THE HORSE’S MOVEMENTS

The natural gaits of the horse are the walk, the trot, the canter or slow gallop, and the gallop, although in dressage the canter and gallop are not usually differentiated. A riding horse is trained in each gait and in the change from one to another.

During the walk and the gallop the horse’s head moves down and forward, then up and back (only at the trot is it still); riders follow these movements with their hands.

WALK

The walk is a slow, four-beat, rhythmic pace of distinct successive hoof beats in an order such as near (left) hind, near fore, off (right) hind, off fore. Alternately two or three feet may be touching the ground simultaneously.

It may be a free, or ordinary, walk in which relaxed extended action allows the horse freedom of its head and neck, but contact with the mouth is maintained; or it may be a collected walk, a short-striding gait full of impulsion, or vigour; or it may be an extended walk of long, unhurried strides.

TROT

The trot is a two-beat gait, light and balanced, the fore and hind diagonal pairs of legs following each other almost simultaneously—near fore, off hind, off fore, and near hind.

Riders can either sit in the saddle and be bumped as the horse springs from one diagonal to the other, or they can rise to the trot, post, by rising out of the saddle slightly and allowing more of their weight to bear on the stirrups when one or the other of the diagonal pairs of legs leaves the ground. Posting reduces the impact of the trot on both horse and rider.

CANTER

As the horse moves faster, its gait changes into the canter, or ordinary gallop, in which the rider does not rise or bump.

It is a three-beat gait, graceful and elegant, characterized by one or the other of the forelegs and both hindlegs leading—near hind, off hind, and near fore practically together, then off fore, followed briefly by complete suspension. Cantering can be on the near lead or the off, depending on which is the last foot to leave the ground. The rider’s body is more forward than at the trot, the weight taken by the stirrups.

GALLOP

An accelerated canter becomes the , in which the rider’s weight is brought sharply forward

as the horse reaches speeds up to 30 miles (48 kilometres) an hour. The horse’s movements are the same as in the canter. To some authorities, the gallop is a four-beat gait, especially in an extended run.

OTHER GAITS

There are a number of disconnected and intermediate gaits, some done only by horses bred to perform them. One is the rack, a four-beat gait, with each beat evenly spaced in perfect cadence and rapid succession.

The legs on either side move together, the hindleg striking the ground slightly before the foreleg. The single foot is similar to the rack. In the pace, the legs on either side move and strike the ground together in a two-beat gait. The fox trot and the amble are four-beat gaits, the latter smoother and gliding.
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