Gait is one of those traits that often gets sly looks and questions about pedigree when it shows up in “unexpected” places, such as the Arabian Raseyn (below), and other gaited sons and grandsons of the Polish Arabian Skowronek. Skowronek’s parentage has been questioned in part because of this trait, but a number of other early Arabians, including many offspring of the Egyptian Arabian Mesaoud, were also known to gait.
Many travelogues and British soldiers’ diaries mention this trait in desert bred animals, though sorting out which ones would be considered “Arabian” by todays standards is challenging. Non-trotting gaits gaits in early Thoroughbreds have often been attributed to the ‘native’ mares of Britain, but by the 18th century gaitedness was probably more common among the desert-breds than among the British stock used in establishing the thoroughly-bred horse.
As always let me begin by saying that the best way to find out what gait your horse is doing is to have a ground person with a good eye, who will help you develop a feel for each gait. A camera that will allow you to view him moving frame-by-frame is also helpful.
The runningwalk is exactly what it sounds like. The hoof-fall pattern is identical to the walk, four beat and even (neither lateral nor diagonal). The Tennessee Walking Horse is of course the breed best known for this gait, but many gaited horses have this “middle” gait. The Tennessee Walking Horse tends to have gaits on the lateral end of the spectrum, both because of the rack (being an even footfall but lateral in weightbearing), and because of the emphasis on overstride, where being a hair to the lateral helps in preventing interference. These middle gaits can absolutely be achieved without any equipment or shoes. The horse in a runningwalk should have a fairly level back, and as such it much kinder on the back than any of the lateral gaits. However, it can be very straining on the lower limb. It is a difficult gait to collect, as most horses will either fall to the lateral or break to the flat walk.
Keep asking for your horse to extend the walk. Some horses are so smooth you may not even notice the change of gears at first. Get to know the feeling of the transition, even though our goal is for it to be nearly imperceptible. If you can feel the moment the horse goes into gait, you will be able to ask for the gait more reliably. You might feel as if your horse’s back suddenly tilts, as they work to get under themselves, and you suddenly have more power, more “go”. A moment before, they were laboring to extend their walk, and now they have plenty to give.
The best way to find out what gait your horse is doing is to have a ground person with a good eye, who will help you develop a feel for each gait. A camera that will allow you to view your horse moving frame-by-frame is also helpful.
The foxtrot is a four beat diagonal gait. What this means, is that each leg moves independently (four beat), with the diagonal pairs moving close together. The rhythm will be 1-2, 1-2. Much like the hard trot, the more suspension (the pause between each “1-2”), the rougher the gait will be. The foxtrot is unusual in that it is the only gait, four beat or otherwise, in which the front hoof lands first! The Missouri Foxtrotter is of course expected to have a foxtrot, but any horse that has both a true trot and any four beat gait can probably also perform the foxtrot. Unlike most four-beat gaits, I prefer the foxtrot to keep the pairs moving closer together, to avoid the tendency of the horse to lean forward onto the shoulder in this gait.
Front Right-Left Hind–Left Front-Right Hind Or Left Front-Right Hind–Front Right-Left Hind
The the rider’s hip motion in the foxtrot is mostly forward-back. A horse in an “extended” foxtrot may give you just enough movement to post to. It you feel like you could post to it without a lateral wobble, but you still hear four beats, you’ve found the foxtrot. Now relax a little and let your hips just follow your horses back. If you post strongly in a foxtrot, you will encourage the hard trot.
I often get asked this. Many people assume that, if they don’t want to be involved with shows requiring crazy shoes and crazier equipment, that gaited horses are only good for trail rides (which they are great for). But, they can do anything another horse can do! Well, nearly. Assuming you have a sound, healthy horse, there is only one limitation. You cannot enter a class that calls for a gait your horse cannot perform. This means that if your horse can’t trot (many gaited horses also trot), you can’t enter a class that calls for trot. If your horse only does a running walk, you can’t enter a class that calls for a fox-trot. Of course, at home you can play with adapting any sport to your horse’s gait.
So what can you do? Aside from gait or breed specific shows, gaited horses are becoming popular in performance sports. Trail is of course where the benefit of gait is most seen, but you also see gaited horses in open jumping and barrels. There is also an eventing format just for gaited horses!
The hardest thing for most riders is finding a way to show at the local level. You need to do two things for this: be creative, and get involved. Look over you local class listing and see what your gaited horse CAN go in (assuming they don’t trot). This takes some creativity, as you usually can’t do a “division.” You can do trail (english, western, or both); “go-as-you-please” or “all day” classes (these usually call for a walk, and then choice of gait); cakewalk, musical posts, or other similar fun classes; and any gymkhana or timed classes, even if you don’t want to go fast. If all else fails, just show up and ride around the grounds. Think of it as a colorful trail ride. Get to know people. Then comes step two! Get involved, help out with your local saddle club. Then you can suggest adding a class or two for gaited horses.
Every gaited American breed claims as its progenitor the “Spanish Jennet.” Unfortunately, there was no such breed. These folks might be a little upset by that. The Jennet, or Gineta, horse was a riding discipline, rather than a breed. For more on this, I recommend The Art of Riding on Every Saddle (a 15th century riding manual), and this article. So what were these horses? The mythos of the Spanish Jennet is not a modern invention. There are multitudes of records outside of the Iberian peninsula referring to horses an “Spanish Jennets” (or Genets, or Genetas), and they do all share a number of characteristics. Regardless of how they were categorized at home, an Iberian animal whose primary purpose was aristocratic travel was called a “jennet.” The common characteristics were: a “small” head, an abundance of hair, often an unusual coat color, high set neck, and usually an “amble.” In paintings they often have long backs, and while we consider this a flaw is does prevent an exuberantly gaiting horse from stepping on itself (ever wonder why you usually see boots on Icelandics?). These were also not exceptionally large animals. If you’re looking for a modern “Jennet,” I recommend the Peruvian Paso:
Or a Mangalarga Marchador:
Currently only Pasos (both the Peruvian, and the Puerto Rican Paso Fino) are allowed to be registered with the Spanish Jennet Horse Society which seeks to recreate this historical horse, except in the case of “atigrado,” or appaloosa-colored, division where Paso-crosses are permitted.