Understanding the difference between various gaits can seem very confusing and difficult at first. This is even made worse by the fact that there are many opinions and philosophies about gait that conflict. The complexity of this subject is magnified by the fact that many of the official gaited horse breed associations have changed their definitions of various gaits numerous times through the years! (The exact gait that may have won the world title in 1970 may, in 1990, be considered a poor execution of that same gait, and in some cases not even the correct gait any longer for that specific breed!) Thus, just when you think you are starting to understand something you will learn from another source that what you thought was right, was incorrect according to their definitions... This cycle was repeated over and over as I was learning about gaited horses over 20 years ago, so I decided to learn the facts for myself. I read all that I could find and watched literally hundreds of videos of horses gaiting and analyzed their movements and foot falls etc until I could see what everyone was talking about, and learned all the various opinions, theories, and definitions. When I came to understand the various views and definitions and even the different vocabulary used to describe the same things I realized that this subject is as controversial as religion. With this in mind, I realized that no matter what approach a person takes to describe gaits there will be those who disagree, argue, defend their previous views without listening, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, I felt a desire to share what I've learned...and to clarify and correct the falsehoods that are passed on about what differentiates one gait from another. I have chosen to base my philosophy on the original or foundational definitions of gaits as they were described with the creation of each breed of gaited horse... so in some specific points I will not be in harmony with the modern, current definitions. But this information will help you understand the history of GAITED HORSE definitions and terms, so you can apply them to your educational background, and decipher more accurately when caught between the confusion of modern meanings and different opinions of what your horses are doing. :)
First I will discuss the most commonly misunderstood issue regarding gait, then I will define terms used to describe gaits and then I'll explain what horses are doing in some of the most popular or common gaits. Following that I will have video clips and photos to help explain what you are reading, so you can watch for these things with your own horses.
Most Common False Teaching of Gait Definitions:
Hoof timing is used by most people and even many official registries in our modern day to define various gaits. Hoof timing does NOT define what gait a horse is doing; it only gives you a clue towards understanding what the hips, shoulders, and legs are doing, which is what defines the gait. This is the most common of all misunderstood principles and I hear it almost daily... statements like, "he's doing a running walk because he is very lateral in his gait" or "he must be foxtrotting because his gait is very diagonal" or "He's racking because his hoof beat is even." Horses can be too lateral or diagonal and still be doing their breed's gait, but just not as comfortably or correctly as they should. A gait is not defined by the hoof fall, but rather by the movement in the shoulders and hips and body of the horse, that cause the legs to move in a specific way. The hoof fall pattern is a result, or symptom, of their particular gait, but is not the way to determine their gait as there are too many variations that cause similar footfall patterns, yet the ride is very different in many cases. Judging what gait a horse is doing by looking only at their foot fall pattern is like judging a book by its cover and reading the title page or a review; you have to get deep inside the book yourself or understand the body of the horse to know what's really going on! Although foot fall does NOT define what gait a horse is doing, most people and even many gaited registries now define their gaits this way. This trend started because many people had a hard time seeing what movement was taking place in the shoulders and hips of horses and were confused when trying to determine the gait, but found it easier to see the footfall. Then, because the footfall of a particular gait was usually mostly diagonal or mostly lateral, people started telling beginners to look at the footfall to determine the gait. The folly of this method is two fold: First, it is only accurate 80-90% of the time and secondly, it has encouraged the lack of proper education for people to really understand the various gaits. Keep all this in mind as you study what I am teaching in this article, as much of it will contradict with this most common of all misunderstandings. In order to communicate with people in the same language you have to understand their definitions, but to really understand gait well you need to also gain the knowledge of how gait used to be defined before this trend of defining by footfall came along and re-defined every gait. There is much value in understanding correct "old style definitions of gait" and how the horse's body works, as you can then look at any two horses doing the same gait and know which one will ride smoothest, be most sure footed, possibly have the best endurance and much more!
Gait - the way a horse moves. This is measured by the horse's shoulders, hips and legs. (All horses move, even non gaited ones...but everyone knows when "gaited" is used that it refers to breeds of horses that move differently than "non-gaited" ones.) When a horse is able to break the diagonal motion up to have some lateral motion, it allows the body to push forward with its momentum rather than upwards, thus causing "gait" or forward momentum, rather than bounce.
Walk - Slow movement of a horse, which varies from breed to breed in specifics of movement, where the shoulders lift the front legs up and forward then sets them down and the rear legs are lifted and brought forward with as little effort or motion as needed.
Trot - Medium speed of a horse, faster than a walk, but without the rolling motion of the shoulders and hips found in Cantering or Running, but does have more motion than the walk. In a trot the muscles of the horse push harder and faster than in the walk and cause the hips and shoulders to elevate and rotate more. In non gaited horses this causes the horse to go upwards and in "gaited" horses it pushes them forward.
Lope or Canter - Rolling motion of the hips and shoulders that is faster than the trot, with similar motion of a gallop or run, but more relaxed and not nearly as fast as the run. This relaxing gait is only a 3 beat gait as one shoulder and the opposite hip move their legs together and the other two move independently of the others. The front leg (right or left) that goes forward first independent of the others is said to be the "lead" that horse is in.
Loping.wmv or Loping.mp4 (In left lead... Watch the left front hit, then the left rear and right front together and then the right rear comes down... Oh yes, this hoof timing does not DEFINE the gait of the horse, but just the LEAD the horse is in :)
Gallop - Similar motion as the canter, but faster & with more power, which causes the legs to break from a 3 beat to a 4 beat pattern where each foot falls separately... Run - Full speed motion of a horse, with similar shoulder and hip motion as the gallop, but with full exertion the horse has to offer.
Gallop or Running Video.wmv or MP4 file (in slow motion)
Lateral - the movement of the front and back feet on the same side of the horse.
Diagonal - the movement of the front and the back feet on opposite sides of the horse. (Right Rear and Left Front move together etc.)
Smooth Gait - traveling in a manner that does not bounce the rider. Caused by the left foot staying on the ground until the right foot is starting to bear weight as well, and preventing free fall motion of the horse. (This can, in some cases, be done when a horse is gaiting incorrectly, thus some incorrect gaits still being smooth to ride.)
Rough Gait - moving in a manner that causes the rider to bounce up and down as, due to hoof air time and gravity, the horse's body falls between strides before the hooves bear weight. (This can, in some cases, be done when a horse is gaiting correctly but still has excessive hoof air time due to exaggerated animation & too long of strides.)
Broken Gait - movement that is partially lateral and partially diagonal. The percentage of diagonal vs. lateral movement varies greatly, but if it is not 100% diagonal (as with the hard trot) or 100% lateral (as with the pace) then it is a "broken" gait.
Two Beat Gait - movement that causes two hooves to hit at the same time and thus the sound of only two beats, even though the animal has four hooves :) (A square trot is a 2 beat diagonal gait and a pace is a 2 beat lateral gait.)
Four Beat Gait - (another term for a Broken Gait) movement that causes each of the four hooves to hit the ground at a different time, thus four distinct beats.
Trotty - This slang has two meanings. Often used to refer to Diagonal movement and also used to refer to excessive up and down motion.
Pacey - This slang is used to refer to horses that have too much lateral motion & sometimes a horse that causes the rider to feel a side to side motion.
Slick - This term has often been used incorrectly to mean making a horse gait more laterally. The correct definition of a "slick" trot is the same as a foxtrot (walking in front and trotting with the rear) but taking shorter steps...or in other words is a short striding foxtrot gait. (Note: the slick trot is too short in its stride, just the opposite of the modern show gait which takes too long of strides. The original smooth riding foxtrot was right in between these two extremes, and is by far the better gait...both in comfort of ride and surefooted travel through brush, rocks etc.)
Basic Description of Some of the Most Common Gaits:
Pace - A totally Lateral gait, where the left shoulder and rear hip, legs, feet & hooves move together and both right ones do as well. There is no diagonal movement, causing this to be a two beat gait.
Pacing.wmv or Pacing.MP4 file
Hard Trot (or Square Trot) - A totally Diagonal trot, a two beat gait, where one front shoulder, leg and hoof and its opposite side rear hip, leg and hoof move together. This is a Rough Gait as the body of the horse has to push upwards (bounce) to get the complete diagonal movement. There are many variations of the hard trot, such as a jog, long trot, extended trot, collected trot and others but as they are not "gaited" we will not spend time on them in this article. (The video below is of an absolutely beautiful horse doing an extended hard trot correctly for its breed.)
Flatfoot Walk - Walking quickly without breaking into a trot. If done Smoothly by placing right foot on the ground before lifting the left foot, then this is a very comfortable broken gait.
3 Flat Foot Walk WMV Videos: Charm Flat Foot Walk & Pawnee Flat Walk & Feather Foxtrot and then Flat Foot Walk
Fox Walk - (This is not an official gait of the MFTHBA or any other horse breed, but many people ride their horses in this gait so it's worth describing.) This is a gait that a horse does when they are speeding up from the Flatfoot Walk, but are not yet Foxtrotting or Run Walking...or an "in between" gait. The horse is still walking on the rear feet technically, but is starting to have some hock action, but not enough to break at the hocks. Thus, the tail has a slight bounce, but not the pronounced bobbing tail which is obvious in a true foxtrot. The front shoulders are in the same motion as a foxtrot gait, which is a very fast walk. If a horse's next gear is the Running Walk then their Fox Walk is inbetween the Flatfoot Walk and the Running Walk. In this case the rear tail will not have any bounce to it, but the front shoulders will start moving in a trot but not be fully engaged enough to be a true Running Walk. This is usually considered simply a very fast Flat Foot Walk, the only difference being more shoulder action as the horse prepares to go faster and lift its front legs more. Here's a link to an example of a nice quality foxtrotter mare doing a Fox Walk: http://youtu.be/4QrrbYUWop4 (See how the rear legs are not yet trotting and the hocks not breaking over, but the tail is just starting to bounce, but not bobbing yet AND the front end is doing a big fast walking motion. This gait is VERY nice to ride. This mare also does a super quality flat foot walk, foxtrot, and rack!)
Foxtrot - Walking quickly with the front legs and trotting with the rear legs. This is also supposed to be done Smoothly and as a Broken Gait. (If a horse is foxtrotting correctly you will see a ripple run down the tail every time each rear hoof hits the ground as the tail bounces in a very pronounced manner.) This gait is sometimes done more laterally or more diagonally depending on the horse, but the best ride is obtained when the movement is closer to even and not too pacey or too trotty. Traditionally, this breed's foundation horses traveled about 80% diagonally and 20% laterally.
Click here to see very informative Foxtrot Still Photo Comparisons w/Descriptions!!! This includes the original MFTHBA logo, doing the foundation style gaits & comparing them to square trot and modern show foxtrot gait.! If you pay attention you will see that the modern show horses do not ever completely match the official logo, AND their gaits never make the customary rhythm of a foxtrot, which sounds like, "a chunk a meat and two potatoes"... Only the old "foundation" style gaits as shown match the logo and the rhythm. :) After watching the videos below, you will want to come back to the still shot comparison again to understand more fully what's happening in the videos.
First are some videos of the modern Show Style Foxtrot:
Below are 3 examples of the Old Style, or Foundation Foxtrot Gait, that today is still primarily preferred while trail riding.
(Notice the differences! The show gait is NOT at all smooth to ride like the foundation horses in the videos below it, but that's the way shows tend to go in every breed...either exaggerating or reducing what's good to the point of no longer being good...but that's just my opinion. Each to their own! They can bounce all they want and meanwhile I'll be gliding through the forest enjoying my smooooth ride! :) The show horses above (on top) are wonderful animals and are doing the foxtrot gait correctly (walking with the front shoulders and trotting in the rear end), but by increasing animated head nod and exaggerating the front stride these result also in increased hoof air time (when the hooves are in the air falling) which allows gravity to take over and makes this technically correct foxtrot a Rough Gait. The other 3 horses (below the show horses) vary in their specific performance of the foxtrot gait, but all do it correctly and in a smooth gaited manner, giving a very comfortable ride, the way the breed was originally intended to.
If you want to see more, here are a number of Foundation Type Foxtrot Videos: Baby Doll Foxtrot & Lobo Slow Trail Foxtrot & Lobo Fast Foxtrotting & Pumpkin Foxtrot & Pawnee Foxtrot & Nozer Foxtrot & Joy Foxtrot & Music1stRide & Charm Foxtrot & Delight Gait & Tiger Lilly Foxtrotting on YouTube.
It is also noteworthy that each gait has a different feeling, and the differences make it so some riders will prefer a running walk, others a stepping pace, and to some people the foxtrot gait will be the smoothest ride. A person who sits deep into the back of their saddle will usually think the running walk is the smoothest and when riding a foxtrot gait will feel the back of the saddle bouncing their rear end will not think it nearly as comfortable. A person who rides "calvary" or dressage style, sitting upright and positioned in the center of their saddle will feel the smoothest ride in a rack or an old style foxtrot gait. I could go on making a huge list through the numerous gaits and riding styles, but the point is that THE SMOOTHEST RIDING HORSE FOR ONE PERSON'S SEAT MAY FEEL LIKE A ROUGHER RIDING HORSE TO ANOTHER STYLE OF RIDER! Understanding how to ride each gait, makes it possible for a good horseman/woman to find the "sweet spot" & to sit and collect the horse just right, and get a super smooth ride from all types of gaited horses! When foxtrotting (even in the old style) a rider has to sit their pelvic bones right in the pivot point of the saddle, as the saddle rocks front to back slightly, and if they do this correctly then the ride is just as smooth as any gait on Earth. But, if not sitting right, the same gait will feel uncomfortable with too much rocking or even bouncing in the rear or the front of the saddle...Sitting the PIVOT point is the key. With a Running Walk, if a person sits too far forward, they will feel hammered by the front of the saddle with every stride the horse makes as its shoulder blades roll under the saddle & it bobs up and down; nevertheless, this same exact gait will feel smooth as glass when the saddle is positioned back far enough and the rider sits properly...but if too far back then the horse will get a sore back and have very poor endurance. Learning how to ride each style of gait is fun, even if you eventually decide to just have one type for yourself, as it's good to understand how each breed of gaited horse or rather each type of gait, done properly, can be extremely smooth to ride, if both horse and rider are in harmony. :)
Personally, I love riding quality horses of all gaited breeds regardless which gaits they do! I love the running walk, foxtrot, stepping pace, both slow and fast rack, tolt, indian shuffle, or any of the many other gaits when DONE SMOOTHLY and effortlessly, so the horses can have great endurance, sure footedness and give a comfortable ride! I think it silly politics to think a horse must do the specific gait for their breed when a different gait is more natural, surefooted and smooth for that individual animal, and will allow them to have more endurance and be a more comfortable ride.
Also, don't miss this collection of photos and video clips of MFT World Champions, from up to 50 years ago, to show you their style of gaits back then...and hopefully we'll show examples of the many wonderful MFT horses from the foundation of the breed clear up through today! (Still collecting videos and updating this page...)
Click here to see these photos and videos of World Champions from Past Years!!!
You will notice a similar and even more exaggerated difference with the Tennessee Walking Horse Breed, comparing the Trail Gaits to the Show Gaits, below:
Running Walk - Trotting with the front legs and walking quickly with the rear legs. This is also supposed to be done Smoothly and as a Broken Gait. (If a horse is doing this gait correctly you will see the tail sitting very still without any bouncing and may have flowing hairs as if a blow dryer is blowing out the horse's rear end.) This gait is sometimes done more laterally or more diagonally depending on the horse, but the best ride is obtained when the movement is closer to even and not too pacey or too trotty. Traditionally, this breed's foundation horses traveled about 20% diagonally and 80% laterally.
Here is an example of a well bred, well trained, correctly gaiting Tennessee Walking Horse, named Joy, found at www.cloud9walkers.com doing a superb foundation style flat foot walk, running walk, comfortable canter, and racking gaits.
(If the TWH Running Walk Video Comparison below does not show up on your computer then you can download them by clicking the links underneath...or just watch similar lower resolution clips below that. These files will work with Internet Explorer if you allow Active X controls in your browser and click "enable" on the "Display Video & Animation..." in your security settings under Tools/Internet Options/Customize.)
1st is Video above is of a normally shod horse with a relaxed foundation style of gaiting. WMV file or MP4 file
2nd is Video above is of a TWH World Champion Running Walk, in the modern show style: WMV file or MP4 file
Here is a lower resolution of a similar comparison:
Slow Motion Video of Modern Performance Running Walk & Then Real Time Video of Foundation Style Running Walk:
Both of the above horses are correctly performing The Running Walk gait (by the front shoulders trotting and the rear end walking), but the show horse is animated in a rough gait and the "flat shod" trail type horse is doing a smooth gait that is comfortable to ride, and not harmful to the horse.
Rack - Tolt - Largo - Single Foot Trotting in both the front and rear, but in a Broken Gait rather than the "non-gaited" Diagonal motion of many other breeds. A rack traditionally is supposed to be an even broken gait, meaning 50% diagonal and 50% lateral movement, just like a tolt, or many of the other gaited breed gaits. This results in one hoof hitting the ground at a time and at high speeds even appearing to have only one foot on the ground at a time, thus the nickname "single foot". This is very comfortable when done Smoothly and not as a Rough Gait, when there is air time with the hooves...and even when done not as smoothly can be an exhilarating as well as a ground covering ride! You will find several variations of the RACK. Many horses rack with their shoulder and hip motion retaining the motion of their previous gait, but just do it much faster. For example, you will see many foxtrotters that rack with a bouncy tail and many Tennessee Walkers that rack with a flowing tail. This is due to the Foxtrotter having a bounce in the rear end while trotting and the TWHorse walking with the rear end, but when they speed up past their foxtrot or running walk they go into a rack yet keep similar motion to their previous gaits. The foxtrotter goes into a rack when their speed is too much to keep walking with the front end so they begin to trot with the front as well as the rear. The Walking Horse goes into the rack when their speed is too high to keep placing each rear hoof on the ground before lifting the other and some air time results between hoof beats, but some of them keep the exact same motion as a running walk...making their gait technically just a speed running walk as they are not trotting with the rear end, but just walking VERY FAST! (See video clip of The Gravedigger below under "single-footing gaits" as an example of the TWH style of rack I've described.) In other cases, you will see horses of many gaited breeds change from their previous gait to a rack that more closely resembles another breed's rack. Many horses within all the gaited breeds have the ability to rack, even though many associations do not claim the rack as an official gait of their breed. The rack is an exhilarating ride and if a horse is well trained then doing the rack will not make them "high" or out of control, but a rider can transition from a slow walk to a flat walk to a foxtrot or running walk to a rack and back and forth as desired...as well as a canter, gallop and full out run like a race horse too! Gaited horses are very capable of doing all these gaits!
Watch below Starlight do a slow walk, flat foot walk, foxtrot (where she slips back into a flat walk unintentionally, without me noticing...yet stays at 8mph, same as the foxtrot) then watch her rack and canter. Her rack is a perfect example of a comfortable, relaxed trail rack at 8-16 mph......a great way to coast through the forest or desert trails!
PASO FINO HORSES...compare their popular show gait to the trail gaits. I find it interesting that some breeds have exaggerated the animation of their gaits and in this case they have shortened and stifled the movement of the horses to look "showy", in a manner just the opposite of the TWH and MFT breeds. Enjoy these videos of very nice Paso Fino horses with various gait training styles:
With over 33 gaited breeds, and people forming new ones every few years, there are many more gaits with finer differences than I intend to describe here. But I hope these basic descriptions have helped you understand some of the principles governing gaits in horses and how to correctly describe them...but don't be surprised if all your friends and people you talk to are still confused or think you don't know what you are talking about. I have even been to quite a few clinics and seminars where incorrect descriptions of gait are taught by professional horse folks, veterinarians and others who profess to know. In fact, many official registries have changed their definitions of gait to follow this incorrect trend of defining gait by footfall. Then newer breeds have been formed and their gaits described using the same poor method. All I can say is if you will watch horses gaiting in slow motion and apply these principles as described above you will come to see what is right for yourself. Also, if you study the foundational literature of all the gaited breeds and what the gaits were supposed to be with the original forming of that breed then you will find this information consistent with what I've taught here. As mentioned above, In order to communicate with people in the same language you have to understand their definitions, but to really understand gait well you need to also gain the knowledge of how gait used to be defined before this trend of defining by footfall came along and re-defined every gait. You may not be able to convince others their horse is doing a rack when they think it's doing a foxtrot or running walk, or same goes for any other gaits...but you will be able to look at any horse and know what gait it's doing by modern definitions (footfall) and also what it's body is actually doing, thus its true gait. This education can be of great value as, without even riding the horses, you can compare and know much about any animal you watch in motion. There is much benefit in understanding correct "old style definitions of gait" and how the horse's body works, as you can then look at any two horses doing the same gait and know which one will ride smoothest, be most sure footed, possibly have the best endurance and much more, that simply looking at footfall can not tell you!
For Your Enjoyment Here are some more Videos of various gaits:
The Single-foot or Racking Gait
Watch Sunrise's Perfection doing a super comfortable trail racking gait ranging from 10-20 mph!
Click to download Real Time Video: Speed Rack.wmv or Speed Rack.mp4 (Seriously @ 30 mph...get ready to fly!)
Watch REVEREND HOMER above & THE GRAVEDIGGER below...two truly amazing, smooth riding single-footing stallions!
The Flat Foot Walk
View a Flat Foot Walk
Watch Another Flat Foot Walk
Watch A Fast Flat Walk At 6 mph
Watch One More Flat Foot Walk
A Beautiful Natural Foxtrot!
Watch a Relaxed Trail Foxtrot
A Wonderful Foxtrotting Gait!
Watch a 6 mph Foxtrotting Horse
See A 10 mph Foxtrot
View a Speed Foxtrot at 12 mph
See A Collected Foxtrotting Horse at 6 mph!
Watch Same Mare as in 6mph foxtrot above Doing A Rack at 16 mph!
See a "3 Beat Trail Canter" or Lope
Watch Another Trail Canter
Watch Another Canter ?
MFT World Champion Show Videos:
Flat Foot Walk
Show Foxtrot WGC 2004
Show Foxtrot 2 yr Old WC 2004
World Champion Tennessee Walking Horses, courtesy of the TWHBA.
TWH Show Canter or View in MP4
TWH Running Walk (Flat Shod "Trail Style")
TWH WGC Running Walk (Modern Performance style)
New 2012 TWHBEA Official Statement Regarding Show Posture and Equitation!
Gaited Saddle Horse and Mule:
Spotted Saddle Horse & Her Gaited Mule Flat Walking Together!
Don't miss this collection of photos and video clips of MFT World Champions, from up to 50 years ago, to show you their style of gaits back then...and hopefully we'll show examples of the many wonderful MFT horses from the foundation of the breed clear up through today!
Click here to see these photos and videos of World Champions from Past Years!!!
I am still updating and improving this web page, so your comments and suggestions are welcome! Your Videos would also be welcomed! Thanks.
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