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How To Ride Your Gaited Horse
Part VIII The Rack
© Beverly Whittington 2003


How To Ride GH Series
Part I Part II
Part III Part IV
Part V Part VI The Flat Walk
Part VII The Fox Trot Part VIII The Rack
How to Ride the Rack
The Rack is often called also called the single-foot, for when it's performed properly there's lots of animation and only one foot on the ground at certain points of the footfalls.  This means the Racking Horse is supporting his weight on one leg at a time, and flexing up and down at the lumbar-sacral junction. Most all symmetrical gaits have the same sequence, or order of footfall. What makes them vary is the timing of footfall, the pick up and the support sequence. 

A correctly performed rack a modified stepping pace, the hooves on the same side (lateral hooves) are lifted almost simultaneously but are set down separately, with the hind hitting the ground first and a significant interval between the set down of the hind and fore. The delay in the set down of the fore hoof is caused by the high action of the front legs, The beat is an even 1-2-3-4. In the rack the horse is supported first by two, then by one hoof at a time. In the gait of the rack there is a moment when all the horses weight is supported by first one hind hoof, then by one front hoof. This rack is a gait that is performed with some speed, so it can be difficult to see the footfall in the horse perfuming the gait. The gait is called the "hreina tolt" in Icelandic horses and a "largo" in Paso Fino.

To begin let's look at the horse and rider configuration. 


The horse's back will be carried in a Ventroflexed position

The Horse

  • The horse will be in a ventroflexed frame, but not to the extent required for a Pace. 
  • The lumbar-sacral junction. flexes up and down in rhythm with the gait.
  • The hind legs break at the hock and lift up and forward , overstride is very a limited element of the rack. 
  • The neck is raised and head set is towards the vertical. This drops the back. 
  • The neck and head are held stable with no head nod, you may notice a slight shifting from side to side in the head.
  • An up and down motion in the hindquarters is absorbed by the horses loin. It is often said that a racking horse feels like he is "climbing a ladder" with his front legs as the horses shoulders become very active in the rack.
  • You should not have any feeling of undulation in the horses spine.
  • Your speed will be much faster than that of the running walk.
The Rider
  • The rider's position should be in the base position, adjusted so that you are be sitting on your buttocks and tailbone, (with the pelvis in the flexed spinal posture alignment) your legs and feet thrust a bit forward so that your shoulders are behind your hips and your hips are slightly behind your heels, until you need to make adjustments that will influence the horse's gait.
The position of the rider puts their weight on the seatbones and buttocks, changing the position of the lower back and tilting the pelvis slightly while putting more weight to the back of the saddle, without losing over all balance.  Take a slightly stronger than LIGHT CONTACT on the reins, using light upward vibrations of the fingers on the reins, to encourage a higher neck set. This will cause the head and neck to rise while the hindquarters lower and lightening the front end. Simultaneously giving a "bump" with the calves slightly behind the girth. to ask the horse to "move out". Once the horse has achieved gait, the contact can return to LIGHT CONTACT with the hands held slightly above the pommel of the saddle. 

When moving the horse into the rack it is important that you ask ask for him to be collected first in the flat walk and then ask for the rack. You do not want to ask for the flexing of the neck after you go to the rack as it tends to pull the horse into a stiff straight neck. If you ask for the raised neck in a collected walk, the horse will be more likely to give you a nice rounded, flexed neck.

The horse's center of gravity should be to the rear. The Racking horse is often quite fast, pushing a horse too fast will result in loss of gait.  It is important that you do not push the horse past a speed where he can stay rhythmic and consistent in his gait. 

Female Pelvis, flexed spinal posture alignment position.

Rider in Base Position with the pelvis in the flexed spinal posture alignment. with Good Equitation for The Rack.

The horse who has already been trained to perform a correct rack will increase the speed at which his legs move. You should hear a 1-2-3-4 cadence to the footfalls. 

Special Considerations of the Rack
For a horse perform a rack he is essentially an "upside down" horse. This leads most rackers to develop "hunter's bumps" at the lumbar-sacral junction and leaves them vulnerable to nerve damage in this location. It is therefore very important that you are not interfering with the horses use of his back

Any horse requested to carry himself hollow or ventroflexed in his gait needs to develop the Splenius (behind the poll to beginning of the Trapezius) and Brachiocephalicus (starts at base of the skull behind the jaw to below the point of shoulder to the humerus) muscle in the neck to prevent bracing against the bit which causes the underside of the neck gets large while  the muscles along the top side of the neck are under-developed. 

Suggested Reading 

Conditioning a Horse to Gait Care and maintenance of the Ventroflexed Horse

Always make sure you are sitting in a balanced seat, with even pressure on each seat bone. It is important that you allow your body to move with the horse, keeping your lower leg slightly in front of your hip. Use your seat to "push" him to the bridle while holding your hands up off of his withers while encouraging him to go forward.

Exercises for Increased Flexibility in Gaited Horses

Increase Flexibility and Reach of Forehand
Increase Flexibility and Reach of Hindquarters
Shoulder In
Shoulder Out
Leg Yield
Half Pass
Rein Back
Rocking Horse
Other Articles of interest.
The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Achieving Response, Gait and Confidence through Relaxation

Rider Affect on the Horses Movement

MAKING CONTACT How to use a bit 


Exercises at the Walk

Conditioning a Horse to Gait

Equitation for Gaited Horses

Exercises for Increased Flexibility in Gaited Horses

The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Part I Part II Part III
Part IV Part V Part VI The Flat Walk
Part VII The Fox Trot Part VIII The Rack


To Be Continued...

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