an hour) at the gallop. Typically this gait can only be sustained for a short period of time, because it requires a huge amount of energy. Fans of horse racing have seen horses worked at the gallop, since this gait is classically used in racing, and galloping is also used in hunting and in the show ring. As a general rule, this is a gait for advanced riders only, because it is difficult to control a horse at the gallop.

This is a four beat gait in which the legs are extended as far as possible to cover ground. It is very similar to the three beat canter, except that the gallop requires even more power from the hindquarters. In nature, this gait undoubtedly evolved to allow horses to escape quickly from predators, which is why it relies on a burst of speed, rather than stamina. The goal is to get away from a dangerous location, rather than to keep up a sustained flight.

If you watch a video of a horse galloping in slow motion, you can see that the gallop includes a moment of suspension, in which all four legs are off the ground. During the moment of suspension, the legs are bent under the body of the horse, right before the horse lands a hind leg and takes off with explosive power, extending the front legs as far as possible to move forward.

Unlike the trot and canter, the gallop essentially only has one speed. Some show horses are taught to demonstrate the gallop in hand, a more controlled form of the gallop, but generally, horses are either galloping or cantering.

Sitting a gallop is tricky. Most riders adopt a two-point position, in which the body is raised slightly over the saddle and leaned forward over the horse for balance. It takes time to learn to sit this gait securely, and to control a horse at the gallop; an unbalanced rider or a rider who lacks control may find that a gallop turns into a sprint which cannot be controlled until the horse runs out of energy, and this is not desirable. As a general rule, riders should become very comfortable with the canter before pushing the gait into a gallop, and many riders try galloping on a lead line first, allowing someone else to control the horse while they learn to sit the gait securely.

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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 All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By popcorn — On Sep 02, 2011

@manykitties2 - That sounds like a really frightening experience. I really hope that you didn't quit your horse riding lessons after that. In my opinion, most horses aren't so easily spooked and it must have had a really good reason for racing off like that.

I personally love being on the back of galloping horse. Once you learn control and develop a good relationship with your horse it can be a real thrill. Very much like going on a fast roller coaster.

You really need to learn to trust horses though. I am convinced that the animals can sense when a person is nervous around them and will act accordingly.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 01, 2011

One of my worst memories is a horse that started galloping after it was startled. I was a beginner rider and was on a very basic trail with our teacher and my horse suddenly decided it would be a good time to race off.

I am pretty sure I nearly had a heart attack because clinging to a horse when it is going at a full gallop is pretty traumatizing if you are inexperienced. I was lucky that I didn't get severely injured during the whole ordeal and that I had a great teacher with a slightly faster horse.

I now understand though, why they make you sign a waiver at riding schools. I surely could have been killed if that horse had decided to buck me off.

By Sinbad — On Aug 31, 2011

When I was in graduate school, my love affair with horses began as we were assigned to work in hippotherapy for summer camp. This long word, hippotherapy, simply means therapy (physical, occupation, or speech therapy) with horses.

These horses were used in therapy with children and adults and with various disorders and they were incredibly gentle, I have never heard of or saw a horse just galloping free, they were trained and always seemed to respond so well to their riders.

After this experience, I begged a friend to take me horse riding, and I still get goose bumps when I think of when my friend taught me how to get my horse to gallop. It was absolutely incredible. The speed, the fear, and beauty of it were perfect. I cannot wait to gallop again.

By Mykol — On Aug 31, 2011

I think it is much more comfortable and easier to stay on a galloping horse than one that is trotting. When a lot of horses trot, it can be bumpy and harder to keep your balance.

If your horse is galloping, it is a much smoother and enjoyable ride. You are going quite a bit faster, so want to be alert to what is going on around you.

I had one horse that loved to gallop, but if she came across something she wasn't familiar with, she would instantly come to a stop. If you weren't ready for it, you could lose your balance and fall off.

By honeybees — On Aug 31, 2011

Spending time trail riding with our horses is the perfect way to spend a day. We have several equestrian parks close to us that have good trails that we use as often as possible.

We try to go when they are not very crowded and our horses have gotten to the point where they know the trails very well.

We have certain open spots where we love to gallop, and they always know where they are. You really don't even have to give them much encouragement to start galloping, because they are ready and expecting it.

Almost every time I get on my horse, I like to get in a little bit of galloping. It helps keep them in shape and is just a lot of fun.

By golf07 — On Aug 30, 2011

We have spent a lot of time camping and riding our horses. One of our horses had some racing blood in her and she loved to gallop. It didn't take much encouragement for her to take off and gallop for a good stretch.

When some of our other horses were getting tired, she was still going strong. She had two different speeds to her gallop though. The first speed was when she was just getting warmed up, then she would kick it up a notch and you would really be flying.

When she was going full speed, you felt like you were just floating through the air. She loved to gallop and was always my favorite horse to ride.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

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