What Does It Mean When A Horse Is Gaited

Last Updated on March 13, 2022

All horses move in four different gaits, but some have a distinctive movement that is different from the rest, so what does it mean when a horse is gaited? Every horse has a walk, trot, canter, and gallop. However, certain breeds gait.

How Most Horses Move

When comparing a horse that gaits to a horse that moves like most, it is easiest to look at the trot. In a horse that does not gait the trot is two beats. The legs in this type of trot move as diagonal pairs. 

When looking at the horse in the trot, the front leg moves forward at the same time as the opposite hind leg. The opposite diagonal pair that is not moving forward is on the ground. This way of moving creates the kind of bounce you feel when riding at the trot.

How Most Horses Move

What Does A Gaited Horse Mean

The gaited horse does not move in the same way as other horses. It does not trot with diagonal pairs, thus there is no bounce in the movement. When a horse gaits, it moves each leg independently, so one foot is always on the ground. 

When trotting, a gaiting horse will have four beats instead of one. Some gaited horses will pace. Pacing is when they more two legs nearly simultaneously. However, in the trot, they move two legs on the same side instead of diagonal pairs.

When you look closely at a gaited horse pacing, you will still see one of the legs land slightly before the other, unlike the trot of a non-gaited horse when two legs land at the same time. All gaited horses can canter, though it is sometimes a little choppy and requires certain training techniques to get a good canter.

What Is A Gaited Horse Breed

Several horse breeds are naturally gaited. Arguably the most familiar of these breeds is the Tennessee Walking Horse. The most interesting gaiting horse is the Icelandic Horse. This horse stands out because it has five gaits, instead of four.

The fifth gait of the Icelandic Horse is the tölt. It looks similar to a trotting gaited horse in that one foot always touches the ground and is four beats. It is faster than a trot and incredibly smooth, with very little bounce transmitted to the rider.

The tölt is almost as fast as the gallop with a maximum speed of 20 mph. This breed also has a flying pace. The flying pace is a two-beat gait, that is faster than the tölt. In this gait, the horse moves both legs on one side forward at the same time.

Other gaited horse breeds include the following.

  • American Saddlebred
  • Paso Fino
  • American Standardbred
  • Peruvian Paso
  • Missouri Fox Trotter
  • Old Kentucky Saddler
  • Racking Horse
  • Rocky Mountain Horse
  • Smokey Valley Horse

Benefits Of Riding A Gaited Horse

Due to the way they move, gaited horses can conserve energy. This means they are excellent mounts for long-distance rides. Their stamina and comfortableness mean the gaited horse is an excellent trail horse.

The smooth feeling a gaiting horse gives its rider can make it easier to ride. It is a good ride for someone that suffers from back pain that can get worse with the trot of a non-gaited horse. The only precaution to take is that learning to ride on a gaited horse can make it difficult to progress your riding, as the easiness of the feel allows for easy neglect of working on your riding.

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What Does It Mean When A Horse Is Gaited - Best Saddle for Trail Riding


The gaited horse tends to have a kind, calm temperament. This makes them appealing for timid or inexperienced riders. It is, unfortunately, a common misconception that gaited horses are too wild and difficult to ride.

This misconception comes from looking at a gaiting horse from the ground where it looks like it doesn’t have an ideal temperament for novice riders. However, this is not the case.


The gaited horse has a long history. The Icelandic Horse originates with the Viking settlement of Iceland and remains one of the purest horse breeds in the world. American gaited horses originate in the 1600s.

These early American gaited horses descend from Hobbie and Galloway’s horses imported from Scotland and Ireland. Over time with selective breeding, the modern gaited horse breeds evolved to what we see today.

To sum everything up, a gaiting horse is a unique type of horse that moves differently from other breeds. It is a great horse for many riding activities.

Is a Friesian a gaited horse?

Friesians are not a gaited breed. Gaited horses have a certain smoothness to their step that is different than the classic walk, trot or canter.  A gaited horse can perform an ambling gait. 
An ambling gait or amble is any of several four beat intermediate gaits which are faster than a walk but usually slower than a canter and always slower than a gallop. Some breeds of horses can both amble and trot or pace.

Are gaited horses good for beginners?

There are many gaited breeds of horses that are perfect for beginners. For example, a great riding horse for someone looking for a comfortable ride and fun trails is the Tennessee Walking Horse. The Tennessee Walking Horse is known for their smooth gait and ability to do anything from a walk to a trot or canter. The Tennessee Walking Horse is one of the most popular horse breeds in the world.
Another option are Quarter Horses that are very stable and easy to train. They are also known to have a great temperament. These horses can make good pets and can be ridden and driven. A Quarter Horse is one of the best horse breeds for beginners.

Do gaited horses need special saddles?

It’s always good to use a saddle that is designed for the type of horse you own and the activities you want to do with him. Gaited horses need a saddle that is appropriate for a bigger range of different movements as they move in a different way than non-gaited horses. This is specially true for the muscles in the back, shoulders, and neck.
In western riding, the difference between a gaited Western saddle and a normal Western saddle is the shape of the tree. Saddles that are specifically made for gaited horses have trees that are specially shaped and constructed to work with the unique movement of gaited horses.

Can a gaited horse trot?

Yes, all gaited horses are capable of trotting and cantering. However, if you don’t train your horse to do it properly, he may develop habits that will keep him from the smooth gait. Long-term, these bad habits can result in uncomfortable and unbalanced riding.
Why does a horse trot? Horses are designed to move forward at a brisk pace. They evolved this way because it is a great way to travel over short distances at a fast pace. It is a very efficient way to move through the grasslands and pastures of the plains. 

What is the purpose of gaited horses?

A gaited horse can move each leg independently, allowing one foot to always be on the ground and in that way conserving more energy, giving them greater stamina and endurance. Because of that gaited horses are commonly used for traveling as they don’t tire as fast and can cover larger distances. The ability to move each of their feet independently also allows gaited horses to move at a higher speed than non-gaited horses .
In the 19th century, gaited horses started to become popular among the American people because of their versatility and stamina. They became an important part of the American cowboy culture and the American Old West.