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Horse Gaits
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [February 1998]


Most horse breeds possess the 4 natural gaits described below. However, some breeds have a 5th, 6th or 7th gait that is either natural or trained. Please keep that in mind when you view this article.

Walk:

The walk is a natural 4-beat movement. The horse always has two or three hooves on the ground. The walk is the slowest natural gait, it is the steadiest and most comfortable.

The horse lifts his hooves as follows:

The Walk

 


(1st beat) right hind leg
(2nd beat) right fore leg
(3rd beat) left hind leg
(4th beat) left fore leg


Trot:

The trot is a steady 2-beat movement. This gait has a period of suspension. The horse springs from one diagonal to the other. In between these springs, all four legs are off the ground. Since the trot has two beats each stride and a moment in mid-air, it is more comfortable for the rider (and the horse) to rise up and down every-other beat (this is called "posting").

The horse lifts his hooves as follows:

The Trot

 


(1st beat) right fore / left hind
(2nd beat) left fore / right hind


Canter:

The canter is a 3-beat movement. This gait has a period of suspension after each stride. This gait starts with the hind leg then leads to the front in a rocking motion. When you canter, you keep your seat in the saddle (unlike the trot). Before learning to canter, make sure your balance and rhythm stays consistent with the horse during the trot.

The horse lifts his hooves as follows:

The Canter

 


The Right-Lead Canter:

(1st beat) left hind leg
(2nd beat) right hind / left fore
(3rd beat) right fore leg



The Canter

 




The Left-Lead Canter:

(1st beat) right hind leg
(2nd beat) left hind / right fore
(3rd beat) left fore leg



Gallop:

The gallop is a 4-beat movement. This gait is similar to the canter, but the horse's legs move one at a time. The gallop feels just like a fast canter. When riding the gallop, raise your seat slightly out of the saddle, putting your weight in your heels. Before attempting to gallop, you must be able to control the horse 100% and be able to ride all other gaits in balance.

The horse lifts his hooves as follows:

The Gallop

 


The Right-Lead Gallop:

(1st beat) left hind leg
(2nd beat) right hind leg
(3rd beat) left fore leg
(4th beat) right fore leg



The Gallop

 




The Left-Lead Gallop:

(1st beat) right hind leg
(2nd beat) left hind leg
(3rd beat) right fore leg
(4th beat) left fore leg


Other Natural and Trained Gaits:

There seems to be an on-going debate on which gaits are 'natural' and which are 'trained' gaits. Many gaits can be 'natural' to one breed, and at the same time, must be 'trained' to other breeds. This is the reason we will not get into detail here about which gaits are 'natural' and which are 'trained'. However, we will point you to other articles that we have found on the internet which describe specific gaits. If anyone feels that any of these articles lead to false information, please don't hesitate to inform us.

Lateral Gaits - Tolt


Words To Remember:

Lead: The term "lead" is used to tell which fore leg of the horse is farther forward (leading). This term is used only in the canter and gallop. A horse is on his "left lead" when his left fore leg is leading and on his "right lead" when his right fore leg is leading. (see above diagrams).

Posting: The term "posting" is used to describe the up-and-down pattern of the trot. When you post, you raise out of the saddle for one beat, and sit down in the saddle for one beat. This pattern usually creates a more comfortable trot for both the horse and rider.

Diagonal: The term "diagonal" refers to which fore leg is moving forward while you are in the up position of the posting trot. You should always be in the up position of the posting trot when the the horse's outside fore leg (closest to the arena wall) is farther forward.



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This article was published on: February 1998. Last updated on: February 1998.