A gaited horse is a horse that “single-foots” – walks while one foot is in contact with the ground, paces, or ambles. Ambling gaits are slower than cantering but faster than walking. Gaited horses also do a running walk. To understand what a gaited horse is in-depth, it’s important to define the term “gait”.
What Is Gait?
A horse gait is simply a movement via a horse’s limbs.
What Does It Mean?
Horses move in several ways. Other than walking, horses also trot (a diagonal gait) characterized by simultaneous movement of the front and opposite rear foot. Trotting horses must have two feet touching the ground.
Gaited horses don’t have the jar or free-fall caused by trotting because they have a broken gait that allows a single foot at a time. Some horses can be naturally gaited, while others must be trained. Some mixed-breed horses which aren’t gaited can get naturally gaited offspring by passing gaited genes.
Gaited horses are popular for showing and trail riding. They have a smooth gait that makes them perfect for all kinds of riders, including those with joint problems. Gaited horses can trot and amber. They can also pace. All gaited horses walk, canter as well as gallop.
Gaited horses are more efficient than non-gaited horses since they don’t waste energy fighting gravity or free fall. In fact, gaited horses tend to have more stamina than their non-gaited counterparts. They also offer a smoother ride.
How Can You Tell If A Horse Is Gaited?
There are notable differences between a gaited and non-gaited horse. You can tell a gaited horse by:
Riding differences: Gaited horses ride quite differently for individuals used to riding horses in a “round frame”. Gaited horses must assume a hollow frame, which allows the hind legs to move differently (slide under).
Different sitting position/feeling: When riding a gaited horse, you will feel like you are sited in the center while all the “action” happens around. Riders will feel as if the horse is climbing a ladder. The front legs will appear longer.
Head shake: You may also notice a head shake that has an effect on the quality of the gait.
Side-to-side saddle sway/rapid and independent leg movement: You may also feel the saddle swaying slightly side-to-side coupled with legs moving independently and rapidly:
What Horse Breeds Are Naturally Gaited?
There are many gaited horse breeds in the world. Gaited horses can be born naturally with gaiting ability. They can also be taught how to gait. The most notable gaited horse breeds are:
1. Paso Fino
Paso Fino horses are naturally gaited light horses with Spanish origins. The horses are prized for offering a smooth, natural 4-beat lateral ambling gait. Paso Fino horses are popular trail riding horses. They are also used in many other disciplines.
The horses live up to their name, which means smooth step. Paso Fino horses exhibit a rhythmic gait from birth. Their 4-beat gait is perfectly spaced with each foot touching the ground independently and consistently. Paso Finos have three different gait speeds, namely the Classic Fino, Paso Corto & Paso Largo. Due to the smoothness of the gait, riders appear almost motionless when riding Paso Finos at all three gait speeds.
2. Preuvian Paso
This horse breed is renowned for offering smooth rides. The breed has a unique natural 4-beat lateral gait known as the paso llano. Preuvian Pasos offer elegant and comfortable gaits regardless of speed. They have a steady stamina that makes them popular show and trail horses.
3. Icelandic Horse
As the name suggests, Iclendic horses are from Iceland. The horses have five natural gaits. Besides walking, trotting, cantering, and galloping, Iclendic horses tolt and pace. They are best known for their tolt, which is a 4-beat lateral gait, similar to trotting in regards to speed. Iclendic horses are small but sturdy, making them excellent show horses.
4. American Saddlebred
Unlike other horse breeds discussed above, some American Saddlebred horses aren’t naturally gaited. Some must be trained to showcase their popular 5-gaited division. Besides walking, trotting, and cantering, Saddlebreds also perform a slow gait and rack. The slow gait features a collected 4-beat gait with every foot touching the ground separately. A Saddlebred’s rack is the same as a slow gait but with equal intervals. The horse is also highly animated, making it more fun.
5. Rocky Mountain Horses
Rocky Mountain horses are also gaited. The horses originated from the Appalachian Mountains. They are known for being reliable and sure-footed. They have a smooth ambling gait that gives them a longer range without tiring easily. Rocky Mountain horses can have a 4-beat lateral rhythm that stays the same but can vary in speed. The horses are even-tempered renowned for their versatility.
6. Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee walking horses are known for their natural running walk. They have a flashy smooth gait that makes them perfect show horses. They also do well for trail and pleasure. Tennessee walking horses are calm. Besides their running walk, they perform a pace, rack, fox-trot, among other variations of their signature walk.
Standardbreds are known for trotting while maintaining the correct gait. The horses are renowned for harness racing. They have been popular in North America for over 200 years, although they have bloodlines traceable to 18th-century England. Standardbreds thrive as show horses. They also feature in race events. In Central Canada and Midwest USA, Standardbreds are commonly used for recreational riding.
Aegidienberger horses are relatively new German horses given they became officially recognized as a breed in 1994. Aegidienberger horses are a mix of Peruvian Paso and Icelandic Horses. The small gaited horses have a tolt-like gait. Aegidienberger horses are taller than Icelandic horses but somewhat small (with 13 to 15 hands).
9. Marwari Horses
Marwari horses are rare gaited horses from India. The horses are distinguishable by their inward-turning ears. The horses have a hard hoof, perfect for packing and riding. Marwari horses are common in rural unmechanized regions for drafting and farm work applications. Their calm disposition makes them great war horses from their foundation location.
Campeiro horses are small, gaited horses native to Brazil. The horses descended from horses brought to Latin America from Spain in the 16th century. Campeiro horses have an ambling gait. Campeiro horses are larger than Icelandic horses. They weigh approximately 1,000 pounds and stand approximately 14 hands tall. Most Campeiro horses are either show or working horses. The horses are managed through selective breeding to keep their ambling gait or via herd management techniques.
Messara horses are light riding draft horses common in Greece (Island of Crete). This gaited horse breed originated from crossing Arabian and Native Cretan horses during the Ottomans rule. Since 1994, the horses have been protected via a studbook, although less than 100 Messara horses are registered.
The horses are commonly used as working horses for agricultural work. Messara horses are great for walking over extremely rocky ground and uneven surfaces. While Messara horses still have many Arabian characteristics, they have a pacing gait associated with Cretan ancestry. Besides working, Messara horses are also used for competition and showmanship.
12. Single-Footing Horse
This gaited horse breed originates from Southern United States. It has a gait featuring three feet on the ground but doesn’t limit the speed. Single-footing horses can reach 10 miles an hour during comfortable trail rides. On flat ground, Single-footing horses can run 50% faster while maintaining their gait. This horse breed is influenced by Standardbreds and Saddlebreds. It also has some Spanish influences.
Walkaloosa horses are gaited with Appaloosa patterning. In fact, they have been mistaken in the past with Appaloosa horses given their almost identical leopard patterning. Walkaloosa horses have a unique intermediate ambling gait that matches how they walk and canter in regards to ease.
Walkaloosa horses are a combination of Appaloosa horses and gaited breed. Walkaloosa horses have a smoother gait like an ambling horse. In regards to history, Walkaloosa horses date back to 1983 when the breed registry was established. Most horses are now 3rd or 4th generation.
Are Gaited Horses Comfortable?
Yes! In fact, gaited horses are more comfortable than non-gaited horses. Their four-beat gaits offer unmatched smoothness with very little to no bouncing.
Can They Jump?
Yes! Gaited horses can jump and excel at it. However, the individual differences between horses can’t be overlooked.
Are They Faster?
A gaited horse can go the same speed as that of a trot, sometimes even faster. Some gaited horses can gait to speeds matching a canter.
Which Breed Is The Smoothest?
While the differences between gaited horses are minimal, some breeds may be smoother than others. Most people claim Preuvian Paso horses have the smoothest ride. However, it can depend on individual horses.
Do You Need A Special Saddle?
While special gaited saddles are available, you don’t need them. A properly fitting saddle is all you need to ride a gaited horse.
For information on fitting a saddle onto your horse we have created a simple step-by-step guide which you can find here.