Last Updated on December 21, 2022
When you are learning about horses, you will hear people talk about different gaits. But when it comes to horse canter vs gallop, what is the difference? Let’s find out!
Canter And Gallop Gaits Explained
Horses have incredibly athletic animals and can move at a range of different speeds. To do this, they have distinctive paces or gaits. The word pace or gait is used to describe a particular way that an animal moves, by describing the way it moves its legs.
For example, we humans have two main gaits: walking and running. These can be subdivided, so we can do a brisk walk, or slow jogging run. Children may play with other gaits, such as skipping or hopping.
So what about horses? How many gaits do they have? Well, unfortunately, there isn’t a straight answer to this! The vast majority of horses have four gaits – walk, trot, canter, and gallop. However, some breeds and horses have a different or additional gait. These horses are called gaited horses.
Let’s take a closer look at a horse canter vs gallop, and figure out what the difference is.
What Is A Canter?
The canter is a three-beat gait. This means that if you listen to a horse cantering, you will hear three hoof beats for each stride. The reason for this is that the horse will place two legs on the ground at the same time, and the other two land independently.
When cantering, the horse also has something called a moment of suspension. This is when all four legs are raised off the ground at the same time.
The movement of a cantering horse is very distinctive as you will see it taking long strides with a bounding action. The strong hindquarters push the horse forwards, and the forelegs are raised upwards as the horse moves forward. This gait is the one that most resembles the movement of a rocking horse.
Because of the order in which the horse moves its legs in canter, it will follow a different sequence according to whether it is on a left or right-hand curve. If turning to the right, the horse will canter on a right lead, where the right foreleg stretches further forward and is the last leg to leave the ground. On a left turn, the opposite sequence occurs.
What Is Galloping?
Galloping is a four-beat gait, where each hoof hits the ground independently of the others. In terms of how the legs move, the gallop is very similar to canter, except that the opposite pair of legs do not hit the ground together. This allows the horse to take longer strides and gives a much more ‘stretched-out appearance.
The galloping gait has a period of suspension, where all four hooves are raised off the ground at the same time. Horses will also lead with either the left or right foreleg at a gallop, according to whether the track curves left or right.
Horse Canter Vs Gallop – What Is The Difference?
The main difference between horse canter vs gallop is that canter is a three-beat gait, whereas gallop is four. The sequence of leg movement is actually the same in both gaits, but in the canter two of the legs hit the ground at the same time, and at the gallop, they are a split second apart. For this reason, you will sometimes hear cantering referred to as a restricted or restrained gallop.
In terms of energy expenditure, both the canter and the gallop are strenuous for the horse. In the wild, the horse only uses these paces to escape from danger, or at times of high excitement. To cover long distances, the trotting pace is much easier to maintain without tiring.
Gallop Vs Canter – Which Is Fastest?
Gallop is the fastest gait of a horse and is much speedier than a canter. When cantering, the movement of the horse is much more controlled, and we can teach our horses to canter slowly or at high speeds. There is much less variation in the speed at the gallop – you’ve either got fast, even faster, or flat-out gallop!
The average speed for a horse to canter is between 6 and 10 miles per hour. In dressage, horses are often trained to canter very slowly with short strides, at speeds slower than a natural trotting pace.
When galloping, a horse can reach average speeds of 12 to 20 miles per hour. Some breeds of horses are naturally much faster at a gallop, such as the American Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred. The fastest gallop ever recorded was clocked at speeds approaching a phenomenal 55 miles per hour!
Is Canter Or Gallop Easier To Ride?
When you are learning to ride, we all start with dreams of galloping along the beach or cantering down forest trails! But then when you’re sat on a horse, you realize it may not be as easy as all that…..
The movement of a horse is bumpy and can be uncomfortable at first, particularly when cantering. This is a bounding gait with a big movement, and the rider needs to learn to move his body and seat in time with the horse.
Once you have mastered cantering, galloping will seem relatively easy! It is common to rise slightly out of the saddle when galloping, tilting the upper body forwards. This will be much more comfortable for both the horse and the rider.
However, the speed of a galloping horse can be frightening at first, and takes a while to get used to! When learning to gallop it is essential to have a safe, sensible horse, and choose terrain that is smooth and comfortable to ride.
How Many Feet is a Horse Canter Stride?
Knowing the length of a horse’s stride at various paces is essential if you are planning on doing pole work or jumping with your horse. This enables you to set out poles or jumps at specific distances apart, enabling your horse to take full strides between them. If poles or jumps are not spaced correctly, the horse will be forced to take a half stride or a long, extended stride, both of which will hinder the flow of movement.
If you are placing canter poles for a schooling session, they should be set 9 feet apart. The stride length of an adult is 3 feet, so three strides is a good way to measure a canter stride. If you are placing two jumps with one canter stride in between, they should be 24 feet apart to account for the landing and takeoff strides.
Remember that horses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so not all horses will suit this distance! Small ponies will have a shorter canter stride, while large horses can have a longer canter stride.
How Long Can Horses Canter?
Horses have incredible levels of endurance, and a fit horse can canter for a considerable distance. However, cantering is not the most energy-efficient pace for horses, and riders intending to cover a long distance will often find their horse can go much further at a trot. In terms of speed, the trot is normally slower than cancer, but it can be maintained for longer.
A horse at the peak of its fitness can potentially maintain a cantering pace for up to 7 hours. This is the type of achievement normally seen in elite equine athletes at the very peak of their careers.
For the average horse owner, it is better to aim for a more realistic target. If time is spent gradually building up your horse’s fitness, you may find that it can comfortably canter for distances of five miles or more. It is important to listen for signals from your horse that it is feeling tired, such as a slowing of pace, increased respiratory rate and effort, and excessive sweating.
How Do You Ask a Horse For a Canter?
A trained horse will learn to recognize specific commands that tell it to change from one gait to another. One of the trickiest commands the rider must learn is how to ask a horse to canter. However, once mastered, you will be able to make your horse canter without seeming to do anything at all!
To ask a horse to change from trot to canter, alter your movement to sitting trot rather than posting, or rising, trot. If you are in an arena, it is normal to ask for canter whilst on a corner or circle. This is because the horse’s body will be bent in the direction of movement, aiding the horse in striking off on the correct canter lead.
Keep a steady, firm contact on the reins, and move the outside leg back so it sits behind the girth. Keep the inside leg resting on the girth. Apply pressure with both legs together, and your horse should smoothly transition from trot to canter.
Can a Horse Die From Running Too Much?
Horses have a strong self-preservation instinct, and would never run so far and fast that they put themselves at risk unless forced or threatened in some way. For example, if a horse is being pursued by a predator in the wild, it may run until it is no longer physically able to.
Unfortunately, in some equestrian sports, it is possible to push a horse beyond its physical limits. There have been situations in certain sports such as horse racing and endurance riding where horses have been forced to run so far and so fast that they have died. Luckily these incidents are few and far between, but it is a sad fact that they happened at all.
A good rider and trainer will know the fitness levels of their horses and will alter their workload accordingly. Training a horse at these levels of fitness is a very specialist skill and should only be undertaken by a professional.
How Fast Can a Horse Run 200 Meters?
Top racehorses can cover a distance of 200 meters in 10 seconds or less. These elite athletes regularly achieve speeds of 40 miles per hour and above, with the fastest speed ever recorded being 55 miles per hour.
However, a horse would not be able to maintain these speeds for long at all. The fastest races in horse terms tend to be shorter sprints. Races over longer distances or those with hurdles normally clock up at slower speeds.
Horse Canter Vs Gallop Summary
So, as we have learned, the canter and gallop are both very fast gaits of the horse. When it comes to horse canter vs gallop, the gallop is faster and uses much more energy. In the wild, a horse will only gallop for as long as is necessary to escape from danger.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on horse canter vs gallop! Have you ever ridden a horse that is galloping at top speed? Or maybe you have some questions about how to ride a cantering horse? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1