Two Gaited Horses- Compare and Contrast

Bear and me on the left verses Shiloh and me on the right.

As I learn more about blogging, I try to experiment with different media. Today, I am tossing in some video clips for the first time.

Assuming I am successful at uploading them in some viewable form, I thought it might be interesting for readers to contrast two gaited horses. Near the bottom of this post is one video of my gaited horse, Bear. The other is a video of my gaited horse, Shiloh.

Both horses are registered as gaited horses, but they are different breeds. Bear is a registered Racking Horse. Shiloh is a registered Missouri Fox Trotter.

Most gaited horses can and do execute a variety of gaits, but each breed often has a distinctive gait for which they are best known. For example, the Tennessee Walking Horse’s running walk, the Racking Horse’s rack or the Missouri Fox Trotter’s foxtrot.

Unfortunately, just because you have a gaited horse of a particular breed does not necessarily mean that they will perform the breed’s signature gait. Horses gait due to their genetics, but there is a lot of variability with how those genes are expressed.

I have learned to think about gaited horses by picturing a spectrum. On the left is the two-beat pace and on the right is the two-beat trot. In between the two-beat pace and the two-beat trot lies all the so called “easy” or “intermediate” four-beat gaits like the running walk, fox trot, rack, stepping pace, etc . . .

A two-beat gait tends to feel bouncy to the rider as there is a point of suspension in the two-beat pace and the two-beat trot. A four-beat gait tends to feel smoother because it lacks those moments of suspension (or at least ideally it should- most folks who ride gaited horses don’t want to bounce!).

All horses, gaited or not, display a four-beat walk. But a gaited horse can display other four-beat gaits like the rack or the fox trot. On the spectrum, a gait like the rack is closer to a pace and a gait like the fox trot is closer to a trot.

I know the entire issue of gaited horses can be confusing, even more so to folks who aren’t familiar with gaited horses. There is a lot of variability in how individual horses express their gaits.

There is differing terminology for the same gaits within different breeds (especially when you consider that gaited horses are found throughout the world). There exists a thousand contrasting ideas on what constitutes a “correct” gait. Identifying gaits from the saddle or even from the ground can be challenging.

Some gaited horses are just simply better at gaiting and are more smooth than others. Some can’t do a lick of gait even with two gaited parents. On the other hand, people forget that breeds that aren’t always thought of as gaited, such as Saddlebreds and Standardbreds, can sometimes gait. Gaited horses have been around since the dawn of time so those genes can even linger down into breeds that nowadays are almost exclusively non-gaited such as the Appaloosa.

Adding to the mystery of gaited horses is the lack of literature. There is not the same amount of literature out there about gaited horses as there is their non-gaited counterparts. I suspect a lot of gaited horse knowledge tends to get passed down from person to person within families or communities where gaited horses are popular rather than that information, for whatever reason, being put into books.

Of the few gaited horse books in existence, my personal favorite is one published in 2005 titled “Easy-Gaited Horses: Gentle, humane methods for training and riding gaited pleasure horses” by Lee Ziegler.

With all the confusion, you might wonder why I chose to keep gaited horses in my backyard? To me, riding a really well-gaited horse is a singular pleasure. You feel all this action going on underneath you, but you are sitting smooth and quiet in the saddle.

A slow gait is pleasant and relaxing. A fast gait is absolutely exhilarating. The wind is cutting the horse’s mane straight back and hitting your eyes so they water, but you aren’t being jostled around at all in the saddle. Not every gaited horse is a gaiting machine, but I find an athletic, well-gaited horse an absolute blast to ride.

I rode my first gaited horse as a child during a Summer camp and have been in love ever since. Interestingly, I find horse folks tend to have strong reactions to the topic of gaited horses.

Rather than just feeling “meh” about them, my experience is that most folks either tend to strongly favor them or to strongly dislike them. Something about a horse trotting or a horse not trotting seems to bring out strong opinions in equestrians. While I favor gaited horses, I very much enjoy riding all types of equids. I also enjoy riding with folks of all breed preferences, but I understand not everyone feels the same way.

So what about these videos of my gaited horses, Bear and Shiloh?

Bear’s video is from 2006 with him performing his saddle rack. Bear’s sire was a speed-racking show horse which I suspect accounts for Bear’s sensitive personality and quick movement. I was not able to track down photos, videos or other information about Shiloh’s parents so I don’t have any conclusions to draw there. But when you see Shiloh’s video of us practicing the fox trot, you will notice all sorts of differences between him and Bear. Their legs are moving in different time, there is a different in speed, difference in smoothness and difference how each horse is carrying himself.

Bear didn’t need much help from me to maintain his gait. I pretty much just thought “go” and he would gait. Shiloh seems to need more help from me to stay in gait, and I struggle to maintain his rhythm when I ask for more speed (so most of our work is done at a slow rate of speed in the hopes we can perhaps build up to a more dynamic tempo).

Please note that I don’t offer these videos as an example of how a gaited horse “should” go or “should” be ridden. As an average rider at best, I don’t have the skills to demonstrate that.

Instead, what I do think the videos show is a good example of some of the potential differences in gaited horses, even when ridden by the same rider. I hope the contrasting videos can help folks think of gaited horses as a broad category rather than one particular type of horse.

Bear and me in 2006.
Shiloh and me in 2020.

What about you? Have you ever ridden a gaited horse?

3 thoughts on “Two Gaited Horses- Compare and Contrast

  1. I have ridden an Icelandic horse and experience the tolt. It was nice. Shiloh looks very comfortable in that nice trotting gait. Warmbloods like Biasini have a lot of suspension and a big bounce but Biasini is still quite comfortable for a warmblood.

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    1. Thanks, Anne. That’s neat that you have ridden an Icelandic. I love short horses and suspect I would really enjoy the Icelandics. Glad that Biasini still provides a nice ride for you even with a big way of going. I know it takes a lot of practice for the rider to be able to sit and influence that suspension.


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