The Running Walk is a desirable gait because of the obvious smoothness
to a rider. For a horse in good condition, the true natural running walk
is an easy gait to maintain and hold for distances. It is a gait that causes
the least amount of stress to the horses entire body. Then why does the
gait seems so elusive? Even for a rider with a horse that has all the right
gait genetics and structural elements to achieve the running walk?
There are many reasons why the gait seems so elusive.
Understanding and obtaining the running walk is much easier when we simplify
and eliminate some of the elements of these three factors.
First, is simply the lack of understanding of:
what the true running walk is
what the elements involved are
when a horse is doing the gait correctly.
Second, the desire within the industry for a faster, flashier way
of going such as:
In my opinion this stems from the horse show world. The show circuit desires
to keep the human factor entertained and satisfied, thus generating profit
among all involved. This is not a bad thing, except when it has caused
confusion of the differences between the definitions and elements of a
horses gait. It has also caused riders to ask horses to perform in a manner
that is unnatural for an individuals structure, developing physical stress
and possible break down as the end result.
higher head sets,
bigger, deeper overstrides
higher lifting of the front legs (animation).
The Third factor in this confusion is all the equipment options such as:
which are presented and we are enticed to purchase.
other mechanical equipment options
Then there is the hoof trimming and shoeing options such as:
unnatural hoof angles
turnbacks and trailers added to offset the effects of the incorrect hoof
angles, long toes and weighted shoes.
Finally are all the equitation styles and the application of these mechanical
devices to hopefully get the rider all the desired results and added effects
of the running walk quicker and easier. When actually it takes them farther
away from the wonderful gait we wanted in the first place.
Above are 3 photos of horses executing natural running walks. Two are carrying
riders which are helping to support their horses in gait through simple
mechanical aids and proper equitation using seat, hands and legs to achieve
and maintain gait. The remaining photo is of a young untrained horse executing
the running walk on his own. Later in this article are three drawing of
correctly timed running walks with slight variations.
Elements of the Running Walk
The running walk is a four beat gait, independent in set down and in
the pick up of the hooves. The hoof support sequence is 2 hooves flat on
the ground and then 3 hooves on the ground. It is a lateral sequence
in that the hind hoof will set down first, followed by the fore hoof on
the same side.
This hoof fall sequence does not make
the running walk a lateral gait as it has been at
times described. It is the pick up of the legs and hooves
which determines if a gait is lateral, even or diagonal, the running walk
is even. The timing of the pick up and set down is 1-2-3-4
allowing for some slight deviations yet still not being lateral or diagonal
in the pick up. These slight deviations are extremely difficult to
detect in motion by the human eye and ears, so are well within reason of
the gait of running walk.
The running walk is exactly between
the pace and trot (same as is the gait of Paso Llano).
To help recognize the slight deviation from evenness; look at the position
of the legs at the beginning of the gait sequence.
Correct Running Walk
||When the hind hoof is placed on the ground the corresponding foreleg
must have moved half way through its pick up and set down stride.
This can be identified by the position of the front hoof in relation
to the shoulder.
At the moment the hind hoof is flat on the ground the corresponding
front hoof should be in line with the shoulder.
In the following photo's are examples of horses going beyond the running
One to a diagonal gait and one to lateral in gait.
The more deviation from even the more faulty the gait.
Some smooth gaits have a head nod that is poll based and an artificial
head flip. I find that the running walk truly does have a vertical (up
and down) head shake. There should be no side to side head motion
in the use of the head during the gait of running walk. An example of a
gait with head nod where a lot (to a very slight amount) of side to side
motion can be detected in the nod would be the stepping pace.
The head shake of the natural running walk involves the use of the
whole neck to where it attaches to the chest and shoulder. The head
shake is rhythmic and distinct, the motion of this shake runs through the
entire body of the horse. When the head is at it's lowest point the back
of the horse is at it's highest point of being level, when the head comes
up in the shake the back is at it's lowest point of level with out going
ventroflexed (hollow) . This is the motion that moves the rider slightly
forward and back along with the rolling motion of the shoulders forward
and back while astride without any movement in the croup area.
The head shake of the flat walk is deep and steady, when the horse is
moved up into running walk the head shake looses some of it's depth
in the downward motion giving the illusion of a faster head shake,
when actually it is just shallower by lack of needing to go down
to the lowest point for counter balance.
Counter balance with head use:
(during one sequence)
The counter balance for the hind is a bit different.
as the right hind leg drives back and the right fore
hoof is placed on the ground , the head is lifting
as the left fore leg is raised the head moves down
to it's lowest point
as that left hoof is placed on the ground the head
is lifting again, the counter balance is for the fore leg in the air
the fore leg on the ground does not need to be counter
The head shake compliments and aids reach
and drive of the hind:
The use of the head and neck is produced by the coordinated
effort of the whole body. The head is the weight at the end of the
pendulum. Bringing the head down as much as possible to a deep head shake
will achieve maximum length of stride, hence my personal desire for a traditional
head on my TWH's.
As the horse reaches under, it pulls it's head down .
As the horse begins to drive off that leg the horse uses it's head and
neck to pull putting strength into the forward motion.
This is the ideal, a productive head shake contributes to the quality
and square component of the gait.
Is the measurement of distance of the hoof print of the hind hoof that
steps past (in front of) the hoof print of the fore hoof on the same side.
It can vary from a few inches to many while 18 seems to be an average.
This all depends on the conformation of the individual horse and the development
of the gait.
The most efficient use of the hind legs to achieve overstride
the slightest amount of hock and hoof lift, using just
enough to create a long, low ,sweeping motion lifting the hoof just
enough to clear the ground.
Length of Stride
Is the distance from toe of the hoof print of the right hind to the
toe of the right hind of the next right hind print. The importance of this
element being the longer the stride, the more ground is covered with fewer
hoof falls. Making less effort for the horse and efficiency of gait.
Looseness in the horse in gait is partly a product of conformation
and relaxation. It is easier to see in the flat walk but does carry over
through the running walk. Looseness can be observed as a motion of the
head and neck, into the shoulders. It may also be seen in some horses with
the flopping of the ears, lips or a clicking of the teeth in time with
the head shake. Looseness contributes to a fluid rhythm of the gait. A
horse should display a content expression of eyes and ears while moving
actively forward with out resistance.
Looseness diminishes as a horse pushes into speed.
the presence of a tight, stiff, short strided or choppy element
pacy or swingy are not accepted as looseness as tending toward these actually
is a stiffening that eliminates looseness
The Running walk is an accelerated flat
Notice the backs of all three horses in
the photo's below.
The overstride and stride are increased.
A horse covers more ground in less time , by taking longer steps not necessarily
Many times a horse will appear to lean into the gait.
The hind legs are reaching under and the front legs are pulling in the
All three are level , not going to hollow
nor going to rounded, all are nicely balanced.
It can also be seen in these photos each horse
shows the element of leaning forward into the gait.
The horse in Photo 1 is executing a very close to evenly timed running
walk. Notice where the foreleg is positioned under the shoulder, not forward
or back. The right fore is at its point of bearing maximum weight while
the hind on the same side is at its farthest point back in full contact.
This horse is just slightly off perfectly even.
This can be seen if you look at these elements:
The half way point of travel for the left fore will be when the hoof is
in an even position with the vertical right leg. This makes this running
walk just a hint to the diagonal and very hard to detect if this was a
moving sequence, not a still picture.
the left hind is about to make full contact
the right hind will be starting to lift off
the left fore is not quite half way through it's lift off set down sequence
and will still be a bit behind when the when the left hind sets down
Some information about the stallion in Photo 1.
The horse was extremely easy to time up with all the looseness and head
shake one could desire of the running walk. With this horse we had to be
very careful not to over collect or allow his head to drop to low, for
that would bring up and round his back; sending him to a trot.
This was taken about 3 weeks after 60 days of under saddle training.
He is dominant to trot and was started bare hoofed, being trimmed anatomically
correct with no long toes or unnatural hoof angles.
He was started in a broken mouth piece D-ring snaffle.
Although this photo is at an angle, we can see the gait sequence fairly
close. The timing on this horse is actually very close to the horse in
photo 1, just a bit farther along in the sequence.
Now notice the right hind which is at it's farthest point back but has
just lifted off with contact still on the toe. This indicates again that
this horse could go toward the diagonal but is not to that yet.
the right front is at it's most bearing point of weight
the left hind is all the way forward and flat
the foreleg is under the shoulder, not forward or back
the left fore hoof is even with the vertical right fore.
Added information on this gelding is when he was acquired by his
present owner he was hard wired to pace although he tends to be a "dominate
to trot" horse.
This horse came with;
He was a very tight , stiff going horse and getting him to relax to do
a stepping pace was a bit of work. In the retraining of this horse;
very long toes
a long shanked bit
Once he was able to walk with his head down, he was taught to do a dog
walk , flat walk. With lots of bending and flexing exercises it was possible
to bring back the looseness element that had been lost. He was pushed with
a low head, collected and pushed in to a straight trot. After this was
achieved he was worked up to the running walk from the flat walk.
the weighed shoes were removed, hooves shortened considerably and trimmed
anatomically correct for his structure
he was re-bitted in a Myler snaffle and taught to dog walk with his head
down which was very worrisome for him. He was not allowed to do this previously
This took lots of time and patience but this is a success story of a
lucky horse with a new owner which sought the help and worked to
bring this horse back to what he was meant to do, the natural running walk.
In this photo we see a young colt that has not yet been started undersaddle
and is in the running walk. Again this picture is at an angle but the timing
is correct. This colt is the offspring of the horse in photo 1. He will
during turn out hit trot 1/3 of the time, pace 1/3, and running walk a
1/3 when moving out at speed. His sire has never been known to pace
but his dam will do a trot or pace during turn out.
Below are three sketches of horses doing the running walk. All are correctly
timed with a bit of variation in all three in relation to animation.
In the first sketch this horses right foreleg is in front of
the shoulder yet the hoof is at half way between lift off and set down
and the right hind is still flat on the ground. This indicates the horse
has more animation in the front, which can be seen by the steep angle of
the humerus making for more lift and fold of the gait. If the right hind
was coming off the ground at this point it the horse would be going to
The second sketch is of a horse again perfectly timed up but is middle
of the animation spectrum. The humerus on this horse is a bit flatter in
angle than sketch 1 but is also longer giving this horse more length of
reach in the stride of the front legs.
The third sketch shows the minimum amount of animation. This horses
right fore hoof is well behind the half way point in the lift off set down
phase but the right hind is still flat on the ground and the foreleg is
still in line this the shoulder keeping this at a running walk and not
going to the diagonal.
Will my horse do a running walk?
My horse is to doing a running walk. (When
in fact it is not.)
There is no running walk in this horse.
You hear the above all the time. Just because you own a Tennessee Walking
Horse does not mean it will do the running walk and on the other side a
horse may be able to do many other smooth gaits besides just the running
walk. It is my experience a lot more are capable but are not, again due
to the lack of knowing what the running walk is and how to develop the
gait within the horse. First is finding the right horse or knowing
if you already own a horse that will.
this photo of a foal I see a good prospect for the running walk. Even though
the proportions of this foal may change with growth, the angles in the
structure will remain the same. This foal is showing a movement towards
lateral of gait in this photo but it still looks like a prospect that should
time up even better with the correct development of gait. This foal is
nicely balanced, with good stride in the hind and the ability to lean forward
and pull in the ground well up front. This is not always the case when
looking at a foal. Do not let a youngster that may be showing a pace
or trot deter you from consideration. Let them grow and get the muscles
to support their structure which will give them more strength to hold and
show tendency to gait. Also know what the angles
in the structure are and if the right ones are there to execute a running
walk . Don't be alarmed if your foal that was walky as a youngster
starts to go out of it with age. It is probably still there and just needs
to be taught how to carry themselves to maintain the gait.
Finding The Running Walk In A Horse
Listening for the running walk is an aid
in helping one find the gait but is not the total answer. The reason for
this is that one listens for the 4 beats of the hoof falls but there are
other gaits that also make a 4 beat sound. Even though the timing between
the hoof falls can vary in length of timing it can be very hard for someone
new to gaited horses to hear this difference in the spacing of time between
each hoof fall.
The running walk is a 1-2-3-4 beat evenly spaced.
The stepping pace is 1-2--3-4 with a longer space between 2 and 3.
In finding the gait one must also feel for
it. The running walk is a smooth gait but so are many other gaits.
There are different signals that will tell a rider if they are going to
the desired smooth gait. These other gaits can be a very smooth
to a person that has not experienced the gait of running walk.
A straight pace is very easy to feel as it shifts a rider from
side to side in the saddle and can be very uncomfortable and it is easy
to hear the 1-2 beat of the 2 halves of a horse moving forward and back
The stepping pace is a smoother gait but there will still be
some side to side shift to the rider due to the lateral lift of the legs
. A rider should be able to see some side to side motion in the head of
the horse, it can be a little seen at the poll and can also be seen in
some side to side motion of the horses muzzle from the back of a horse.
The fox trot gives a rider a forward and back motion, no side
to side. This done correctly is also a smooth gait but one should be able
to feel the lift of the hind legs and breaking of the hock
action when the hinds are coming up and forward. There is a definite bump
feel in the hind at a fox trot.
The rack and saddle gait are also smooth gaits but tend to move
a rider a bit side to side due again to the lateral pick up of each side
even though they are 4 beats in hoof falls. The saddle gait (stepped rack)
is one that a rider can feel the shorter stride of the gait and feel a
slight bump in the base of the spine due to the breaking of the hocks rather
than the low sweeping hind legs of the running walk. In the rack gait feels
faster. The rack has a lighter off the fore hand, up in front feeling ,
with more reach to the gait, covering ground faster than the saddle gait.
The running walk is a gait where the rider can feel a slight,
soft forward and back movement in the saddle. One should be able to feel
the long low reach of the hind legs coming under the horse and the front
pulling in the ground giving the sensation of floating across the ground.
When developing the gait in a horse or teaching a horse to carry a rider
in the gait one should know the difference in how the back of the
horse is carried and learn to feel when the back changes under the rider.
||Ventroflexed also will be referred to as hollow or concave. The gaits
with these are Pace, stepped pace, rack and saddle gait.
||A level back is one of the running walk.
||Dorsiflexed will also be referred to as rounded or convex. The gait
of fox trot can be from a level back to a slight dorsiflexed back and a
collected trot is dorsiflexed in the back.
It will help a rider to first be able to identify these carriages of
the back from the ground and then feel them from the back of the horse.
It is of a great help to do this bareback without a saddle.
It is often easier to first identify what the leg pick up, hoof set
down and timing of the gaits are from the ground, seeing and listening
first. Once up on the horse add feeling to the aids of identification.
This takes time and patience on the part of the rider. It is also important
to understand that a running walk on one horse can feel some what different
on another horse due to the individual structure of each horse. Riding
as many different gaited horse as possible will go along way into understand
and achieving a desired gait in a horse. I also recommend not just riding
one breed but trying all the different ones available.
Working Toward The Running Walk
There are no quick fixes in developing gait. It takes time, patience
and knowledge to get there. It is much easier to teach a horse that has
not been started incorrectly. A horse that has had an incorrect start can
take much more time getting to the running walk. When a horse has
been taught to running walk while learning to carrying it's self
, the weight of a saddle and rider it should be easy to maintain when in
good working condition. A horse will find it much more comfortable
to hold it's correct gait than one it is not structured to do or asking
a horse to do more in the gait than is possible with out stress for that
I want to stress the word TAUGHT as when one goes to forcing through
the aids of harsh bits, unnatural hoof angles, weighted shoes and many
other "training gimmicks" several things can happen.
May take a horse away from the gait of running walk completely.
Many times when these are removed the horse falls apart by learning to
rely on these aids to hold a gait.
Used for the wrong reasons or incorrectly can cause soft or hard tissue
damage to the horse.
It is not uncommon to see psychological issues come into the behavior of
In teaching a horse to achieve and hold gait, the lessons
are retained and hopefully a good working relationship is established between
horse and rider.
In the series of 4 photos below I will take you through some helpful
applications using physical and mechanical aids with this horse. Keep in
mind every horse is different and the same application may have to
be altered or approached totally differently in developing the running
walk . This is just one case and how I approached it.
The details on this horse are that she was presented at a clinic. She
grabbed me immediately, not only do to her shear size (16.1) but also her
calm, confident presence, all eyes were on her. I was able to work with
the fabulous mare for about 20 minutes. I worked her myself and others
participating in the clinic also had the experience of a ride on her.
She is 6 years old and when her owner rode around the arena at a flat
walk she was striding big, walking loose and head shaking. In the
structure of this horse I saw a horse beautifully structured with all the
muscle to support the running walk. When this mare was moved up in
to gait she went in and out of a hard pace to a stiff up headed stepping
pace. The owner had been seeking much help over a period of time knowing
she had the right horse and wanting the right gait she knew was in
this mare. In seeking help from many sources over a long period of time
the mare had been taken farther from the gait that she truly was genetically
and structurally intended to do.
Please note that I am not using the stirrups for any other reason than
that the saddle on this horse was much to large for me. It would not allow
me the freedom to get the balanced and centered seat I would need to apply
the physical aids I would need to help guide and support this mare. So
they were dropped. The seat you ride will have a bearing on weather or
not you are going help or interfere with the ability of a horse to carry
it's self and the weight of a rider and still be able to do the right gait.
|In photo One when finding this mare lost all the
elements of looseness when moved up at speed, she actually lifted her head
and neck while stiffening her entire body . Creating a ventroflexed back
which can be seen in this photo, a back and frame of pace. In this photo
I am testing the waters so to say and seeing if she will respond
to dropping the head when asked and what her limits in response to bit
pressure are. I have dropped and set my hands to bring the head down in
hopes of raising the back.
I have also applied pressure to see if she would engage
the hind quarters. I did get some response to both and she did not
push back , but did not know to go where I was asking and remained stiff
through the body. Notice the lateral set of legs moving together and the
stiffness that has come into my body to ride this.
|In photo Two I have stopped the horse and am just starting
an exercise that I do to show a horse to drop it's head and relax. Remember
relaxing is part of the element of looseness. I am firmly massaging and
pushing down on the neck. When the horse responds and drops the head I
release and reward with a rub on the neck and verbal praise so a horse
will know this is what I am asking.
The next phase of this, is to ask this horse to do this
at a dog walk while still pushing down and massaging. I am re-teaching
a horse that has been taught it is not to go with a lower head, that is
can. Also in this exercise the horse is learning to reach down for the
bit ,not to grab , hold and brace against the bit. The mouth must be re-educated
|In photo Three I am now working this horse to a shoulder
out. The left rein is tightened just enough to see the corner of her eye,
my left leg is applying pressure. I am asking for her to move away from
that leg and give in to the bit pressure. My right leg is back
farther, keeping the hindquarters from moving to far to center ring and
still giving her a place to go away from the pressure applied on
the right side, making the horse bend in the middle of her body.
My goal in this is teaching a horse to respond to different
legs and mouth pressure while bending her body in hopes of suppling and
softening her up. Also showing the mare that she can and it is ok to move
other than stiff and forward. Notice I have set my hands lower asking for
the head to come down and the back to come up. This picture is a bit blurred
but you should be able to the head tipped to the rail and right fore is
crossing over the left fore and the right hind is stepping in front of
the left hind.
|Photo Four now shows the mare has increased her stride
front and back compared to photo one. The mares back is much closer to
being level. I am still setting my hands lower because this horse with
so little time does not know how to carry and hold herself in this manner
without support. Take note that I have also moved my legs back just a bit
while applying and releasing pressure to get her to engage the hindquarters.
The mare now is rounded at the neck , collected
on the bit and starting to lean it to the gait instead lifting up and stiffening.
This mare is still to the lateral end of the gait but she has defiantly
starting to time up and go in the direction of a wonderful running walk.
To re-teach this horse in the correct training situation. I would put
her in a snaffle bit, do this work very slowly and teach a good dog walk
, slow walk and moving out, head shaking flat walk . At this point a horse
should be able to, hold them consistently and move up and down through
them on command. One would also build on lots of bending and flexing exercises.
A horse should be able to hold it's self with little support from the rider
before asking for the running walk. A rider will find as the horse gets
great at the flat walk and develops a rhythm the running walk will come
out of the flat walk. A horse will get stronger to hold it with conditioning
and the extension of the gait will start. This will take lots of
time and work on the part of the horse and rider but the horse will know
the gait and retain the use of it.
* I highly recommend using "Working the Walk" by Beverly Whittington
as an aid to understanding and getting to a great walk with exercises to
develop and strengthen the horse. Part one is featured in The Gaited
Horse Magazine , fall issue 2001.
My purpose in the above work was to provide you with a tool not
just a piece of entertainment. This is a very vast piece of work and the
intent was to give a good base of understanding. Also a guide to help with
the confusion among those that are seeking help and knowledge of what the
true running walk is in a naturally gaited horse, and last, a way to get
you and your horses to the gait.
My intent is in the future to expand on this piece with different
gaiting case scenarios and share what I continue to learn. Use this as
a tool, re-read it many times, slowly and piece by piece. Look at lots
of horses, start marking up still pictures, absorb, learn and you
will find the mystery of the running walk disappear.