Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Allison Price
Gaited horses are a topic of curiosity for mainstream equestrians. While we all have preconceived ideas about these horse breeds, what is a gaited horses?
Gaited horses can do more than just walk, trot and canter. Gaited horses are those that have one foot on ground. This conserves horse energy and makes riding easier.
When horses were the main mode of transport, gaited horses were very popular. People could travel long distances with their smooth gaits without feeling sore at the end.
In 2012, a study revealed that DMRT3 was the dominant gene responsible for gait in gaited horses. This gene controls the circuits of neurons that connect to limb movement. Researchers discovered that the gene was first found in one ancestor of all gaited horse breeds.
These are some facts and FAQs regarding gaited horse breeds.
How can you tell if a horse is gaited?
It can be difficult to identify a gaited horse because some gaits are more obvious than others. Understanding the differences between these gaits and traditional ones is essential before you can tell the difference.
You can tell if a horse has a gait by looking at its footfall. Ambling gaits are a way for gaited horses to move their feet in a particular way. This creates a distinctive gliding motion that causes the rider not to move in the saddle.
Pace, which is a lateral 2-beat gait in which the horse moves both its legs simultaneously on one side, is an exception to the rule. Pacers will also sway their necks and heads as they move forward with their legs.Alexandra Hollstein / Shuttertsock.com
Ambling gaits, on the other hand, are four-beat. This means that the horse will always be one foot off the ground. Ambling gaits are smoother and more comfortable because they eliminate the suspension during trot or pace.
What is the purpose of gaited horses?
Gaited horses are designed to transport riders over long distances comfortably. Because of their unique gaits, these horses can travel for hours without becoming tired.
Gaited horses were popular in Europe once because they allowed for comfortable travel on rough roads. Their popularity declined as roads became better and carriage travel became more popular.
Gaited horses were popular on the American continent, where distances are greater. They were an integral part of life on plantations where they were often used to take long rides to inspect crops.
In the end, all gaited breeds were outclassed by trotting horses. These horses were able to gallop faster and jump higher making them a popular choice in entertainment and sports.
Gaited horses were out of fashion due to mechanization and the rise of equestrian sport in the 20th century.
Gaited horses have a place in modern society, thanks to their versatility. They are unique and beautiful, and they have a great temperament and stamina. Gaited horses are a popular choice for beginners and trail riders around the globe.klauscook / Shutterstock.com
Special Horse Gaits Explained
Special horse gaits can be classified into two types, ambling or two-beat. Ambling gaits, while faster than a walk, are slower than a canter and a gallop. The only two-beat pace (pace), however, has a speed comparable to a trot.
Although some horse breeds have replaced walk and trot with a special gait for their horses, most gaited horses can still gallop! If the horse is to escape a predator in the wild, it is vital that they keep this ability.
Below is a list of some of the most popular special horse gaits.
Lateral Ambling Gaits
There are two types of ambling gaits. The horse performing lateral ambling gaits looks like they are moving their legs side-by-side, but the hind foot will always land slightly ahead of the front. These gaits follow the same footfall pattern that the walk: right hind front, left hind front, and left hind front.
There are several types of slow gaits. These low speed gaits are particularly smooth and easy for riders.
Some horses develop slow gaits naturally, while others learn slowly from their pace.
Most often, the Tennessee Walking Horse breed is associated with the running walk. It follows the traditional walking pace, similar to other ambling gaits. A horse can walk at 4-8 mph (6.4- 12.9 km/h), but a running walk can go 10-20 mph (16-32 km/h).
The horse’s hind feet will overstep the front hoofprints by approximately 6 to 18 inches (15 to46 cm) during this gait. The Tennessee Walking Horse breed prefers a longer overstep. The horse’s gait is synchronized with the rhythm of its running walk by nodding its head.
Rack is a lateral four beat gait that is characteristic of the American Saddlebred or Racking Horse. This is essentially a slow, sped up gait in which the horse keeps even footfall intervals. This creates an intermediate gait which is smoother than the trot, and gives the rider the sensation of “horse climbing up a ladder”.
To perform the rack, a horse must adopt a hollow position. This position places the horse’s neck higher than normal, while its hind legs extend beyond the horse’s frame. This is in contrast to the round posture most horses adopt when the head is lower and the hindlegs are further below the body.
Gaited horses can maintain their racks without having to change into another gait by adopting a hollow posture. A hollow back can cause strain for horses while being ridden and is not recommended for carrying riders’ weight.
Paso gaits are only available to Paso Fino horse breeds. Three distinct gaits are used by the Paso Fino. They all follow a similar 1-2-3-4 rhythm, but vary in speed. These are the Paso Fino and Paso Corto.
Paso fino means smooth/fine step in Spanish and is the slowest of all three gaits. This is mostly performed at horse shows and competitions. Paso Corto has a medium-speed gait while Paso largo has the fastest speed of the breed. It’s very similar to the rack.
The Paso Llano (Peruvian Paso) and Sobreandando are two of the special gaits in the Peruvian Paso. Paso llano, an even gait, follows the same sequence of the running walk but features a longer lateral shoulder movement.
The Sobreandando, on the other hand, has a slightly faster but uneven gait that is similar to the stepping pace.
The tolt, a lateral ambling gait characteristic of Icelandic Horses, is a tolt. The tolt follows the same footfall pattern of the walk but the front legs are higher.
This unique gait is known for its speed and ground-covering motion. Icelandic Horses can speed up the tolt to the speed a traditional canter, without the rider having to bounce in the saddle.
Diagonal Ambling Gaits
Contrary to lateral four-beat gaits diagonal ambling gaits are somewhat uneven and are derived from trot rather that pace. The horse’s legs move in a 1-2-3-4 rhythm that gives the rider a slight sensation of swinging forward or backward.
Because diagonal ambling gaits do not require a hollow posture, it is easier for horses to perform them. This motion seems to be caused by the same gene that is responsible for lateral ambling gaits in horses. (Source: Wikipedia)
Foxtrot is a four-beat diagonal gait. The front feet of the diagonal pair touch the ground slightly earlier than the hind. The foxtrot is smoother than traditional trot because one foot is always weight bearing.
This unique gait gives the illusion that the horse is walking with its front foot and trotting with its back feet. The intermediate gait of the Missouri Fox Trotter horse is called the foxtrot. It is well-known for being sure-footed. It’s also one of the few non-gaited gaits that non-gaited horses are able to learn.
You can also try these other diagonal ambling gaits:
- Marcha batida
Pace is the only gait that has two beats among gaited horses. The two beats are suspended for a time when the pacers move their parallel legs together. Although pacing is smoother than a trot it’s not as smooth or smooth as other special gaits.
The pace can be performed by several horse breeds, including the American Standardbred and the Icelandic Horse. There are two types of pace available: straight pace or flying pace. Straight pace is a medium speed gait. Flying pace can reach speeds up to 30 mph.
Can Any Horse Be Gaited?
The theory is that any horse can learn how to gait. Some special gaits can be taught to non-gaited horses, but not all horses will learn them.
A mutation in the DMRT3 gene can cause gaited traits in horses. This mutation is possible in almost any breed of horse. Non-gaited breeds may have some individuals who are born gaited.Mark Green / Shutterstock.com
A few bloodlines are known to produce Morgan and Appaloosa foals with unique gaits.
Which Gaited Horse is the Smoothest?
Many believe that the Paso Fino horse is the most graceful. This is a personal preference and opinions may differ among equestrians.
All four beats of the ambling gait produce a smooth ride. The differences between them are minimal. Because of the vibrations created by faster motion, low-speed gaits are more smooth than high-speed ones.
8 Common Gaited Horse Breeds
Only 30 of the 600+ horses that are currently known to exist are gaited. But, not all horses are created equal. Horses of gaited breeds may not have the same gaits. Some horses with trotting ancestors might have walking gaits.
Gaited horses are strong, sturdy and sure-footed. They don’t need much input from their riders. They are most common in North America and South America, but they can also be found in other parts.
The gaited horse breeds have a more set neck and head, and can have as many as five gaits.
1. American Saddlebred
American Saddlebred is a popular gaited horse breed in America. It was first developed in the 18th century, and later became known as “The Horse America Made.”
The Saddlebred, a five-gait breed, can perform traditional gaits as well as a slow and rack gait. These horses are a popular choice for competitions in saddle seats and parades because of their flashy movements.
This breed has a long neck and tail carriage with an average height between 15-17 hands. The American Saddlebred is versatile and athletic, making it a good choice for many disciplines of equestrian.
2. American Standardbred
The American Standardbred, a popular breed for harness racing in the United States, is also a popular choice. There are two types of Standardbreds: pacers or trotters. Many Standardbreds are able to both trot or pace but they tend to specialize in one type.
Trotters are slower than pacers, with average speeds of 35 mph (56.5 km/h on the track) compared to the average speed of 30 mph (48.5km/h). Although harness racing was the original purpose of the Standardbred, they are also great pleasure riders and competition horses.
The breed’s average height is between 14 and 17 hands. It is possible for Standardbreds who prefer trotting to pacing to pacing to have difficulty maintaining canter. They may need to be trained to use a special gaited trainer.
3. Icelandic Horse
The Icelandic Horse is another naturally fast breed. The Icelandic Horse actually has five gaits, including the four beat ambling tolt. Icelandic Horses can safely transport their riders over rough terrain with this unique gait.
4. Missouri Fox Trotter
The foxtrot is a trademark of the Missouri Fox Trotter, a breed that is known for its smooth diagonal ambling gait. This special gait allows riders to travel long distances and safely cross uneven terrain.
The Missouri Fox Trotter is a versatile, sure-footed, gentle and flexible horse. They can be used for many equestrian purposes, even though they were originally designed for ranching.
Missouri Fox Trotters average between 14-16 hands high and come in a wide range of colors.
5. Paso Fino
The Paso Fino, a popular gaited horse breed, is from the Caribbean. These horses are small and sturdy, with three gaits: Paso Fino (Paso Corto) and Paso Largo (Paso Fino).
Because of its shorter stride length, the Paso Gino gait can be slower than a walk. The Paso Corto, on the other hand, is almost as fast as a trot and the Paso Largo is about the same speed as a canter.
Both the Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso and Peruvian Paso breeds got their unique gaits from the now-defunct Spanish Jennet. With its almond-shaped eyes and baroque appearance, the Paso Fino closely resembles its Spanish ancestors. It is described as being “energetic, but always obedient” by many.
6. Peruvian Paso
The Peruvian Paso is considered the pride of Peru and has been declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation (Peruvian National Institute of Culture). The Paso Llano is the slower of the two gaits. Sobreandando is the faster.
The Peruvian Paso has a body similar to the Paso Fino but is heavier. The Peruvian Paso stands 14-15 hands high and is used for pleasure, endurance, and trail riding.
7. Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walking Horse is one of the most beloved horse breeds in America. It is most well-known for its smooth running style, which has historically allowed Southern farmers to easily inspect their plantations throughout the day.
Tennessee Walking Horses can perform the singlefoot, rack, foxtrot and stepping pace in addition to the running walk. These gaits are not acceptable in the show ring.
The Tennessee Walking Horse is a prized for its extraordinary movement and easygoing personality. It can stand up to 14-17 hands high.
A gaited horse with an Appaloosa-spotting pattern is called a “Walkaloosa”. You can cross an Appaloosa and a Paso Fino, or Tennesse Walking Horse to create a Walkaloosa.
The Walkaloosa Horse Association was founded in order to preserve Appaloosa horses with natural gaits. These horses have a distinctive four-beat ambling gait called the Indian Shuffle.
Appaloosas with this gait automatically qualify for Walkaloosa registration
The Indian Shuffle is a smooth, ground-covering gait with medium speed. The Nez Perce who created the breed, Gaited Appaloosas, were extremely proud of their heritage. Many believe that Appaloosas who move well are a result of Paso Fino ancestors.
The following are other gaited horse breeds:
- Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
- Florida Cracker Horse
- Rocky Mountain Horse
- Racking Horse
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!