In recent years, gaited horses have grown in popularity, with many people choosing to learn to ride these unusual horses. But what is a gaited horse and are they the right horse for you?
Gaited horses can be very different from other horses to train, but they are incredibly comfortable to ride. Let’s take a look at gaited horses and what they are all about!
What Is A Gaited Horse?
The horse industry has a lot of strange terminologies, and we need to explain some of this to describe what a gaited horse is. Most horses have four different paces. A pace is the name for the way in which a horse moves its legs.
The four paces of most horses are walk, trot, canter, and gallop. However, gaited horses have an extra or different pace! They can normally carry out these four paces but will have a fifth pace, which is the gaited pace.
The gaited pace is a more prominent feature in horses which need to cover large areas of ground quickly. Different breeds have different types of gaited paces, but they all share the same characteristics.
A gaited pace is one which is fast but requires less effort than a trot, canter, or gallop, with minimal discomfort to the rider. The limbs of the horse will move in a different order, and it can be a very unusual and impressive sight! Gaited horses may be born with this ability, or it can be taught to certain breeds later in life.
Why Are Some Breeds Naturally Gaited?
The ability to naturally perform different gaits is passed down through the bloodlines. The DNA of the horse will mean it is predisposed to carry out certain gaits, which is why different gaits are specific to certain breeds.
Gaited breeds are commonly calm and dependable horses, selectively bred through the centuries to create mounts which could be used for long working days on farmland and trails. Some gaited horses may not be able to carry out the ‘normal’ gaits of other horses, such as trot or canter.
How Are Gaited Breeds Trained?
If a horse is born with a natural gaited ability, then it can be very easy to train them. If a horse is naturally gaited it will show this ability from a very young age, performing the gait whilst playing in the field as a foal. When the horse is broken to ride this gait can be honed and enhanced, to show off the natural ability of the horse.
In recent years there has been some controversy about how gaited horses were trained. Welfare organizations became concerned that painful techniques were being used to enhance the natural gaits of horses. It also became common to use weighted shoes to encourage horses to flick their hooves forward when performing a gait.
Luckily, legislation has been tightened up and many of these techniques and methods have now been outlawed. Breed societies for the different gaited breeds offer advice on effective training methods and hold shows and competitions to showcase these talented horses.
Top 5 Gaited Horse Breeds
There are approximately 30 breeds of horses which are considered to be gaited. In some breeds, such as the Morgan horse, only certain bloodlines are gaited. There are also other breeds that can be taught to learn new gaits; in fact, theoretically, any horse could be taught to gait!
Let’s take a look at the 5 most famous gaited horse breeds:
The Icelandic Horse (which is actually a pony!) has an unusual gait called the tolt. This gait is a single-footed pace, meaning that one hoof always remains in contact with the ground.
The tolt enables the Icelandic horse to cover rough terrain quickly and comfortably, minimizing the risk of trips or stumbles.
Check out this great video of an Icelandic Horse performing at the tolt gait – what an impressive speed! You might be startled that the rider appears quite big for the horse, but this is quite normal as the Icelandic Horse is incredibly strong.
The Paso Fino is a beautiful breed of horse that is naturally gaited. The name of this breed, which originates from Latin America, translates as ‘smooth step’ – which is exactly what this horse does!
The gait of the Paso Fino is a rapid lateral four-beat gait, with every foot hitting the ground independently. They can perform this at three different speeds, and at each one, the rider will appear almost motionless.
Tennessee Walking Horse
This spectacular breed of horse is famous for its incredible ‘running walk’. The gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse is intended to cover farmland comfortably but quickly, ideal for ranchers on a long day out on the land.
Some Tennessee Walking Horses can also perform variations of the running walk, such as a rack, pace, or fox-trot.
Not all Appaloosa horses are gaited, but some bloodlines can perform a lateral gaited movement. This means that the legs on the same side of the horse move together, enabling the horse to move swiftly but comfortably.
In Appaloosa horses, this movement is often referred to as the ‘Indian Shuffle’!
Anyone who has watched harness racing will be familiar with the incredible paces of the American Standardbred. This breed can carry out two different gaits – pacing and trotting.
Pacing is described as a single-footed amble, but don’t be deceived by this steady-sounding term as it is actually incredibly fast! Trotters are slightly slower, and have a single-foot walk or running walk
So, as we have learned, a gaited horse is one which has an additional or alternative gait. This gait is normally very comfortable and enables the horse to cover large areas of ground with minimal effort. Some organizations hold events and competitions for gaited horses.
We would love to hear about your experiences with gaited horses – have you ever owned or ridden one? Perhaps you are thinking of buying a gaited horse but have a few questions you’d like us to answer? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!