Horses Are Special Too!

Things to Know

Gaits are the ways a horse moves.  Horses have three natural gaits: (1) walk, (2) trot, and (3) canter. A fast canter is often called a gallop.  Many horses are trained for three speeds at each of the three natural gaits. Trainers have also develop artificial gaits in some horses. Horses that are trained compete in horse shows and perform in circuses, fairs, and rodeos. Artificial gaits include the pace, slow gait, and rack.

IconThree Natural Gaits of a Horse

The Walk - is a four-beat gait.  The hooves hit the ground as follows:
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right fore hoof

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left hind hoof

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left fore hoof

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right hind hoof

The Trot - is a two-beat gait.  The hooves hit the ground as follows:
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right fore hoof and left hind hoof

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left hind hoof and right hind hoof

The Gallop - is a three-best gait.  The hooves hit the ground as follows:
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left hind hoof

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left fore hoof and right hind hoof

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right fore hoof

These gaits are shown in the diagram below:  (Image is linked to open in a new window.)

Diagram of Gaits

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The Walk is the slowest gait. The horse moves at a speed of about 4 miles an hour. It raises one hoof after another and puts them down in the same order. The horse keeps its balance by altering its front and back hooves, and its right and left hooves.

The Trot is a two beat gait at a speed of about 9 miles an hour. The front leg on one side of the body and the hind leg on the other side hit the ground together. The horse bends its legs more when it is trotting than when it is walking.

When beginners first ride at a trot, they should hold onto the horse's mane or the saddle until they get use to the motion. On the first beat of a trot, riders raise their body slightly by pushing their feet down on the stirrups. They come down in the saddle on the second best and then go right up again. This method of riding is called posting. A beginner should practice the movements of posting while the horse is walking.

The Canter is a comfortable, three-beat rhythmic riding gait. A horse canters at a speed of 10 to 12 miles per hour. On the first beat, a hind hoof strikes the ground. The other hind hoof and opposite fore hoof hit the ground together. On the third beat, the other fore hoof strikes the ground. Then the horse leaps forward, and all its hooves leave the ground.

The Gallop is a horse's fastest natural gait. Horses gallop in a leaping and bounding motion. On the first beat, a hind hoof strikes the ground. The other hind hoof and opposite fore hoof hit the ground together. On the third beat, the other fore hoof strikes the ground. Then the horse leaps forward, and all its hooves leave the ground.

The Pace, is much like the trot. When a horse paces, it moves the legs on the same side of the body at the same time and is not a comfortable riding gait.

The Slow Gait is a slow, four-beat gait. Four beats of the hoofs can be heard as the horse moves forward.

The Rack is a fast, smooth, four-beat gait. It resembles the slow gait but is faster.  Five-gaited saddle horses are trained to slow gait and rack.

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