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Basic Horse Gaits
 By Winniefield Park   •   8th Oct 2017   •   947 views   •   0 comments


A horse has three basic footfall patterns when they travel. We know them as walk, trot, and canter or lope. A gallop is sometimes called a fourth basic gait. But the footfall pattern is the same as the canter, just much more extended. Before there were cameras that could capture action shots, we didnít know what a horseís legs did when they were moving quickly, because our eyes canít keep up with the motion. The now-famous set of photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge revealed the mystery and painters were able to make more realistic representations of how a horse moved. Previous to that, pictures that you see of horses traveling quickly showed all four legs in the air. Thank goodness they donít really move like that!

There are more gaits, but these three (or four if you count the gallop) basic gaits are called the natural gaits.

Walk
The walk is a four beat gait, It is very smooth to ride, but not terribly fast. This is the gait at which most horses, whether they have extra gaits or not, travel when they are in their pasture. At the walk, two or three of the horseís hooves are on the ground at all times. This makes it a very safe and stable way to travel.

Trot
The trot is a two-beat gait. This is a common traveling gait, especially for horses in harness. There is a lot of variation in the speed of a trot. Some horses can do a slow, smooth jog for hours, and itís this type of trot that is particularly suitable for the slow motion work of herding cattle. Itís also a nice smooth gait to enjoy out on the trail. A faster trot can be a little rougher for the rider to sit. Extended trots are long and powerful. So, riders compensate by either standing up and balancing in the stirrups, or they post, rising and falling with the rhythm of the strides. An extremely powerful trot may lift the rider out of the saddle between strides allowing a little Ďhang timeí before the rider lowers back to the saddle seat.

For long distances, whether ridden or driven, the trot is the preferred gait. When pulling a vehicle, a walk can be painfully slow. A canter or gallop will cause a rough ride. But the trot will be efficient and smooth.

Canter or Lope
This is a three beat gait. At times, only one foot is left on the ground. When cantering, a horse will lead with either itís right or left legs, and the rider must learn to cue the horse to pick up the correct lead depending on the direction they plan to turn next. This helps keep the horse balanced. Many horses will learn to do this on their own. Because there is a moment when all four hooves are off the ground, the canter or lope is considered less stable, and less suitable for traveling over rough footing than a trot or walk.

Gallop
The gallop is the same footfall pattern as the canter, but because the horse is reaching out with its body and legs much further, the three beat rhythm turns into four beats. This is the racing mode for many horses. Itís rough ride in a horse-drawn vehicle, although itís a bit smoother if you have a team in front of you rather than a single horse. Because of the speed and the extended moments of suspension, it's also the most unstable of the gates. If a horse trip, itís hard for it to catch itself. And, again, being on the correct lead helps with balance. To stay in balance with a galloping horse, itís probably best to be up out of the saddle and over the horseís shoulders to help it use its hindquarters effectively. This is where both the impulsion and brakes come from.

Of the four natural gaits, riding a gallop is exhilarating. Iíve taken ex-racehorses out on a flat sandy stretch, and a horse, once it settles into stride feels like it drops down a few inches. You can hear nothing but the wind in your ears and the sound of the hooves. But, for the long haul, a good brisk trot is good for the soul. Whatís your favorite gait?
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