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Understanding Racking Gaits
© Beverly Whittington 2004

The Gaits in the Rack Family are 4 beat, Ventro Flexed Gaits.

The family of gaits that fall into the rack end of the gait spectrum are the Rack, saddle rack, stepped rack, half rack. These are known by different names in the various breeds: Fino, Corto, Largo, Rocky/Mountain horse Pleasure Gait, Trippel, Singlefoot, Fox Rack, Stepping Rack, Hreina or Pure Tolt, Fast Largo

The Racking family of gaits falls into the symmetrical gaits which almost all have the same sequence, or order of footfall. The footfall sequence of the gaits in the Rack family are the same as that of the walk ­ right hind, right front, left hind, left front. What makes them vary is the timing of footfall, the pick up and the support sequence. 

The Frame of the Rack

When the horse is performing one of the rack gaits, he has to assume a frame that will allow him to perform the gait. All versions of the rack require that a horse raise his head and neck, forming a "dip" just before the withers. The Rack family is performed with a steady, upright, head and neck carriage, a ventroflexed back, and up and down motion of the croup, with active hocks. Length of step, degree of animation and execution will vary among the various breeds and version of the rack family, but the basic frame remains the same. 

In all of the Rack family gaits, the rider will feel as if they are sitting in the smooth center while action goes on all around him, there will be the feeling of the “horse climbing a ladder” as the front end has a fold which gives height to the front legs while the length of step is not increased. 

Paso Fino Fino
Paso Fino Corto
Paso Fino Largo

Very quick, with high, short steps and 
high, even action in the front and hind legs.

No overstep, with short steps, 
but not as tight or slow in forward motion
as the fino. 

May overstep their front track by 
a short distance, faster forward speed 
and more extension.
Saddlebred ( Show Flat Shod) Rack
Saddlebred ( Flat Shod ) Stepping  Rack
Gaited Morgan Singlefoot

High knee and hock action, 
a near vertical head and upright neck carriage,
can overstep the front.

High knee and hock action, a high head and neck carriage, and can overstep of the front 

Longer steps with moderate action.
Icelandic Tölt Icelandic Hreina or Tölt Spotted Saddle Horse Saddle Rack

May have high action in the tolt medium speed.

High action in the tolt faster speed.

No up and down head and neck motion, 
head may swing slightly from side to side 
in a V motion.
Standardbred Rack Racking Horse ( Flat Shod ) Rack Racking Horse ( Flat Shod ) Rack

Longer steps with moderate action.

Not exaggerated high action,
can overstep front tracks. 

No overstep, with short stride length.
TWH Stepping  Rack Racking Horse ( Padded Shod ) Rack Rocky/Kentucky Mountain Horse Rack

Medium stride length, moderate action.

Exaggerated high action,
overstep front tracks. 

Medium action and length of step.

The feel of the Rack gaits from the saddle is a very slight side to side sway, but the primary feeling is of the legs moving rapidly and independently. When moving into a rack family gait from a flat walk, you will have a "gear shift" feeling as the horse seems to literally leap directly up out of the flat walk into the rack family gait. This is due to the way a racking horse transfers the weight from one leg to another. The transfer is a  "leaping" weight transfer. Pickup timing (determined by the support system under the horse) is the critical to determine between the walk based gaits and the rack based gaits. Pickup timing is determined by the number of  feet on the ground and how squarely each supports the horses weight. In the rack family of gaits, the pickup timing moves toward the lateral, with the footfall timing remaining even. You will HEAR even footfalls, but you will not see the same leg positions under the horse as in the walk based gaits.

The difference between the stepped rack, half rack and full rack is in the degree of "transverse suspension"("leaping" weight transfer). In the stepped rack there is almost but not quite front transverse suspension, in the half rack there is complete front transverse suspension, both front and rear transverse suspension where only one foot is on the ground at a time is the full rack.

Conformation traits of horses that will tend to make good "rackers".
Certain conformation traits can predisposition a horse to perform a rack family gait. For example many horses who perform a gait in the rack family have a lower shoulder, higher natural head carriage, a longer back (particularly in the loin area)  and more open angled hocks. Many have longer hind legs with short femur/long gaskin ratios in the hind. Often the neck is medium or short in length, set high into the chest and coming out at a more upright angle. Long lumbar span with a well developed but rather long and shallow loin.

Recommended Reading:
How To Ride Your Gaited Horse BOOK
Part VIII The Rack

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©Beverly Whittington
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