Going Through the Paces
by Elizabeth Graves

Understanding a true pace is very easy, the difficulty comes in understanding all the possible phases before a true 2 beat pace.

Most are familiar with terms such as;
Broken pace
Stepping pace

What do they all mean? I will try to clarify some of theses for you. Sometimes the faster moving hoof can make these difficult to identify to an untrained eye.
©Alan G Mattison

What is a True Pace

The gait of pace is a 2 beat gait, 1-2. It is lateral in PICKUP of the legs on the same side and lateral in the SET DOWN of the same two legs. The horse will shift from side to side alternating lateral pairs forward and then back. At very fast speeds of pace such as seen in harness racing, one can see the four hooves clear of the ground in suspension as the horse jumps from lateral pairs. The slower the speeds of pace the suspension disappears and the hooves may not set down exactly at the same time with the hind setting down just before the fore on the same side but is still very hard to see. In a stepping pace it is very easy to see the hind set down before the same side fore. These other variations are a broken pace but still closer to a 2 beats in set down than the broken pace of stepping pace.
2 beat Trot

The Other 2 Beat Gait

The trot is also a 2 beat gait, 1-2. The difference in the gait of trot is that the diagonal pairs are working together.

Right hind, left fore
Left hind, right fore
Again as in pace there is a shift of weight and suspension of all 4 hoofs clearing the ground but it is shifting between diagonal pairs instead of lateral pairs.

Understanding Lateral
The term lateral can be used in two different elements for definitions of gait timing.

1. Lateral pick up Gaits of; 

  • Pace Broken paces , variations ( including stepping pace) 
  • Corto 
  • Sobreandando 
  • Stepped rack 
  • Rack 
  • Tolt 
  • Largo

2. Lateral in set down Gaits of: 

  • Pace 
  • Flying pace of Icelandic horse

Gaits of lateral pick up with a broken 4 beat set down
  • Stepping pace
  • Corto
  • Sobreandando
  • Stepped rack
  • Rack
  • Tolt
  • Largo
Swingy or Pacey
It is the gaits that are closer in lateral set down (not pick up) than the stepping paces broken 4 beat set down that brings forth the meaning of swingy or pacey in gait. These are gaits that are just broken out of 2 beats but not quite the very definable stepping pace where one can see the hind set down prior to the fore on the same side and hear the broken timing of 1-2--3-4.

Getting Pacey
A horses can be or start getting pacey at any speed. There are pacey walks too pacey racks and so on. A horse can be genetically inclined to pace or trained toward pace. A horse can pace in a high head position or low head position but both have either a very ventroflexed back to a slightly hollow back. Both types will move their back muscles from side to side, while the up head and necked horse will be tighter in their movement the low head and necked horse will be loose in the back muscle movement but still using one side of the back muscles and then the other when shifting to lateral pairs.

In the following pictures are examples of gaits going lateral in set down and some not, to compare with.
The first picture is a clear picture of a walk the next 2 are the marked up versions of the walks.
True 4 Beat Walk Walk A Lateral Walk Walk B

Walk ATrue 4 beat walk
In photo A we can see that this is a true 4 beat walk. This horses is picking up each hoof at a separate time and setting  down at a separate time. In this phase of the hoof fall sequence we see the left hind has set down before the left  fore.The right fore leg is perpendicular at its full weight bearing phase and the right hind is still bearing weight with the hoof flat on the ground but will be picking up and moving forward before the right fore. The legs are moving  independently of each other, not moving forward or back  together.

Walk BLateral Walk WIth Lines
In this photo we can see that the legs on the left side of the horse are working together going back. This is not a hard pace in that it is not 2 beats through a full gait phase. You can see that the right hind has just barley set down prior to the right fore but it is closer to a 2 beat pace than a 4 beat broken stepping pace in that the left hind is not just starting to lift off from the ground but has actually cleared the ground and is about to come forward. As the right fore touches the ground the left fore will be off the ground and back as will the left hind is still off the ground. This will cause weight to be bearing on the right side of the horses briefly. As the left side legs are lifting off together and coming forward the left hind will touch down just barley before the left fore. This makes this gait a lateral or pacey walk.

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