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What are Gaited Horses?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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Gaited horses are horses which are bred or trained to utilize distinct movement patterns which are not like the walk, trot, canter, or gallop. Many breeds of horse are renowned for their gaits, including the Icelandic, Tennessee Walking Horse, Saddlebred, Standardbred, Peruvian Paso, and the Paso Fino, among several others. These unique gaited horses may naturally have an additional gait, and they are subjected to additional training to bring the gait out and smooth it. Many riders greatly enjoy gaited horses because of their smooth, pleasant motion, and gaited horses are also stunning to watch, leading many people to compete in gaited divisions at horse shows.

Almost all horses can naturally walk, trot, canter, and gallop. Each of these gaits has a distinct pattern, starting with the four beat pattern of the walk, moving into the well known one-two pattern of the trot, and accelerating into the three beat canter, a fast but still flowing gait. At full speed, horses revert to the four beat gallop, using huge strides and powerful muscles to cover the ground at high speed.

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Gaited horses are capable of the pace and/or amble in addition to these four gaits. In some cases, a gaited horse will amble rather than trotting, which is one of the reasons gaited horses are so popular with riders, because the amble is very easy to sit, unlike the trot. A pace is a lateral two beat gait, meaning that both legs on the same side move forward at once. At high speeds, a pace can be uncomfortable, because the horse moves in a side to side motion, with two feet off the ground, but it is very effective for harness racing. Pacing is not actively encouraged in many gaited horses, although some Icelandics can perform the flying pace, a high speed pace which is generally used for only short distances, because it is highly demanding on the horse's body.

More commonly, gaited horses amble. Unlike a human amble, an equine amble is a specific four beat gait. In a lateral amble, the horse starts by moving a rear foot, moving to the fore foot on the same side, and then repeating the process on the other side. Gaited horses may also use a diagonal amble, in which the horse moves a back foot, and then the alternate forefoot. When a gaited horse has been well trained, these gaits are flowing, beautiful, and very distinctive, although they may seem hard to understand in print. They can also be sustained for long periods of time on the trail, leading many people to use gaited horses for trail and endurance riding.

The specific movement patterns of many gaited horses are specifically named, allowing riders to distinguish between them. The Tennessee Walking Horse, for example, has a gait known as the running walk, while Saddlebreds rack, and Missouri Foxtrotters fox trot. The famous fluid and distinctive gait of Icelandics is called a tölt. To see gaited horses in action, you can visit a horse show with a gaited division, or seek out gaited horses in your community; these talented athletes are growing increasing popular in many parts of the world.

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