Gaited horses are a specific category of horse breeds that possess unique, smooth, and natural gaits in addition to the traditional horse gaits of walking, trotting, and cantering/galloping.
These additional gaits are often referred to as “ambling” gaits and are characterised by their smooth, evenly spaced footfalls.
The presence of these gaits is a distinctive feature that sets gaited horses apart from regular or non-gaited horses.
Some common examples of gaited horse breeds include:
- Tennessee Walking Horse: Known for their famous “running walk,” which is a smooth, four-beat gait where each foot touches the ground independently, creating a gliding motion.
- Missouri Fox Trotter: These horses are celebrated for their “foxtrot,” a gait that involves a diagonal pattern of footfall, providing a comfortable and smooth ride.
- Paso Fino: Paso Finos have a unique “Paso Corto” gait, characterised by rapid, high-stepping foot movements, giving riders a very comfortable and stable ride.
- Icelandic Horse: Icelandic horses have a range of gaits, including the “tölt,” which is a four-beat gait similar to the running walk, and the “flying pace,” which is incredibly fast and smooth.
- Peruvian Paso: Known for their “Paso Llano,” a gait that is exceptionally smooth and comfortable for riders.
Gaited horses are often favoured for their ability to provide a comfortable and enjoyable ride over long distances, making them popular choices for trail riding, endurance riding, and pleasure riding.
These horses are also used in various equine sports and competitions, showcasing their unique gaits to judges and enthusiasts.
What is the difference between a gaited horse and a regular horse?
A gaited horse and a regular (non-gaited) horse differ primarily in their natural patterns of movement, known as gaits.
Gaited horses have been bred to perform smooth, specialised gaits that are often more comfortable for riders.
These gaits can include the Paso Fino’s “paso corto” and “paso largo,” the Tennessee Walking Horse’s “running walk,” and the Missouri Fox Trotter’s “fox trot,” among others.
These gaits are intermediate between the walk and the canter or gallop and are often smoother than the trot, which is why many riders prefer them for long rides.
Non-gaited horses typically move in four standard gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
The trot can be a bouncy gait for riders, and sitting it can be uncomfortable for some, especially over long distances.
Gaited horses are often sought after for their smoother, more comfortable rides, especially for recreational and trail riding.
What are the benefits of a gaited horse?
- Comfortable ride: The most significant benefit of gaited horses is their smooth, easy-to-ride gaits. This makes them an excellent choice for riders with back problems, joint pain, or those who simply prefer a more comfortable experience in the saddle.
- Endurance: Gaited horses are known for their stamina, making them ideal for long-distance riding and endurance events. Their ability to cover miles without exhausting their riders is a sought-after trait.
- Versatility: While gaited horses excel in pleasure riding, they are also used in various disciplines, including competitive trail riding, endurance riding, and even in some show ring events where their gaits are showcased.
- Unique gaits: The natural gaits of gaited horses make them stand out in the equine world, offering riders a distinctive experience and a chance to explore unique riding styles.
Can anyone ride a gaited horse?
The good news is that most people can ride a gaited horse, even if they have little to no prior riding experience.
Gaited horses are often known for their calm and gentle temperament, making them suitable for novice riders and experienced equestrians alike.
However, it’s essential to remember that some gaited breeds may require specific training techniques to bring out their best gaits.
While gaited horses are generally accommodating, beginners should still take riding lessons and seek guidance from experienced trainers to ensure safety and proper riding technique.
It’s important to understand that individual horse personalities and training histories can vary, so some gaited horses may be more suitable for beginners than others.
Do gaited horses require special equipment or training?
Gaited horses have unique movement patterns, and while they don’t always require special equipment or training, there are some specific considerations that can help enhance their natural gaits and ensure their comfort.
- Saddles: Some gaited horse breeds might benefit from saddles designed specifically for their conformation and movement. Gaited horse saddles often have a more flexible tree or no tree at all to allow for greater shoulder movement. They might also have a flatter seat to help the rider stay balanced during the horse’s unique gaits.
- Bits: While many gaited horses can be ridden in standard bits, some trainers and riders prefer specific bits that offer more direct communication for cueing the horse’s gait.
- Bridles and headgear: Depending on the breed and specific discipline, some gaited horses are shown in unique bridles or headgear that might differ from those used on non-gaited horses.
- Natural gaits: While gaited horses are born with the ability to perform their specialised gaits, training is often required to refine, maintain, and consistently cue these gaits. Without proper training, a gaited horse might default to a trot or canter instead of its natural gait.
- Experienced trainers: Because of the nuances in bringing out the best in a gaited horse’s movement, it’s beneficial to work with trainers who have experience with gaited breeds. They can provide guidance on how to train and cue the horse effectively.
- Avoiding heavy hands: Gaited horses are often very sensitive to rein pressure. Using a light touch and avoiding heavy-handedness can help the horse move more freely and comfortably in its natural gait.
- Conditioning: Like all horses, gaited horses benefit from proper conditioning. Specific exercises can strengthen the muscles needed for their unique gaits and improve their overall performance.
Some gaited horse breeds or disciplines might have specific shoeing requirements to enhance their movement. However, it’s essential to prioritise the horse’s well-being and avoid practices that are harmful or cause discomfort.
Like all horses, gaited horses need regular veterinary care, proper nutrition, and routine hoof care. Ensuring their overall well-being will help them perform their best.
Gaited horses offer a unique and comfortable riding experience compared to regular horses. Their smooth, natural gaits make them a popular choice for pleasure riders, endurance enthusiasts, and those seeking an alternative to the traditional walk and trot. Whether you’re a seasoned equestrian or a beginner, a gaited horse could be the perfect companion for your equestrian adventures, providing a comfortable and enjoyable ride.