Working with Gaited Horses


An Excerpt * by Lee Ziegler 1988 * Revised 1997


The trot: In a trot the horse will not nod his head in any way, & his hind quarters will remain steady as his whole body rises and falls with the motion of the gait. His tail may sway a bit from side to side as his body swings in a good relaxed trot. In a good trot a horse "tracks up" & sets his hind hoof down on the track of the front on the same side.

The fox trot: In the fox trot the horse nods his head & neck up & down in time with the motion of his shoulders & the reach of his hind legs. His hind quarters will bob up & down in rhythm with his gait. He will seem to take a long, reaching step in front & a quicker, higher step in back, "breaking" (bending sharply) at the hock as his hind hoof hesitates before following the diagonal front to the ground. The horse may "cap" or disfigure his front track with his hind in this gait.

The "fox walk": Again, this is very similar to the fox trot, just done at a slower speed. The horse will almost always "cap" his front track with his hind in the gait. Top speed is probably no more than 6 mph in the fox walk.


The pace: In a true pace a horse will swing his neck & head from side to side, away from the advancing foreleg. He will also swing or "wag" his hindquarters from side to side in this gait. There will be no up & down bob of the head or croup in a pace, but his whole body may appear to rise & fall in a motion similar to the trot. A horse will usually overstep his front track with his hind by a fair amount in the pace.

The stepping pace: A horse in a stepping pace will usually swing his head from side to side with no bobbing motion of the croup. His back will stay relatively stable, with none of the up & down movement of the pace or trot. Again, a horse will usually overstep his front track by some distance in the stepping pace.

The "saddle" or stepped rack: There is no head nod in this gait, but the hindquarters are very active in an up and down bobbing motion. The shoulders also move up & down, creating the high action of the front legs. The horse takes a fairly short step, overstepping his front rack by a short distance. There may or may not be some "paddling" or "termino" in the front legs as they move outward from the shoulder.

The rack: Again, there is no head nod in this gait, & the shoulders & hindquarters are very active. The horse appears to jump from one foot to the other as he moves. There is more overstep in this gait than in the "saddle" but not as much as in the running walk.


The walk: In an ordinary walk, a horse (& not just a gaited one) will nod his head & neck up & down with the motion of his shoulder & the protraction & contraction of the muscles along his back. The croup will remain steady with no bobbing up & down. There will be some over step of the front track by the hind of the same side, the distance varying with the conformation & speed of the horse.

The flat walk: In this type of walk the head nod will be noticeably more rapid than in the ordinary walk. The undulating motion of the ordinary walk diminishes with increased speed, making the back more stable. The croup will remain steady with no up & down bob, & the over step may be more than in the ordinary walk. Again, speed & conformation will affect the amount of over reach. This is simply a faster, more active version of a regular walk.

The running walk: Head nod continues into the fastest of the walking gaits. The croup remains steady & the hind legs take long, reaching steps, unlike the higher, quicker motion in the fox trot. There is no obvious "breaking" in the hocks in the running walk, & the front legs take a less reachy step than in the fox trot. Over step increases so that the horse is often stepping over his front rack by a couple of feet.

The passo llano: In this gait, the head nod disappears, its place taken by the action of the shoulders know as termino. The croup action remains the same, steady with a long reaching step in the rear with no "breaking" in the hocks. There may or may not be significant over step of the front track by the hind, depending on the "advance" or forward motion of the horse.


Knowing the mechanics, sound & look of each gait doesn't do you much good once you are in the saddle. Unless you ride in a mirrored hall, with a good ground person, or review your work constantly with a video recorder, you also need to know how each gait feels when you are riding it. Only when you know that what you feel isn't the "right" gait will you be able to start doing something to correct the "wrong" one. Here, ranging from rough to smooth, is the way the gaits feel under the saddle.

Trot: I assume you know how this feels, but if in any case you have forgotten, a trot is a gait that can range from the relatively comfortable jog to the fast extended trot that will jar your teeth unless you have learned how to sit or post it. Motion in the trot is an up and down bounce as the horse jumps from one diagonal pair of legs to the other.

Pace: This gait is as uncomfortable as any trot, this time bouncing the rider from side to side as the horse jolts from one lateral pair of legs to the other. It is not easy to sit, but it can be posted if you are adventurous. (Icelandic horses do a flying pace called a "flug skeith" which is so fast that it is no longer uncomfortable. This gait is not common in other breeds of gaited horses.)

Stepping pace: This gait gives a subtle side to side sway instead of the jolt of the true pace. This rocking motion can sometimes make people seasick, but the gait is fairly smooth to ride.

Fox trot/trocha/pasitrote: This gait moves the rider front to back in the saddle with a definite "push-pull" motion. The hindquarters feel active, moving up & down in a kind of "stutter step, & in some horses you can feel a pull from the shoulders in a rolling motion. There is never a sensation of a side to side sway in this gait.

"Fox walk": This is a smoother version of the fox trot, with less "push-pull" motion & less well defined "stutter step." Again there is no side to side motion in this gait, & less "bounce" to the hind quarters that the true fox trot.

Running walk/paso llano: This gait also moves the rider a bit from front to back in the saddle, combining it with a rolling motion in the shoulders. However, there is no noticeable up & down motion in the hindquarters, just a driving sensation as the hind legs push the horse forward. The sensation is the horse equivalent of riding on a river boat with a paddle wheel turning just out of phase on each side.

"Saddle" or stepped rack: The movement of this gait is a very slight side to side sway, but the primary feeling is of the legs moving rapidly & independently. This rider sits at the smooth center while the shoulders & hindquarters are moving rapidly up & down.

Rack: The feel of this gait & the "saddle" are very similar, although this is a faster longer reaching gait. There is more of a feeling of the horse "climbing a ladder" in front in this gait, & the hindquarters feel very active. Again, the rider is sitting in the smooth center while the action goes on all around him.

Walk & flat walk: These two gaits feel almost the same. In the ordinary walk the rider moves from front to back in the saddle, with no part of the horse feeling more active than any other. You should feel each footfall distinctly & evenly as the horse moves in this gait. In the flat walk, the back & forth motion is reduced & you can feel a strong push from each hind leg. The flat walk will often be more comfortable than the ordinary walk as the undulating motion in the horse's back is reduced.

It takes time, practice, & thought to feel these differences in the gaits, but once you know what a particular gait should feel like you will not mistake it for another even if both are comfortable.