A Foxtrotter Fox Trotting

August 13th marked my two-year anniversary with Shiloh. I was able to do a field-trip over to the local training/boarding/lesson barn to mark the occasion. The weather was a little on the hot and sunny side so I opted to ride in the indoor this visit.

Got some video footage and was pleasantly surprised to see that Shiloh does in fact fox trot. He is afterall a registered Missouri Foxtrotter, bred and born in Missouri. But horses don’t read their registration papers. Sometimes you get a Foxtrotter who can’t do a lick of fox trot. So breed or papers is no guarantee.

This was the first year that I suspected I was finally getting some fox trot from him rather than a pace or stepping pace. But without seeing footage, I wasn’t’ completely sure. In a previous post, I talked about how I would like to encourage him to use his body in a more balanced manner.

With the pace and stepping pace, he tends to move stiffly with his shoulders tamped down. He’s actually pretty comfortable to ride that way, pacing along smoothly, but I worry that will lead to unsoundness issues.

A gaited horse who is consistent in their gait is usually pretty easy to mark as doing a particular gait. But with those that aren’t as consistent, it becomes more difficult to determine. It was feeling to me like he was coming in and out of different gaits, including the fox trot, and now I have video proof thereof.

For those of you not familiar with the fox trtt, it is a “broken up” trot. From the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breed Association (MFTHBA) website, “The fox trot is a broken diagonal gait with a distinctive rhythm that is created by the horse moving its front foot a split second before its opposite rear foot.”

If that explanation is as clear as mud, here is another one from Lee Ziegler who wrote a fantastic book about gaited horses. Published back in 2005, “Easy-Gaited Horses: Gentle, Humane Methods for Training and Riding Gaited Pleasure Horses” is a book I highly recommend for any gaited-horse rider. These gait definitions are from Ziegler’s website at https://www.mofoxtrot.com/working-with-foxtrotters.html:

“The fox trot: In this diagonal easy gait, the diagonal pairs of hooves lift off and move forward together, but the front will hit noticeably before the hind of the pair. To see this, focus again on the front foot, then include the diagonal hind in your field of vision. As the legs move forward together they will be just slightly out of time with one another and the front hoof will set down just before the hind slides into place. If you look at the hooves on the side of the horse toward you, they will lift off and set down separately. The sound will be an uneven, 1-2–34, with the beats closest together coming from the set down of the diagonal hooves. You may hear it as ka-chunck, ka-chunck sound.”

Ziegler goes on to add that “In the fox trot the horse nods his head and neck up and down in time with the motion of his shoulders and the reach of his hind legs. His hind quarters will bob up and down in rhythm with his gait. He will seem to take a long, reaching step in front and 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.”

Here is a final tid bit from Lee Ziegler, “This gait moves the rider front to back in the saddle with a definite “push-pull” motion. The hind quarters feel active, moving up and down in a kind of “stutter step”, and 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.”

For contrast, here is Lee Ziegler’s explanation of the stepping pace, “In a stepping or broken pace the lateral hooves no longer set down at the same time, although they do appear to lift off the ground simultaneously. In this gait, the hind hoof hits just before the front on the same side. To see this, look at the hind hoof on the side toward you, then broaden your field of vision to include the front hoof on the same side. They will lift off together, but the hind will set down before the front. The sound will be an uneven 1-2–3-4, similar in beat to the fox trot, but this time the beats closest together will come from the set down of the lateral hooves . . . A horse in a stepping pace will usually swing his head from side to side with no bobbing motion of the croup. His body will stay relatively stable, with none of the up and down movement of the pace or trot. Again, a horse will usually overstep his front track by some distance in the stepping pace.

Below are some compare and contrast photos of Shiloh fox troting verses doing the stepping pace. My computer helped me to view the footage in slow mow and save still shots at various points in the action so I could really see how his legs were moving. It occurred to me that those bright red John Whitaker Training Bandages that I recently reviewed might have come in handy here. I could have put one on a front leg and another on an opposite hind leg to make a diagonal pair really stand out.

Below is a photo of the MFTHBA logo. You know how every breed/discipline has a certain “look” that they like to display in photos? This is it for the Foxtrotter. The illustration captures the moment of the fox trot that is particularly distinctive from other gaits. Check the photos of Shiloh underneath the logo to see if you can see a resemblance.

Now here below are some shots of Shiloh’s stepping pace caught in a moment where I have lost his focus on what we are doing. Can you see that his legs are now moving on the same side of his body, no longer in diagonal pairs and his shoulders are slung down with the head up and nose out?

We also got one 1/8th of a turn on the hindquarters on video clip. Here are a series of still shots from that event.

So that is how Shiloh and I spent our anniversary. His favorite part was after we got back home. He and Bear, both sweaty by that point, got a bath. Then they dried off while enjoying a hay snack.

Thank you to Shiloh for sticking it out with me these last couple of years. I hope we have more time to learn, grow and enjoy together.