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Horse Gaits

The horse has transitioned between many different primary roles since its domestication, they have been documented to be intertwined with human culture since around 30,000BCE through cave drawings (Dance, 2022). Originally, they were hunted for meat, but soon showed promise as a solid mode of transportation and companionship which began their domestication process around 4000BCE (Anthony, 2007). After the industrial revolution invented cars and other ways to travel, horses started to get used more and more for pure pleasure and performance related events. Due to this fact their confirmation, locomotion and style have became more important over the years. In this article we will be focusing on the different types of horse gaits that exist in the present day.

The equine gate can be broken up into 2 category types: Artificial and Natural (Heyboerg, 2017). I will be providing videos, and detailed explanations about the differences in steps and those categories in the following article.

Lets start off with Natural Gaits

There are 4 types natural gaits that pretty muc every horse can perform unless due to injury or illness inhibiting. Arguably many people in the horse community believe there are actually 5 types, often referencing "backing"as one. For the sake of this argument I will provide an explanation as to what that is; however, I will only be talking about the after-mentioned 4 in detail, which are in the forward motion.

*The following abbreviations will be used when talking about the gait types

FR= Front Right Foot

FL= Front Left Foot

BR= Back Right Foot

BL= Back Left Foot

  • Walk

When a horse is walking this is their "slowest" speed and they do a 4 beat gait which means that every foot hits the ground at independent intervals.

This gait can either look like FR, BL, FL, then BR or BR, FR, BL then FL

In order to visualize this, here is an animated video.

  • Trot

The horse's "2nd gear" if you will is known as a trot. This is a 2 beat gait that's on the diagonal which means that two of opposing limbs feet hit the ground at each interval .

This gait can either look like FR and BL then FL and BR or FL and BR then FR and BL

Here is another animated video to visualize this.

  • Canter/Lope

The horse's "3rd gear" is known as either a lope or canter depending on who says it. This is a 3 beat gait where a pair of feet hit the the ground together and the other 2 hit the ground at independent intervals.

If you have ever heard the term taking a lead this is the starting gait it's referred too. Horse only has a lead in canter and galloping.

For being on the left lead the foot pattern looks like BR, BL and FR together then FL, and for the right lead, the foot pattern looks like BL, BR and FL together then FR. Horses do typically use their right lead when doing a circle to the right and vice versa (Heyboerg, 2017).

Above is a video to visualize this more complicated gait pattern.

  • Gallop

The gallop is a horse's top gear and fastest gait, I like to call it 4th gear!! This pattern looks similar to the canter; however, it is a 4 beat gait with left and right leads. Each foot hits the ground independently in a circular pattern shift.

For being on the left lead, the foot pattern is BR, BL, FR then FL and for the right lead, the pattern is BL, BR, FL then FR (Heyboerg, 2017).

Above is a video to visualize this last natural gait

**When it comes to the gait patterns, my best way to think about it is in terms gears, 1st gear to 4th gear. This then allows me to remember the beat number for each gait. As you have probably already noticed the "gear"number correlates with the beat number.

1st gear (Walk)= independent beat, 1 beat each

2nd gear (Trot)= 2 beats

3rd gear (Canter)= 3 beats

4th gear (Gallop)= independent 4 beats

Followed up by Artificial Gaits

An artificial gait is one that can be manufactured by specialty training of natural gaits (Callaghan, 2021). A horses ability to preform an artificial gate is based on their genetics and conformation, as it determines their capacity for hoof placement and overall bilateral movement. With the wide range of diversity in horse breeds, varying body types and structures its not hard to understand how certain horses perform different gait patterns leading to naturally gaited horses known as having ambling gaits.

At horse that is considered naturally gated "single-foots", ambles, paces or does a running walk, these horses are selectively bred to enhance these tendencies. For an in depth list of gaited breeds click the link:

Typically, most artificial gaits are found in the equestrian sport of dressage. Below are a few of the most prominent and well known artificial gaits.

  • Passage

When a horse is preforming this gaited movement it is described as looking like the horse is dancing but in fact the pattern is more like a slow motion trot (Callaghan, 2021). The goal of this gait pattern is to to spend the longest time suspended above the ground as possible. As this is a manipulated form of trotting, it is still a 2 beat gait pattern.

  • Piaffe

This form of gaited movement is more of a collected fast paced trot on the spot. The goal of this gait pattern is try to avoid moving in the forward or backward direction while spending the least amount of time suspended off the ground as possible (Callaghan, 2021). Just as it was in the passage, this is a manipulation of a trot and remains a 2 beat gait pattern

  • Canter pirouette

The canter pirouette is a gaited movement that heavily involves the hindquarters, the ultimate goal is to do a slow motion canter that's turning on the spot within 6-8 strides (Callaghan, 2021). This is a manipulated form of canter, indicting it is a 3 beat gait pattern.

  • Spanish Walk

This artificial gait got it's name due to the nature of the movement being heavily taught to horses in Spanish cultures. The best way to describe this gaited movement is as an exaggerated walk through extension of the front limbs (Callaghan, 2021). This artificial gait is becoming more and more popular to be used as a fun trick to teach your horse!! This artificial gait can be done in either a walk or a trot but still follow the pattern of natural gaits. By this I mean, if it is a walk it is a 4 beat gait and if it is a trot it is a 2 beat gait.

I would like to thank my readers for taking interest in the articles I write and for those who interact with them either through comments, likes, shares or simply taking the time to look at what I am pouring hours into writing. From the bottom of my heart thank you, as an acknowledgement of you, I would like to offer up a promotion. For the first 3 people that either comment or message me PUMPKIN and book in a service with me, let me buy you coffee. I will treat you to a 15$ gift card to Starbucks or Tim Hortons (your choice) when I join you for your booked in service to provide some warmth as the days get colder.

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This information was cited using the following format: The Veterinary Journal

Anthony, D.W., 2007. The horse, the wheel, and language : David W. Anthony : Free download, borrow, and streaming [WWW Document]. Internet Archive. URL (accessed 9.30.22).

Callaghan, A.O., 2021. A guide to natural & artificial horse gaits [WWW Document]. Horsey Hooves. URL (accessed 9.30.22).

Dance, A., 2022. The tale of the domesticated horse [WWW Document]. Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews. URL (accessed 9.30.22).

Heyboerg, 2017. Natural and artificial gaits of the horse [WWW Document]. myhorseuniversity. URL (accessed 9.29.22).

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