The term ‘gait’ describes the way a horse moves. For instance, speed is essential in racing, and people breed horses to walk, gallop, canter, and trot. Each of these is a gait.
A ‘gaited horse‘ is a breed specifically bred for its natural gaited abilities, performing high speed, smooth-to-ride, four-beat horse gaits. Due to the ability to have at least one leg on the ground, the horses are more balanced on slippery surfaces like ice. That’s why gaited horses are called ‘single foot’ in the United States.
In the nineteenth century, when horses served as the major mode of transportation, individuals rode on saddle horses. These horses were smooth and comfortable to ride for long hours without stress to the horse or the rider. People preferred a horse that could offer a smooth ride with great stamina while traveling long distances for transportation purposes.
Gaited horses were better at jumping and faster at galloping. Hence, as riding gradually became more of a sport than a mere means of transportation, more attention shifted on the gaited horse.
When you see riders in movies, they usually gallop up and down on horsebacks in the basic gaits. Irrespective of how they ride, there’s always an up and down movement. Most horse breeds have only three fundamental gaits: the walk, the gallop or canter, and the trot. However, gaited horses can move distinctly.
The Walk: Slow but Comfortable
The walk is the slowest gait of horses. It involves the movement of each leg at the same time interval, with two to three hooves touching the ground. It’s a slow, comfortable to ride, four-beat movement, similar to the average human pace.
The Trot: Two-Beat Gait
While speeding up, a horse begins the two-beat gait movement. The gait involves a horse moving its diagonal pair of legs simultaneously with a short suspense moment in the air. It’s not a comfortable riding movement and causes pain as the horse bounces the rider up and down due to its center of gravity, moving forward in an up and down position.
The Gallop: Increased Speed
The gallop is slightly faster than the trot. It involves a horse lifting three of its limbs at the same time (with a front and a rear leg in diagonal) and eventually setting the third front leg back to the ground. It makes the horse gallop in a three-beat movement.
While a horse can learn four-beat and two-beat gallops, they often occur as a result of imbalance.
Three-beat gallops are very comfortable for riders, but they can’t ride in it for extended periods, as it’s a fast gait and requires so much energy.
The Amble and the Pace: Basic Gaits for Every Gaited Horse Breed
The amble is a slightly irregular pace (a two-beat gait). It involves a horse moving its pair of legs on one side simultaneously and then the other pair of legs. The center of gravity will move forward, then right and left while the rider rocks along from left to right.
While the pace isn’t smooth enough for riding, it’s a more comfortable gait than the trot. The root gaits of most gaited horses are amble and pace.
Some horse breeds can maintain the four-beat walk rhythm when they begin to speed up and can reach up to fifteen kilometers per hour speed. This “special gait” is common among several gaited horses. They don’t trot, and they offer more comfort for riders, as there’s no bouncing up and down on their back.
The Tolt and the “Paso llano”
The Tolt (Icelandic horses) and the Paso llano (Peruvian Paso horses) are examples of four-beat gaits. But the difference between them is that the Peruvian horse doesn’t trot, while the Icelandic horse does. All gaited horses are generally smooth and comfortable for riding.
A Relief for Riders’ Back
A gaited horse is a great alternative for any rider forced to quit riding due to hip and back problems. They’re also perfect for those who ride long distances or spend long hours on horses.
While the special gait replaces the trot, some gaited horses can often trot. But they all have the gallop and walk in common.
Gaited Horse Breeds
There are numerous gaited horse breeds throughout the world, but their number reduces when compared with trotting horses. While there are variances among the horse breeds, what they have in common is their special gait, which replaces the trot and makes riding pleasurable even for an extended period.
Breeds like the Icelandic horse, the Arravani, the Toltende Traber, and the Aegidienberger are from Europe. In South America, you’ll find the Peruvian Paso, the Paso Fino, and the Mangalarga Marchador.
There are many gaited horse breeds, including the American Saddlebred, which is the United States’ oldest gaited horse breed, and the Tennessee Walker, the most popular gaited horse.
Genetic Mutation of Gaited Horse Breeds
Some horse breeds are naturally gaited as a result of a genetic mutation, which causes a special gait movement, as research on Icelandic horses shows. They discovered that the DMRT3 gene mutation causes the distinction between gaited and non-gaited horses.
‘Special Gait’ Performance Can Improve Through Training
While the special gait is inherent, it’s essential to train it well. The more your horse practices, the smoother its movement becomes, and long trails and rides will be more pleasant, as riders won’t feel any back pain. A gaited horse can cover long distances within a shorter time, for instance, about 40 kilometers per day, and it doesn’t require as much energy as other horses.
Gaited Horses Are Great for Both Work and Competitions
Asides being spectacular to watch in parades and at shows, gaited horses also excel in several other areas. From handicapped-riding programs to barrel racing, ranch work, police work, and farm work, industrious gaited horses are everywhere. They mostly do well in competitive endurance riding and trail riding.