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horses and horsemanship
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
HORSES AND HORSEMANSHIP
This educational material has been prepared for 4-H use by the Cooperative Extension Services of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and State Land-Grant Universities in cooperation with the National 4-H
Council and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Trade or brand names used in the publications are used only for the purpose of educational information.
The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no
endorsement of products or breeds of horses by the Federal Extension Service or State Cooperative
Extension Services is implied, nor does it imply approval of products or breeds of horses to the exclusion
of others which may also be suitable.
This material was originally published by the National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy
Chase, Maryland 20815.
Programs and educational materials supported by National 4-H Council; Extension Service, United
States Department of Agriculture; and all Cooperative Extension Services of the State Land-Grant
Universities are available to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin or
handicap. All are equal opportunity employers.
GAITS OF A HORSE
The rhythmic characteristic movement of a horse's feet
and legs in motion are called gaits. The three natural
gaits of the horse are the walk, trot, and gallop. The rack
and slow gait of the American Saddle horse, running
walk of the Tennessee Walking horse, and the pace of
the Standardbred may be natural or acquired. A natural
gait is one that is performed by natural impulse and
without training. The acquired gaits are the result of
specific training and practice. The acquired gaits are the
canter, rack, and the slow gaits. The slow gaits are the
stepping pace, the running walk, the fox trot, and the
The walk is a slow, natural, flat footed, four beat gait.
Each foot takes off from and strikes the ground
independently of the other three feet. It is known as the
foundation gait, as the horse may be asked to change to
other gaits while working at the walk. The sequence of
hoof beats after the horse is in motion can be described
according to this pattern: right fore, left rear, left fore,
right rear. Although a natural gait, it is one that can be
improved with training.
The horse must move straight and true at the walk. The
feet of the straight moving horse point and move in the
exact direction the horse travels. This horse moves
efficiently as the shortest distance between two points is
a straight line. The walk must show vigor and be brisk,
with a stride of reasonable length in keeping with the
size of the horse. The American Saddle horse must pick
up his feet with energy, displaying a proud walk. His
ankles and knees are easily flexed, while the hocks
should be carried well under his body producing high
action and animation. Horses with a short, stubby stride
are rough to ride and are more prone to soreness and
other faults. Horses whose hind hoof prints contact or
over-reach the front hoof prints have good length of
stride and absorb more road shock than those having
shorter strides. Horses with a longer stride move with
less effort in covering greater distance.
At the walk a horse has never more than three nor less
than two feet bearing weight at the same time, making
up a triangular base of support. A well trained horse
should walk at least four miles an hour.
The trot is a rapid two beat diagonal gait. The forefoot
on one side and the opposite hind foot take off and strike
the ground at the same time. The horse works from one
pair of diagonals to the other pair. The weight of the
horse is distributed first by one diagonal and then the
opposite diagonal. Then all four feet are off the ground
at the same time for a moment. The trot should be square
balanced and springy with a straight forward movement
of the feet. The Hackney displays the collected trot with
extreme flexion of knees and hocks that produces a high
stepping gait. The Standardbred exhibits the extended
trot with length and rapidity of individual strides. The
jog-trot is a slow, smooth, ground covering gait
exhibited in western classes.
The canter is an easy rhythmical three beat gait. It is not
a straight forward gait as the walk, but is a slight
diagonal movement, either right or left. It is executed
with either a right or left "lead". The independent
moving front leg is the "lead". The horse has a hind lead
that corresponds to the front lead. A horse that leads
with the left front and also with the left hind is
coordinated. This can be observed by looking over the
horse's shoulder and observing which front leg reaches
farthest ahead in the stride. The canter starts with one
hind foot striking the ground, then the other hind foot
and diagonal front foot strike the ground together
followed by the remaining front foot striking the ground.
The hoof beats of a horse cantering correctly to the left
are (1) right hind, (2) the diagonal left hind and right
front together, and (3) left front. The correct sequence of
beats in cantering to the right are (1) left hind, (2) the
diagonal right hind and left front together, and (3) right
front. The two unpaired legs that beat alone bear more
weight and are subject to more strain than the diagonal
legs that beat together. The lead should be changed at
intervals because of the added strain on the legs and feet
GAITS OF A HORSE
that strike separately. A horse can execute a sharper turn
with greater ease and start quicker if he leads with the
inside (correct) leg lead. The lope is a medium fast,
collected canter exhibited in western classes.
GALLOP OR RUN
The gallop is generally considered as a fast, three beat
gait. The sequence of hoof beats is similar to that of the
canter. A hind foot makes the first beat, followed by the
other hind foot and diagonal front foot striking together,
and the remaining front foot makes the third beat. (Study
of film in slow motion indicates the rear diagonal foot
strikes the ground slightly before the front diagonal
foot). The horse is thrust clear of the ground and a hind
foot makes the first beat in a new series. The horse
should change both front and hind leads at the same time
during the period of suspension after the lead front
leaves the ground. The drive develops mainly from the
hind legs, however, the front legs are subject to
considerable concussion. The gallop in an extended form
is known as the run.
This is a slow, lateral, four beat gait. Each of the four
feet strike the ground at separate intervals. In the take
off, the lateral hind and front feet start almost together,
but the hind foot strikes the ground ahead of the front
foot on the same side. The horse moves with his weight
well back on the hind quarters and with high action in
front. It is a modified pace without the rolling action of
the true pace. The sequence of beats is right hind, right
front, left hind, and left front. This is the fourth gait of
five-gaited show horses.
This is a natural slow gait of the Tennessee Walking
horse. It is a diagonal four beat gait. Each foot takes off
and strikes at separate intervals with the front foot
striking the ground before the diagonal hind foot. The
hind quarters propel the horse in motion. The hind feet
over-reach the front feet from several to over 36 inches
producing a smooth gliding motion. This gait is very
comfortable to both horse and rider. Front action is
desired with little hock action, as this would prevent his
long overstep and characteristic walk. The Walking
horse must flick his ears, nod his head, and chomps his
bit in rhythm with his action to be genuine. Normal
travel expected of the horse is 7 to 8 miles per hour.
This gait is a slow, short, broken, somewhat uncollected
nodding trot. The hind foot strikes the ground an instant
before the diagonal front foot. It is not as comfortable to
ride as the running walk or the stepping pace.
The amble is a lateral gait. It is different from the pace
by being slower and more broken in cadence. It is not a
show gait. The hind foot may land slightly before the
The rack is a fast, flashy, evenly timed, four beat gait.
The feet start and stop at the same intervals of time of
each other. The sequence of beats is similar to the
sequence of the stepping pace. It is characterized by
considerable knee action and extreme speed. The
squatting form and climbing action of the stepping pace
are apparent. The front legs appear to trot and hind legs
appear to be pacing with rather stiff back action. The
gait must be performed with ease and grace and ample
height too) the stride but with form and action
maintained. Speed is not as necessary for the 3-gaited
horse as it is for the five-gaited horse. The horse can
rack for only several minutes without breaking as
practically every muscle is used in the gait. It is an easy
gait to ride. It is the fifth gait requested of the American
GAITS OF A HORSE
The pace is a fast, two beat gait. The front and hind feet
on the same side start and stop at the same time. The feet
rise little above the ground. All four feet are off the dirt
for a moment. The base of support is always on the two
lateral legs. Pacers have the ability to start quickly at
considerable speed. The pace does not produce the
concussion evident in the gallop or run. It produces more
or less side or rolling motion. The pace is a speed gait
rather than a road gait.
IMPORTANT FEATURES OF A STRIDE
1) Balance the ability of a horse to control his action
in order to travel collectedly and in correct form.
2) Directness the line in which the foot is carried
during the stride.
3) Height the amount of foot elevation in the stride,
determined by the radius of the arc described.
4) Length the distance from the point of breaking over
in preparation for flight in a stride to the point of surface
contact of the same foot.
5) Rapidity the time used in taking one stride.
6) Regularity the precision sequence with which each
stride is taken in turn.
f I t
Diagonal gait is one in which the front foot and
opposite hind foot take off and stop at the same
time. The legs and feet move in diagonal pairs in
performing the gait. (Trot)
Easy gaited is the expression used when the rider's
reactions to a horse's gaits are pleasant and
Free Going is the expression used when horses gaits
are executed in a smooth, collected manner, and
action is not excessive or labored.
Rough or Hard gaited is the expression used when
the stride lacks spring or action, therefore causing
unnecessary rider fatigue.
Flashy or High gaited refers to the action when a
horse folds his knees, with the forearm nearly
horizontal momentarily, flexes the hock noticeably,
and lifts his body high from the ground.
Lateral gait the legs and feet move in lateral pairs in
performing the gait. The front and hind feet on the
same side of the horse start and stop at the same
Labored action is the term used when a horse 5 action
in motion is difficult to perform and plainly
Action the characteristic stride in which the horse lifts
his front and hind feet very high, flexing or bending
his knees and ankles.
Stride the distance from imprint to imprint by a horse's
foot when completing one step.
THE STEPPING PACE
GAITS OF A HORSE
DRAW A PICTURE OF YOUR HORSE WALKING.
GAITS OF A HORSE
1. This document is 4HHSG02, one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Program, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Printed. Please visit the
FAIRS Website at http://hammock.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Ralph E. Morrow, Michigan State Unive, I i ,, 1 .. .I I, ,.I, I.Iher of 4-H Animal Science Design Team,
Department of Family, Youth and Community Science, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.
.>.L UNIVERSITY OF
Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose
of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only
to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this
publication is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available
free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications
Distribution Center, University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011. Information about alternate formats is available from
Educational Media and Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810. This information was published
December 1989, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.