by Elizabeth Graves
The Running Walk is so desirable because of the obvious smoothness of the gait to a rider. For a horse in good condition, the true natural running walk is an easy gait to maintain and hold for distances with the least amount of stress to the horses entire body. Then why the gait seems so elusive in finding for a rider within 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.
Above are 3 photos of natural running walks being executed. 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. Also in
Elements of the Running Walk
In the following photo's are examples of horses going beyond the running
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
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 is as the right hind leg drives back and the right fore hoof is placed on the ground , the head is lifting. Then as the fore leg is raised the head moves down to it's lowest point. As that hoof is placed on the ground the head is lifting again, the counter balance is for the one in the air. The leg on the ground does not need to be counter balanced.
The counter balance for the hind is a bit different. The head shake compliments and aids reach and drive of the hind. 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. 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 thus helping to bring the head down as much as possible to a deep head shake helping to achieve maximum length of stride, hence my personal desire for a traditional larger head on my TWH's.
This is the ideal, a productive head shake contributes to the quality and square component of the gait.
Length of Stride
The Running walk is an accelerated flat walk. The overstride and stride are increased. A horse covers more ground in less time , by taking longer steps not necessarily faster ones. 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 ground.
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. What makes this horse the horse just slightly off perfectly even is the left hind is about to make full contact and at this point the right hind will be starting to lift off and yet 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 flat. The half way point of travel for the left fore will be when the hoof 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.
Some information about the stallion in Photo 1. 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. The horse was extremely easy to time up with all the looseness and head shake one could desire of the running walk. This horse is also one that we had to be very careful not to over collect or allow his head to drop to low, hence bring the back up and rounded sending him to a trot.
This photo is at an angle but still one that 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. The right front is
at it's most bearing point of weight and the left hind is all the way forward
and flat. Again it this photo the foreleg is under the shoulder, not forward
or back. . The left fore hoof is even with the vertical right fore. 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.
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 also came with very long toes, weighted shoes and a long shanked bit. 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 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 undersaddle. Once this was achieved he was taught to do a dog walk , flat walk and 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. 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.
Notice the backs of all three horses in the
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.
Will My Horse Do A Running Walk?
This is a question that is heard all the time, along with "my horse
is doing a running walk" when in fact it is not. Also it is so common to
hear " there is no running walk in this horse". 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 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 filly that
is less than a week old.
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.
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 together.
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.
(MAYBE PUT A DIAGRAM OF THE THREE LINES HERE)
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 of great help for a rider 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
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