by Beverly Whittington
What is gait?
The gaited horse comes in many varieties, like different flavors of
ice cream, so everyone can find one they like! The novice to gaited horse
is often confused by the multitude of different names for gait within the
various breeds considered gaited horses.
The term gait is used in describing all forms of forward motion in
all horses. The " normal horses' " walk, trot and canter are all considered
gaits. But the "Gaited Horse" is an equine that has a very smooth gait
that is different from that of most horses. Gaits performed by various
breeds run the gamut of a four beat lateral gait to a four beat diagonal
pattern, but they all have one thing in common, a comfortable ride!
Predisposition to gait is genetically inherited, and basically a horse
that is strongly gaited has had this strengthened by generations of breeding
until the tendency to trot has been replaced by an intermediate gait with
a natural four beat rhythm.
Each individual horse will have a different quality of gait, just as
trotting horses of the same breed can have different qualities of a trot!
The smoothness of gait is influenced by many variables, these include genetically
inherited predisposition for gait, conformation attributes to facilitate
gait and training.
Why is Gait comfortable?
The human body will adjust to the movement of a gaited horse much more
readily than the movement of the trot. Most gaits are a derivative
of the natural equine walk and the motion perceived by the rider causes
the human pelvis to move in the same way it does when we walk. As
the human being lifts each foot off the ground and swings it forward there
is a corresponding lift and forward shift of the pelvis on the same side.
The motion felt from the saddle when riding a horse in gait is the same,
a slight lift and forward arc. The trot has a moment of suspension
then impact, which has no natural equivalent in the human being. It is
also rather hard on the joints and soft tissues of the human body.
Why do horses Gait?
Most gaited breeds require that the performance of that breeds unique
gait be natural from birth. Most of the breeds have a conformation type
that predisposition's the horse to perform their natural gait. Some
of the conformation attributes that are specific for gaiting include:
Neck placement so that the neck rises from the withers at a higher angle
than that of non gaited breeds, with the neck " tying in" much lower in
the chest of the horse.
A steeper shoulder angle than non gaited breeds which helps to produce
a smoother ride.
Many gaited breeds are "cow hocked" more than seen in non gaited breeds.
This seems to go along with the need to drop the hindquarters, driving
from the rear which is necessary for a gaited horse.
Are Gaited horses ridden differently?
The gaited horse has to lighten the fore hand and engage the hind quarters
to gait. Many styles of riding and styles of saddles that are used on trotting
horses encourages the riders weight to be forward, over the horses shoulders,
as that is the easiest place for a trotting horse to carry the extra weight.
It is exactly the opposite for a gaited horse, weight over the shoulders
makes it more difficult for them to maintain gait. To assist their horses
in maintaining gait, some gaited horse riders will lean back, thrusting
their legs and feet forward for good measure. When a horse gaits, you will
feel the withers rise, but unlike the trot, the horses back remains concave.
The more vertical, forward weight placement of trotting horse equitation
is enough to impair the elevation of the withers when the horse is asked
to gait. A rider needs to assume a balanced seat, with the upper body SLIGHTLY
behind true vertical (1/2 inch is often enough) and the heels an equal
distance in front of the vertical.
Will all gaited breeds gait naturally?
A well bred gaited horse will initiate their gait when asked for the
intermediate speed. But if the rider or the saddle are not
conducive to maintaining the gait by placement or weight distribution,
the horse will revert to a trot or pace (depending on the horses natural
Copyright © 1998 Beverly