Four Types of Gait
The individual gaits are described below. We will also discuss the best way in which to observe the gaits. Lastly, we have included a form that allows you to record what you see as you are evaluating both the conformation and the gait.
The walk is a four-beat gait with each foot falling independently of the others. This gait should have a regular even beat. The limbs move laterally starting with the hind leg. If we are traveling left, the walk begins with the left hind, followed by the left fore, right hind and right fore, then repeats. There is no stage of suspension (moment when all four feet are off of the ground) at the walk. In fact, at the walk at least two feet are in contact at all times.
The trot is a two-beat gait in which a front and hind leg on opposite sides of the body move together. This is called a diagonal gait and the pair of legs in motion is called the diagonal pair. A period of suspension exists between each beat of the gait. For instance, right hind and left fore swing together and make contact, then there is a moment of suspension before the left hind and right fore swing and make contact. There are variations of the trot such as the extended trot and the “rack” in gaited horses. Pacing is also a form of trotting, but the legs move in lateral pairs rather than diagonal pairs.
The canter is a three-beat gait originating on the hind leg opposite the direction of travel. The three beats are followed by a moment of suspension.The direction of travel is called the lead direction. If traveling to the left, the horse should be on the left canter lead. In this case, the right hind would initiate the gait, followed by the diagonal pair (left hind and right fore), with the third beat occurring as the left fore (lead leg) makes contact. After the suspension phase, the stride begins again on the right hind.
The gallop, like the walk, is a four-beat gait The pattern of footfalls is similar to the canter, although the second beat diagonal is broken into two beats as the hind leg falls followed by the foreleg Like the canter, the direction of travel is called the lead On the left lead, the horse will step forward first with the right hind, followed by the left hind, right fore and left fore (lead leg) After the suspension phase the stride begins again.