How To Train A Gaited Horse – Different Gaits Of Horses

Icelandic Horse Gaiting
Here’s an Icelandic horse doing the Tolt. The Tolt is a very smooth four beat gait that can be performed at a variety of speeds.





The Differences In  The Gaits



In this second part of How to train a gaited horse, we’ll be looking at the differences between the various gaits that a horse might have.  There were twelve gaits that I mentioned in that previous lesson.  You might want to go back and review the first lesson, but I’ll recap for you here the gaits that I’ll be talking about.  As I mentioned previously, I’ll not address the Paso Fino horse, or the Peruvian Paso specifically here, simply because of a lack of personal experience with these two breeds.



Twelve Gaits



Twelve GaitsI listed twelve gaits in lesson #1.  These gaits are the Walk, Trot, Canter, and Gallop.  These are the common gaits of most all horses.  Then there is the Pace, the Stepping Pace (also called the Broken Pace), the Running Walk, the Single Foot, the Tolt (akin to the Rack), the Foxtrot, the Flying Pace, and the Flying Trot, which is actually my own term for the trot that the harness racing “Trotters” perform.





The Four Common Gaits



Walk, Trot, Canter, Gallop..  These are of course the typical four gaits that are common to almost all horses.  Because of their familiarity to almost everyone, I’ll just give a brief explanation of each of these.


Walk.  The walk is a four beat gait in which each foot strikes the ground separately from the others.  The footfall, beginning with the left front is…  Left front, right rear, right front, left rear.  Most of the time the rhythm is evenly spaced, ie. 1-2-3-4     1-2-3-4.


Trot.  The trot is a two beat gait in which the two diagonally paired feet strike the ground at the same time.  The rhythm is 1-2    1-2.  What I mean by “diagonally paired” is that the right front, and the left rear will move together.  And the left front, and the right rear will move together.



Horse doing a trot
This horse is doing a trot. Both pairs of diagonal legs are working together.
Horse walking
This horse is walking calmly





Canter.  The canter is actually a three beat gait.  On the left lead, the footfall would be, right rear, left rear and right front together, and then right front.  The timing would be, 1-2-3   1-2-3, and fairly evenly timed.  On a right lead, the footfall would be, left front, left rear and right front together, and then right front.  The canter is performed at a moderate speed, with some horses being able to do a very slow canter.  Notice that in the canter, the “lead foot” would be a hind foot, while in the walk or the trot, the “lead foot” would be a front foot.



Horse doing a canter
This is the second beat of the canter. The left front and the right rear are both on the ground. The left rear is getting ready to leave the ground, and the right front is going to be the last to land.
Horse at a canter
This horse has just landed with the left front foot, completing the three beats of the canter. The right rear foot which began the sequence, has left the ground, and the two diagonal feet, left rear and right front, have just finished their stride.




Gallop.  The gallop is a variation of the canter.  Or you could say the canter is a variation of the gallop.  The gallop is of course a much faster gait.  The gallop is a four beat gait, and not a three beat, as the canter is.  Here’s the footfall of the gallop on the left lead..  Left rear, right rear, left front, right front.  And the rhythm would be 1-2-3-4, and fairly evenly timed.   On the right lead, the footfall is..  Right rear, left rear, right front, left front.  So the rear feet both hit the ground first, and then the front feet hit the ground last.  In the gallop. there is a time when all four feet are off the ground at once.  Take a look at the pictures below.



Galloping Horse
In this picture, the four beats of the gallop are just finishing with the right front foot hitting the ground. The left rear is going to be the next foot to strike the ground.
Galloping Horse in "suspension"
Here you can see how all four feet are off the ground. This is the period of time after the rear feet have pushed off from the ground, and before the front feet have come down.












Pacers And Trotters


That pretty much takes care of the four most common gaits of horses.  Now I’d like to talk a little bit about Pacers and Trotters.  In harness racing, there are horses that trot while racing, and there’s horses that pace while racing.  I’ve gone to the harness races a number of times, and I find it fun to watch just how fast these horses can travel without breaking into a gallop.  A horse’s natural tendency when going that fast would be to gallop.


A horse really has to be trained to stay in one particular gait as opposed to switching to another as he prefers.  At the harness races it is of paramount importance that a horse not “break gait”.  And the same is true for a horse competing in a gaited horse competition, such as a Missouri Foxtrotter show or a Tennessee Walker show.  As I’ve pointed out previously, many of these horses have the ability to do several other gaits, and so they must be trained to do the one you want them to do.


You might want to take a look at the Post titled Training The Trail Horse – Part 1, where I talk about a horse of ours named Jolly.  Jolly was very gaited and did a variety of different intermediate gaits depending on the terrain that he was in when we were riding him.  And since we were just rail riding, my wife would let him do any gait he wanted to, because they were all smooth and comfortable.  But many times your horse may be prone to doing some gait that isn’t so comfortable, so he needs to be trained to stay in the gait you want.


But let’s get back to the trotters and pacers.  The trotters do the same trotting gait that I explained earlier, but they simply do it at an incredible speed, and with incredible extension of their legs.  But it still remains a two beat gait of even rhythm.  Just a 1-2 beat with the diagonally opposed legs working together.  The pace on the other hand, while still being a two beat gait with a 1-2 rhythm, is performed with the two lateral legs working together.  In other words the two legs on the same side move together.  So the right front and right rear work together, and the left front and the left rear work together.  And again, the pacers perform this gait at incredible speeds, without breaking gait.



Heres a Pacer on the track. See how both legs on this side are extended to the rear, while both legs on the far side are extended forward.
Here’s a Trotter with the diagonal legs extended. The left front and the right rear are extended forward, and the left rear and the right front are extended to the rear.











The Flying Pace Of The Icelandic Horse



Flying Pace
Compare this picture with the one above to the left of the Harness Pacer. Do you see how their gaits are identical?



The Flying Pace is what you might call, the “Signature Gait” of the Icelandic Horse.  It’s at least one of the gaits that the Icelandic is famous for.  Actually, to me, the Tolt is the signature gait of the Icelandic.  It’s not that other horse can’t perform the Tolt, but it’s because the Icelandic “exemplifies” the Tolt.  I’ve spoken about our horse named Jolly.  Jolly could Tolt, at incredible speeds, with such ease, and I don’t even think he was a purebred Icelandic.  But we’ve had purebred Icelandics, and the ones that can Tolt really well, will simply amaze and thrill you!


Our Horse Named JollySome Icelandic horses are trotters, and some are pacers.  Some can do both, but it’s a bit rare.  Jolly could actually trot as well as pace, but he very seldom trotted, and it was only if he was going up a fairly steep hill.  When he paced, it usually wasn’t for very long without going back into his Tolt.  The Tolt was the gait that he was most comfortable doing.  If there was a “problem” with Jolly’s gaits, it was that his walk was not exceptionally fast, because he would break into a Tolt so readily.  But his Tolt was fairly fast, so other horses had a hard time keeping up, even if he wasn’t trying to Tolt fast.  That horse was so much fun, it’s hard to describe.  I’ll just mention here, our horse named Foxy, also known as Sherman.  Sherman could walk as fast as Jolly would Tolt, as long as Jolly wasn’t pushing for speed.  You can also read about Sherman in the Post titled Training the Trail Horse.




Our Time Is Gone


Our time for now is gone, but I do invite you to come back for the next part of the series on How To Train A Gaited Horse.  In the next Post, I’ll talk more about the Tolt, the Single-Foot, and the Rack.  And maybe I can get into the Foxtrot and the Running Walk also in that Post.

Thanks so much for being here and listening.  Why don’t you tell me some of your horse stories?  I’d love to hear them.  And if you have any comments or question, please feel free to go to the comment section below.  I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.  thanks and “Happy Horse Training”, and have fun gaiting, Jim.







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6 thoughts on “How To Train A Gaited Horse – Different Gaits Of Horses

  1. GEEZ, grew up riding horses and never knew how complicated the way they move could be!!! haha. Probably going to have to go over this several times now! Where I live we have a tremendous amount of big league horse farms and I have been able to watch the horses practicing at a couple of places where their tracks are visible.
    I just learned so much & still a bit in awe at how much i didn’t know that I didnt know! well done!

    1. Gaited horses are a whole different world aren’t they? I too started out just riding and enjoying myself perfectly well. We’d trail ride, and my wife would do a little rodeoing, and we’d have a ball. When we got gaited horses, that’s where all that “technical” stuff came in. What kind of horse farms are out there by you? When I lived back in the city, it was Thoroughbred farms and hunter / jumper farms. Out west here it’s some running Quarter Horses, but mostly cutting and rope horses. At least that’s for the really big places. There’s tons of little places that do what I used to do. But if you just want a good hunting horse, or a trail riding horse, an old ranch horse works just fine, or my preference would always be a gaited horse for pleasure riding. Where do you live, and what kind of riding do you do? Do you use horses for hunting? I’d love to hear more about you and what you do for fun. Please drop by again, Jim.

  2. I absolutely love horses. When i was a kid grew up on a farm. Altho we had many horses my favourite of all was my Quarter Horse, I live in Thailand now and Horse riding is rare. I do miss it.

    1. That’s interesting that riding horses is rare in Thailand. Why is that? Are there just not many horses there? Of course horses here in the states are just for recreation I suppose, aside from some ranches that do their ranch work from horseback. There are actually a lot of ranches that still do that. Do they raise livestock in Thailand? I’d love to hear about your country. Let me know some things about it please. Jim.

  3. Interesting article on how to train a gaited horse, I never realized there was so much work to training horses. I guess I just never thought about it before, many others also are amazed at learning what all goes into training horses just like me.

    I do love horses, it amazes me man learned how to tame the wild horses in the past. You just wonder how they ever figured out how to train a wild horse.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think learning to train horses was probably like everything else man has done. I don’t think it came all at once. Can’t you imagine someone first getting the idea that a horse could be used to do our work, and catching a wild horse and trying to tame it? I’ll bet it was a circus at first. But we do learn don’t we. Most of the time it’s the hard way, but we do learn. Do you think there were any broken bones at first? We really have to wonder, don’t we? Wouldn’t it all be really cool to know? Thanks again for visiting. Tell me, do you have any experience with horses?

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