Encyclopedia > Gait

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A gait is a way in which a horse moves forward. In increasing order of speed, the gaits are:

  • Walk
  • Trot or pace
  • Canter
  • Gallop

Only two gaits are natural to wild horses - the walk and the gallop. The trot and the canter are gaits that have been developed in horses through human training and breeding.

A horse "dances" when it moves in a defined series of movements in a defined pattern, usually when under a rider. The art of making horses dance is called dressage.

In the walk, three feet are in contact with the ground at all times. Ideally, the advancing rear hoof touches the ground ahead of the place at which the previously advancing front hoof touched the ground. This makes for a smoother and more comfortable (for the rider) walk. Different horse breeds (as well as different individual horses) differ in how smooth their walk is.

In the trot and pace, two feet are always off the ground. In the trot, two diagonally opposite legs move together; in the pace, the two legs on the same side of the horse move together. The trot is more common, but some breeds of horses prefer to pace. Horses can be raced at a trot or pace, usually when pulling a sulkey.

In the canter, one hind foot touches the ground, then the other hind foot together with the diagonally opposite front foot, and then the other front foot. Individual horses may tend to prefer to lead with either the left or right hind foot. However, in dressage, horses can be made to "switch gears" on cue.

The gallop is like the canter, except that the four feet hit the ground individually, the hind feet before the front feet. When the legs are stretched out, at least one foot is in contact with the ground. When all four feet are off the ground, the legs are bent, not extended (in contrast with old "classic" paintings of running horses). In 1892, Leland Stanford settled an argument about whether galloping horses were ever fully airborne using the first documented example of high-speed time-lapse photography by paying photgrapher Eadweard Muybridge to devise an apparatus with multiple trip wires attached to camera shutters. The photos clearly showed the horse airborne.

Certain breeds have been bred to use unique gaits. The Peruvian Paso uses the running walk[?].

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