An Excerpt * by Lee Ziegler 1988
* Revised 1997
The trot: In a trot the horse will not nod his head in any way, & his
hind quarters will remain steady as his whole body rises and falls with the
motion of the gait. His tail may sway a bit from side to side as his body
swings in a good relaxed trot. In a good trot a horse "tracks up"
& sets his hind hoof down on the track of the front on the same side.
The fox trot: In the fox trot the horse nods his head & neck up &
down in time with the motion of his shoulders & the reach of his hind
legs. His hind quarters will bob up & down in rhythm with his gait. He
will seem to take a long, reaching step in front & a quicker, higher step
in back, "breaking" (bending sharply) at the hock as his hind hoof
hesitates before following the diagonal front to the ground. The horse may
"cap" or disfigure his front track with his hind in this gait.
The "fox walk": Again, this is very similar to the fox trot, just
done at a slower speed. The horse will almost always "cap" his front
track with his hind in the gait. Top speed is probably no more than 6 mph in
the fox walk.
The pace: In a true pace a horse will swing his neck & head from side
to side, away from the advancing foreleg. He will also swing or
"wag" his hindquarters from side to side in this gait. There will be
no up & down bob of the head or croup in a pace, but his whole body may
appear to rise & fall in a motion similar to the trot. A horse will
usually overstep his front track with his hind by a fair amount in the pace.
The stepping pace: A horse in a stepping pace will usually swing his head
from side to side with no bobbing motion of the croup. His back will stay
relatively stable, with none of the up & down movement of the pace or
trot. Again, a horse will usually overstep his front track by some distance in
the stepping pace.
The "saddle" or stepped rack: There is no head nod in this gait,
but the hindquarters are very active in an up and down bobbing motion. The
shoulders also move up & down, creating the high action of the front legs.
The horse takes a fairly short step, overstepping his front rack by a short
distance. There may or may not be some "paddling" or "termino"
in the front legs as they move outward from the shoulder.
The rack: Again, there is no head nod in this gait, & the shoulders
& hindquarters are very active. The horse appears to jump from one foot to
the other as he moves. There is more overstep in this gait than in the
"saddle" but not as much as in the running walk.
The walk: In an ordinary walk, a horse (& not just a gaited one) will
nod his head & neck up & down with the motion of his shoulder &
the protraction & contraction of the muscles along his back. The croup
will remain steady with no bobbing up & down. There will be some over step
of the front track by the hind of the same side, the distance varying with the
conformation & speed of the horse.
The flat walk: In this type of walk the head nod will be noticeably more
rapid than in the ordinary walk. The undulating motion of the ordinary walk
diminishes with increased speed, making the back more stable. The croup will
remain steady with no up & down bob, & the over step may be more than
in the ordinary walk. Again, speed & conformation will affect the amount
of over reach. This is simply a faster, more active version of a regular walk.
The running walk: Head nod continues into the fastest of the walking gaits.
The croup remains steady & the hind legs take long, reaching steps, unlike
the higher, quicker motion in the fox trot. There is no obvious
"breaking" in the hocks in the running walk, & the front legs
take a less reachy step than in the fox trot. Over step increases so that the
horse is often stepping over his front rack by a couple of feet.
The passo llano: In this gait, the head nod disappears, its place taken by
the action of the shoulders know as termino. The croup action remains the
same, steady with a long reaching step in the rear with no
"breaking" in the hocks. There may or may not be significant over
step of the front track by the hind, depending on the "advance" or
forward motion of the horse.
HOW IT FEELS
Knowing the mechanics, sound & look of each gait doesn't do you much
good once you are in the saddle. Unless you ride in a mirrored hall, with a
good ground person, or review your work constantly with a video recorder, you
also need to know how each gait feels when you are riding it. Only when you
know that what you feel isn't the "right" gait will you be able to
start doing something to correct the "wrong" one. Here, ranging from
rough to smooth, is the way the gaits feel under the saddle.
Trot: I assume you know how this feels, but if in any case you have
forgotten, a trot is a gait that can range from the relatively comfortable jog
to the fast extended trot that will jar your teeth unless you have learned how
to sit or post it. Motion in the trot is an up and down bounce as the horse
jumps from one diagonal pair of legs to the other.
Pace: This gait is as uncomfortable as any trot, this time bouncing the
rider from side to side as the horse jolts from one lateral pair of legs to
the other. It is not easy to sit, but it can be posted if you are adventurous.
(Icelandic horses do a flying pace called a "flug skeith" which is
so fast that it is no longer uncomfortable. This gait is not common in other
breeds of gaited horses.)
Stepping pace: This gait gives a subtle side to side sway instead of the
jolt of the true pace. This rocking motion can sometimes make people seasick,
but the gait is fairly smooth to ride.
Fox trot/trocha/pasitrote: This gait moves the rider front to back in the
saddle with a definite "push-pull" motion. The hindquarters feel
active, moving up & down in a kind of "stutter step, & in some
horses you can feel a pull from the shoulders in a rolling motion. There is
never a sensation of a side to side sway in this gait.
"Fox walk": This is a smoother version of the fox trot, with less
"push-pull" motion & less well defined "stutter step."
Again there is no side to side motion in this gait, & less
"bounce" to the hind quarters that the true fox trot.
Running walk/paso llano: This gait also moves the rider a bit from front to
back in the saddle, combining it with a rolling motion in the shoulders.
However, there is no noticeable up & down motion in the hindquarters, just
a driving sensation as the hind legs push the horse forward. The sensation is
the horse equivalent of riding on a river boat with a paddle wheel turning
just out of phase on each side.
"Saddle" or stepped rack: The movement of this gait is a very
slight side to side sway, but the primary feeling is of the legs moving
rapidly & independently. This rider sits at the smooth center while the
shoulders & hindquarters are moving rapidly up & down.
Rack: The feel of this gait & the "saddle" are very similar,
although this is a faster longer reaching gait. There is more of a feeling of
the horse "climbing a ladder" in front in this gait, & the
hindquarters feel very active. Again, the rider is sitting in the smooth
center while the action goes on all around him.
Walk & flat walk: These two gaits feel almost the same. In the ordinary
walk the rider moves from front to back in the saddle, with no part of the
horse feeling more active than any other. You should feel each footfall
distinctly & evenly as the horse moves in this gait. In the flat walk, the
back & forth motion is reduced & you can feel a strong push from each
hind leg. The flat walk will often be more comfortable than the ordinary walk
as the undulating motion in the horse's back is reduced.
It takes time, practice, & thought to feel these differences in the
gaits, but once you know what a particular gait should feel like you will not
mistake it for another even if both are comfortable.