Gaited horses are unique breeds that combine grace, rhythm, and comfort in their every step. They are characterized by their distinct ways of moving, which combine grace, rhythm, and comfort in their every step. Gaited horses were most popular when horses were the primary mode of transportation, as they allowed people to travel long distances without feeling sore at the end of the day.
A study in 2012 revealed that a dominant gene called DMRT3 is responsible for the ambling gaits of gaited horses, which controls circuits of neurons along the spinal cord that directly link to limb movement. This gene initially appeared in a single ancestor of all gaited horse breeds.
To identify a gaited horse, one needs to look at the horse’s footfall. Most gaited horses perform ambling gaits, which create a distinct gliding motion and cause the rider to sit still in the saddle. The exception to this rule is pace, a lateral two-beat gait where the horse simultaneously moves its legs on the same side. Ambling gaits are four-beat, meaning the horse will always have one foot on the ground, eliminating the moment of suspension that happens during trot and pace.
The purpose of gaited horses is to carry riders comfortably over long distances. They exert less energy through their special gaits, making them a popular choice for sports and entertainment. Gaited horses were once very popular in Europe, providing a comfortable way of travel on poor roads. However, their popularity declined when road conditions improved and carriage travel became more prevalent.
Special horse gaits fall into two categories: ambling and two-beat. Ambling gaits are faster than a walk but slower than a canter or a gallop. The only special two-beat gait (pace) has a medium speed similar to that of a trot.
Lateral ambling gaits include lateral and diagonal, with the hind foot landing slights before the front. Slow gaits include singlefoot and stepping pace, which are low-speed gaits that are especially smooth and comfortable for the rider. Some slow gaits develop gradually from the pace, while others come naturally to some horses.
The running walk is a traditional ambling gait that follows the footfall of the traditional walk, with the horse’s hind feet overstepping the hoofprints of the front feet by about 6 to 18 inches (15 to 46 cm). This gait is highly desirable in the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and requires a hollow posture for gaited horses.
Rack is another lateral four-beat gait characteristic of the American Saddlebred and the Racking Horse. It is essentially a sped-up slow gait where the horse maintains even intervals between each footfall. This produces an intermediate gait that is much smoother than the trot and gives the rider the feeling of the “horse climbing a ladder.”
Paso gaits are unique to the Paso Fino and Peruvian Paso horse breeds, with three distinct gaits: Paso Fino, Paso Corto, and Paso Largo. Paso Fino is Spanish for smooth/fine step and is mainly performed in competitions and horse shows. Paso Corto is a moderate-speed gait, while Paso largo is the breed’s fastest speed.
The Paso Llano and Sobreandando are special gaits of the Paso Fino and Peruvian Paso breeds. Paso Llano is an even gait that follows the same sequence as the running walk and features an elongated lateral shoulder movement. Sobreandando has a faster but slightly uneven gait that resembles the stepping pace.
Tölt is a lateral ambling gait characteristic of Icelandic Horses, following the same footfall pattern as the walk but with higher front legs. This special gait is famous for its varying speeds and ground-covering motion. Diagonal ambling gaits are slightly uneven and derive from trot rather than pace, making them easier for the horse.
Foxtrot is a diagonal four-beat gait where the front feet of the diagonal pair touch down slightly before the hind feet. This special gait gives viewers the impression that the horse is walking with its front feet and trotting with its hind feet. Other diagonal ambling gaits include Marcha batida, Trocha, and Pasitrote.
Two-Beat Gaits include Pace, which is the only two-beat gait among gaited horses. Pacers move their parallel pairs of legs together, and there is a moment of suspension between the two beats. While straight pace is a medium-speed gait, flying pace can reach speeds of 30 mph.
In theory, any horse can learn to be gaited, but not every horse will pick it up easily. The gaited trait is caused by a mutation in the DMRT3 gene, which can occur in virtually any horse breed. Morgan and Appaloosa breeds are known to have a few bloodlines that produce foals with special gaits.
Gaited horse breeds are sturdy, sure-footed, and don’t require much input from the rider. They are most commonly found in North and South America but are also present in other parts of the world.
Out of the 600+ horse breeds that exist today, only around 30 are gaited. Not all horses from gaited breeds display special gaits, and some horses with trotting ancestors may have ambling gaits. Gaited horse breeds are sturdy, sure-footed, and don’t require much input from the rider. They most commonly occur in North and South America but are also present in other parts of the world.
The American Saddlebred is one of the most popular gaited horse breeds in the United States, originating in the 18th century and later dubbed “The Horse America Made.” The breed is characterized by a high neck and tail carriage, with an average height of 15-17 hands. Due to its versatility and athleticism, the American Saddlebred performs well in many equestrian disciplines.
The American Standardbred is a popular harness racing breed in the United States, with two types: pacers and trotters. Pacers tend to outperform trotters in terms of speed, averaging around 35 mph (56.5 km/h) on the track versus the 30 mph (48.5 km/h) average of trotters. Standardbreds that prefer pacing to trotting may find it difficult to maintain canter and often need the help of a specialized gaited trainer.
The Icelandic Horse is another naturally pacing breed with five gaits, including the four-beat ambling tölt. This special gait enables Icelandic Horses to carry their riders safely over rough terrain. The Missouri Fox Trotter breed is famous for its smooth diagonal ambling gait, the foxtrot, which allows riders to travel long distances without becoming sore and pass safely over uneven grounds.
The Paso Fino is a popular gaited horse breed that originates in the Caribbean region. They are small but sturdy horses with three ambling gaits, namely the Paso Fino, Paso Corto, and Paso Largo. Both the Paso Fino and Peruvian Paso breeds inherited their special gaits from the now-extinct Spanish Jennet.
The Peruvian Paso has been declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation by the Peruvian National Institute of Culture. It has two special gaits, the slower Paso Llano and the faster Sobreandando. The Tennessee Walking Horse is among the most popular horse breeds in the United States, renowned for its smooth running walk that historically enabled Southern farmers to inspect their plantations all day long.
The Walkaloosa horse breed with a spotted coat in a grassy field is a common gaited horse breed with an Appaloosa spotting pattern. The Walkaloosa Horse Association was originally founded to preserve a special strain of Appaloosa horses that are naturally gaited, exhibiting a four-beat ambling gait known as the Indian Shuffle.