Gaits at a Glance

I had an absolute blast spending a couple of days with a former student who now runs Summer Rose Horsemanship in Hagerstown, MD. Along with getting to ride her Heck horse– who was quite a skittish fellow when I met him, but is now a cuddlebug and quite flashy– we did some work with a couple of gaited horses on the farm, helping their riders ask for better and more consistent gaits.

Usually, when folks ask where they can learn more about the different possible gaits and their mechanics, I point them at GaitedHorses.net It hasn’t changed a whole lot since I started digging around it (almost two decades ago…yikes!), but it’s still a great resource. There are good articles, clear diagrams, and lots and lots of links out to further resources. Unfortunately, it can be a bit overwhelming. So I felt inspired to write out brief definitions for the different gaits, and how I usually talk about and work with them. I hope you find it helpful.

The Pace

The pace is a two beat lateral gait, meaning the legs move in pairs, one side at a time. Just like the trot (and jog), there are many types of pace– or any gait! I group the pace gaits as follows:

Flying Pace
This is the racing gait. I take the term ‘flying’ pace from the Icelandic flugskeið; I’ve always found the term quite descriptive! The flying pace has speed, power, and a lot of air time. It is an extended gait, and requires the horse to be fairly strong in the pace. It will often throw the rider from side to side. Long suspension (the period when all four feet are off the ground) means the hooves hit the ground fairly hard, requiring a lot of flexion in the joint to absorbs the shock and push off again. To stay sound, the horse needs to be physically conditioned as well as capable. Imagine you are conditions a race horse (you are, it is a lot of aerobics), and a park horse or upper level dressage horse at the same time. This is not something to be rushed, or overdo. For the few horses I’ve worked at the flying pace, I try to minimize the lateral thrust. This is for my comfort, and to encourage them to land with their hoof flat; many pacers will land on the outside edge of their hoof, putting additional strain on the leg.

Hard Pace
This is also descriptive. The hard pace is a rather jolting gait. It does still have some suspension, but much less than the flying pace. The two lateral pairs of legs move slightly closer together– a “One-–Two” to the flying pace’s “One….Two.” The hind leg of one pair will not track up (where the hind foot lands near where the forefoot leaves the ground), but land somewhere in the middle distance. At the top end of the hard pace, you can post to it. I largely avoid this gait, unless training up for the flying pace.

Soft Pace
I’ve never heard this term elsewhere, but again it’s pretty descriptive! Gaited horse folks usually know what I mean right away, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others have come up with the same term, or something similar. This is the pace– that two beat lateral gait– with little or no suspension. This is the pace equivalent of the jog. For horses that are fully lateral (like the lovely big black Tennessee Walker Raven I worked with this week, or Commander, a Walker I worked with in New York), this might be one of their working gaits. For those with the full spectrum of gaits (like Promise, the Spotted Saddle Horse in the cover image), I tend to use this only as a stepping stone. A good soft pace should be, in essence, a collected gait. It shouldn’t just be slow, it should be balanced, with adequate flexion in the limbs (much less than the trot, but much more than the flying pace), and ideally a bit of a shift in the hip, engaging the core and stepping more under than out with the hind leg.

This is often hard, as all lateral gaits are “ventroflexed,” meaning the spine tends to go down (and therefore the head up). However, this shouldn’t be an excuse for us or our horses to slouch along! That way lies soreness for all. I often take advantage of the fact that this gait can be physically taxing to the horse. I ask for the best possible soft pace, with a bit of contact and minimal wobble, asking the horse to stay so very very straight, slow but energetic. And then I encourage them to break to the stepped pace, which they usually do quite eagerly. I will also do this with multi gaited horses that have a strong trot, but are weak in the pace and running walk. It’s often easier to build a little bit of muscle and co-ordination in the pacing gaits of these multi-gaited horses before moving to the running walk or rack.

Stepped Pace

The stepped, stepping, or broken pace is a four beat lateral gait. The two legs on the same side move closer to each other than to their opposites. Some folks use “stepped,” “stepping,” and “broken” to mean slightly different timings in this gait, but others use them interchangeably. As with all equestrian language (ahem, sorrel), there are regional, discipline, and breed dialects. In Saddlebreds, this is the “slow gait.” I tend to just use stepped pace, for simplicities sake, and then describe the gait as “more” or “less” broken. I prefer a firm separation of the pairs, with each hoof landing independently (rather than the front starting to land as the hind finishes landing). There should be less lateral wobble in this gait than in the pace, but not yet the big head nodding V of the running walk. This is actually my favorite gait! I have a short hip, which tends to cramp in a good running walk (not to mention the ab workout of the running walk! …. I should get a walking horse). While all pacing gaits can be hard to collect, the stepped pace is often hard to extend; horses tend to break to the rack.

The Middle Gaits

Rack
This might be a tad controversial. Rack tends to get its own category. I’m going to group it here with the running walk not because they are the same gait, but because they tend to be found together. It’s possible this is genetic. It’s also possible it’s just breeders’ influence. In any case, both gaits are fairly in the middle of the lateral-diagnol spectrum, and I haven’t (yet) met a horse with a solid running walk that couldn’t also rack. The divisions we give between walking gaits and racking gaits also varies drastically by breed culture!

The rack has been described as even on landing, lateral pickup. What this means is that the landing of the hooves is an even 1-2-3-4, like the running walk, but the lateral pairs come off the ground closer together. This doesn’t precisely fit everything I’ve called a rack (anything four beat can be slippery anyway!), but it’s a good way of thinking about it. The rack tends to have a shorter, faster leg sequence than the running walk, making it just a little easier on those human ab muscles. I tend to break the rack into saddle rack (a paso fino or corto, or slow tölt) and speed rack (or fast tölt).

Running Walk
Everyone says they want a horse with a running walk. It’s the easiest gait, it’s so smooth, you don’t even need to learn to ride it. And then they get on a horse with a serious, big striding, ear flopping, running walk. It can be absolutely exhilarating! But it is also work. If you’re tall, with a long hip (so not me), it is merely exercise. Imagine one of those as-seen-on-TV machines that will do you ab workout for you. You’re…still doing crunches. The running walk needs a big upward swing to the rider’s hip, like sitting an extended trot. One of the reasons you often see riders in the rack or running walk leaning back is training; the other reason is that it opens the hip angle, allowing you to follow that big motion just a little bit easier. While the running walk has a lot of motion, it has minimal concussion; in this, it can be much easier on the rider than any other gait. One way to differentiate between a running walk and a rack is the number of hooves on the ground.

Many horses also have a gait somewhere between a flat walk (a big extended snappy walk that most horses, gaited or not, can develop) and a true running walk. I don’t have a word for it. Technically, it is still a running walk– four beat even, same footfall pattern as the walk. But I find it to be at least as different as trot and jog; the stride is a bit shorter, the footfalls are closer together, the back has less motion as the horse doesn’t need to stretch to their utmost. It is not, however, collected.

Foxtrot

Fun fact: the original American Horse Show Association rules for stock horses included the foxtrot, and the National Quarter Horse Breeders’ Association preferred it!

The foxtrot is a four beat diagonal gait– effectively a broken trot. It s also the only gait that lands a front hoof first. Like the stepped pace, it can lean more or less diagonal. Again, I prefer nicely separated hoofbeats.

Trot

I think y’all have got this one, right?

I’m going to add one note here, and that is the idea of collection within extension. Collection is not about speed, but rather about carriage. Good extended tot (or any gait) will have some elements of collected carriage: the core and back are engaged (regardless of the type of flexion governed by the gait), the hip muscles are in use (in trotting gaits this is often clear, as the hip will visibly rotate under the horse), and the horse lands in such a way that it can easily leave the ground again, in any direction. Look at the difference between a racing trot (especially in harness) and a dressage style extended trot.

I need more gaited horses to work with!

Retail Therapy

As I do every year around this time, I made my barn wishlist. People tend to look at you funny when you ask for whips for the holidays! So I make a list for me, and a couple times throughout the year I pick something from it.

This past year I got my treat pouch, a hackamore and slip ear bridle for Buffy (which sadly didn’t fit right– which reminds me, I should bring it home to tailor), and long lines (by which I mean dog leads, they’re cheaper and better).

I made this year’s list public, in case y’all want to send a present to a stranger’s animal! Horses (and burros), cats, and pups…and now I’m going to go add something for fishy and friends because I feel guilty.

The list is through Amazon, the products are not.

Best Breeds?

A post tonight by the fabulous DocHollandD about an ag class exploded, and quickly involved into a discussion of everyones fave breeds and crosses, and the dreams of what we we chose to raise.

For me that’s California Red sheep, mini Jersey cows (about three), and a complex assortment of horses. Oh, and a herd of fertile mules. You read that right. It’s been an obsession of mine since freshman bio.

Most animal folks can answer in a heart beat.

But what informs our choices? How do those choices effect conservation…and the communities those breeds and types are imbedded in? I touched on this in ASEH 2018 Tweets, and it has been central to a lot of my public history coursework. It was even a large part of my comprehensive exams. And it is part of why I explore what breed has meant in the past.

What, to you, makes a breed worth having?

What makes them worth conserving?

Header image: GF Hamids Tamora with colt GF Brigadoon, by the Al Khamsa stallion Mohummed Kazam, at Four Oaks Arabians, Breezewood, PA.

Yikes! Shoe trouble

A couple of days ago, Buffy twisted a shoe. I may have panicked just a little. Ok, not really panicked, because Buffy is eminently sensible and was tiptoeing around. I was still worried she would step on it and rip her foot off, or worse slice a tendon.

It’s been at least a decade since I’ve pulled a shoe. I’d briefly considered getting a farrier toolkit on Back Friday, but of course didn’t. The farm has several perfectly good farriers!

But I wasn’t willing to risk waiting. Especially as we waited to see if Buffy’s farrier was available same day. So I put Buffy on the wash rack (which doubles as a fabulous farrier bay, being covered in nice rubber mats), and when in search of tools. The first thing I found was a rusty old set of nippers.

In a clinch (pun intended, I guess?), nippers are all you need to get a shoe pulled…in theory. They can cut clinches (don’t do this with nice nippers if you have a choice, you will need to send them for professional sharpening after), and be used as shoe pulled.

I said “in theory,” right? Right.

Here’s the thing. Those clinches were tight. The shoes were two days old, and Buffy’s farrier is good: she doesn’t over nail, but the nails she uses have no wiggle and the clinches are seated, nearly level with the hoof wall.

And those nippers? Not a great tool for cutting in a tight space. Even nice, new, quality nippers aren’t the right tool. I mentioned how flat those clinches were. Luckily, I was offered some non-standard tools and given leave to abuse them (have I mentioned how much I love Moon Dance Ranch?) So, with a small screwdriver and a carpentry hammer, I proceeded to pop the clinches.

Every horseperson should learn how to pull a shoe, and how to evaluate farriery. But I am so very glad it is not my day job. Buffy was a SAINT. She even let me use a mounting block as a shoeing stand. It is still hard work. And pulling a shoe can be done piecemeal, and isn’t really a precision job. Putting one on? Requires a precise eye, nimble fingers, and often creativity as well as being an intense workout.

Once I got the first clinch popped, though, I knew we were out of the emergency call zone. It took me a while, but I pulled all but the most twisted nail, and the rusty nippers stood in for pullers and off the shoe came. Her farrier did manage to get out later that day, so she wasn’t three shoed for long.

SaddleBox Review

We had an exciting new product donor this year for Equine History 2019: SaddleBox. They very kindly sent me my own ahead of the conference so I could let folks know what to expect! The regular subscription is $34.95/month (you can also order a non-renewing gift subscription). Here is what my SaddleBox contained:

Tough 1 Genie Brush
with comb and braider bands

I had a hard time taking this away from Abdiel. I might have to get him his own (sans braiders). Very easy to clean, just brush against a post. Braider bands are large, suitable for heavy manes or turnout braids.


Epona Grooming Mitt
I was hoping this would help with the sand Buffy loves to scrub into her coat. I’m not sure why! It isn’t very good for sand, but it is great for sweat and dried mud.

Face brush- ultra soft!

Hoof pick with brush

Tough 1 Shedding Comb
I don’t use shedding blades much, but I was pleasantly surprised by this design. It works much better than the usual narrow loop. I’ll keep it around for spring.

A decorative ceramic boot, and a bumper sticker.
I’ve looked through previous SaddleBox extra gifts. Most of them aren’t my style, but they’re a fun addition.

And last but certainly not least, MannaPro Apple Nuggets. Buffy is a fan.

The best part? SaddleBox supports a variety of rescues.

#EqHist2019 Speakers: Genetics and History — Equine History Collective

The panel will be at 9:00a.m. on Thursday November 14th, opening the second day of the conference. It will be chaired by Alyssa V. Loera from Cal Poly Pomona. This is a new feature this year, and we are delighted to include more methodological variety for investigating the past. Two of these papers have agreed […]

#EqHist2019 Speakers: Genetics and History — Equine History Collective

This was the panel I was on. My presentation is being called the “Dead Pony Manifesto” and argues for interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. Let me know if you want a copy of the paper or the video!