Missouri Foxtrotters and Tennessee Walking Horses
Foxtrotting Horses and Walking Horses are very closely related in their ancestry. I have owned and raised a good number of registered Foxtrotter horses that have a lot of Walking horses listed on their registration papers, in their bloodlines. And many Walking horses and Foxtrotters will have common Saddle bred ancestors in their bloodlines. In this article I will deal with the gaits of both breeds. I had one Foxtrotter filly in particular, that was out of a registered Foxtrotter mare from predominantly Walking horse bloodlines, that did a beautiful running walk as her “gait of choice”.
In years past, a horse could be registered as a Foxtrotter if it was shown to be able to perform the Foxtrot gait. It didn’t matter what the ancestry of the horse was, as long as it could perform the Foxtrot gait. The horse needed to be inspected by at least two authorized inspectors, to verify that it indeed could perform a true Foxtrot gait. So you can see how various “saddle horse” bloodlines, and in particular, Walking horse bloodlines would be found on the papers of registered Foxtrotters. And this also explains why many Foxtrotters will do a running walk.
Differences in the Gaits
I don’t know if you can see the difference between the gaits of the two horses in the pictures above, but I will explain it to you. Pay attention to the contrast of the front legs and the hind legs of each horse. I think the difference between front and back is a bit more obvious with the Tennessee Walker on the right. Look at the high leg action to the front legs, compared to the “reach’ of the rear legs with very little lift of the legs. The horse gives an overall picture of being higher in the front than the rear.
Now take a look at the Foxtrotter on the left. He doesn’t have that high lift to the front legs, does he? But he has a little more lift to the rear legs than the Walking horse does. Can you see the differences? The Walking horse carries his front end, even his head, a little higher than the Foxtrotter does. The Foxtrotter should have good reach with his front legs, but very little lift. The Walker typically has more reach with his rear legs, and a higher “climbing” action with the front.
You know the difference between a walk and a trot, right? Well, a Foxtrotter should be trotting with his hind legs, but more or less walking with his front. That may sound strange, but that’s how the old timers used to describe the Foxtrot. As a matter of fact, the old time Foxtrotters used to carry their heads very low, and they would bob their heads with a bit of a side to side swinging motion with each front step. Some have exaggerated it a little by saying that they could just about push a ball on ahead of them with their nose. But the gait had a real rhythm to it that was fun to watch. And the old timers also used to say that the front feet of the Foxtrotters used to kick the dirt forward with each step. So you can imagine how low the front stride was compared to the hind feet. A Foxtrotter should walk in the front, and trot in the back. That is one of the things that makes a Foxtrot, a Foxtrot.
Another thing that a Foxtrotter is known for is his rhythm. I already mentioned the rhythm that the head used to have along with each front step. In the more modern Foxtrotter, that head swing has been replaced with a bobbing up and down, nut still with great rhythm. And along with the rhythm of the head in time with the feet, their tails are also known for having a very rhythmic up and down bobbing action. Take a another look at the picture on the left. Can you see how the horse’s tail is arched upward, and then falls down in a curved shape. That curved look of the tail comes from the bobbing up and down, as he trots with his back legs. The Foxtrotter is all about rhythm.
The Walking horse is really just the opposite as far as how the legs move. the front legs of the Walker have a definite trotting action, with a high lift of the knees. He’s kind of “running” with his front feet. But his rear legs are doing a very long extended “walk”. Hence the name for the gait is the “running walk”. The running walk is almost always smoother than a foxtrot is. There’s two main reasons for this extra smoothness.
The first reason for the smoothness of the running walk, is the fact that the rear legs have hardly any lift to them. they just reach forward with big long strides, but down bounce you up and down. The higher leg action of the front legs isn’t felt by the rider because you’re positioned far enough behind the legs that you just don’t feel it. The trotting action of the rear legs of the Foxtrotter do cause a little bit of bounce for the rider because the saddle is just in front of those hind legs, so you feel it more. The farther forward you sit on the horse’s back, the less you feel his hind legs. that’s one reason that riding bareback is more comfortable than riding with a saddle. You can get really close to the horse’s shoulder when there’s no saddle to position you back farther.
The other reason for the smoother ride of the running walk is the timing and rhythm of the footfall. You can read a lot more about rhythm and timing in the previous two lessons titled Different Gaits Of Horses, and Single Footing Horses.
In those previous two lessons, I described how the Single Foot, the Tolt, and the Rack are all four beat gaits with even rhythm. That means there’s the same interval of time between all four hoof beats. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, is the rhythm. Well the Running walk is also an even rhythm gait, but the Foxtrot does not have an even rhythm. The Foxtrot is what is called a diagonal rhythm gait. That means that the diagonally paired legs move in closer time than the laterally paired legs do. In contrast, a gait in which both legs on the same side move in closer time, is called a lateral gait. I used to think that the Running Walk was a lateral gait because all the Walking horses that I saw were gaiting in a lateral gait. But then I found out that a true Running Walk is in fact an evenly time gait, but all the Walking horses that I had seen weren’t gaiting properly.
Let’s get back to the Foxtrot though. The rhythm for the Foxtrot is 1 – 2 – – – 3 – 4, 1 – 2 – – – 3 – 4. The first footfall is a front foot, let’s say the left front. The left front would be followed in quick succession with the right rear. Then there would be a longer interval of time, before the right front followed by the left rear would strike the ground. So you see that the left front and the right rear, the diagonally paired legs, will be timed closer together than will the right front and right rear. And the same is true of the opposite pairs of legs. The right front and the left rear are in closer timing than the left front and left rear. Tap your fingers on the table twice in rapid succession, and then pause a second, and tap them again in rapid succession. 1 – 2 – – – 3 – 4, 1 – 2 – – – 3 – 4. This is the rhythmic sound of the hoof beats of the Foxtrot.
Take a look at the chart above. You’ll see the Foxtrot over to the diagonal side of the chart. The closer the hoof beats are to the trot, the rougher the ride will be. For instance, if the rhythm of the foot fall is 1 – 2 – – – 3 – 4, it will be rougher than if it were 1 – 2 – – 3 – 4. Let me exaggerate the time span in between foot falls and illustrate it like this. 1 – – – 2- – – – – – 3 – – – 4. Now we shorten the time span between the first foot and the second foot, and illustrate it like this. 1 – – 2 – – – – – – 3 – – 4. This rhythm would be a bit rougher than the first illustration. Now look at this rhythm, 1 – 2 – – – – – – 3 – 4. this would be getting quite rough because the first and second foot falls would be so close together.
To summarize the Foxtrot, the gait must be a diagonal gait to be a true Foxtrot. However, the closer the horse comes to an even rhythm, the smother the ride will be. The leg action is also important for the gait to be true. The rear legs tend to trot, while the front legs reach out and walk. The horse must also have rhythm throughout his body. This is called “animation”. It gives the horse a very lively look to his gait. The head will bob as will the tail. this animation and rhythm make the Foxtrot very much fun to ride and to watch.
Running Walk Summary
The Running Walk has evenly timed rhythm. It is a 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 gait. The front legs have a high almost “climbing ” action, while the rear legs stay lower but have a great amount of reach. The Running Walk is a very “showy” gait when performed at high speeds. It is also a very smooth gait at any speed. There will also be a good amount of head bobbing, but it will be straight up and down, not side to side.
A “Feel” For The Gaits
As I have said before, the best way to understand all the various gaits, is to actually ride them and feel them for yourself. But if you can’t go out and actually do that, I hope this article on gaited horses, has given you a good “feel” for both the Foxtrot and the running Walk gaits. They’re both lots of fun to ride, and the horse can go for hours at their respective gaits. These gaits as well as the other four beat gaits that were discussed in the previous articles, namely the Tolt, the Single Foot, and the Rack, are all super nice trail riding gaits, and with a slight bit of practice, they make great gaits for mountain riding as well.
Thanks for being here and learning about gaited horses. In the next article in this series, I’ll discuss the actual training methods you can use to help your gaited horse to perform his natural gait to his fullest potential. Until then, “Happy Gaiting”, Jim.
PS. Please tell me about your horse experiences, I’d love to hear from you.