By far the most difficult aspect of owning a gaited horse is making sense out of the confusing array of conflicting and obscure definitions of gait. There are very few reliable sources of information and very often even these are poorly explained.

What is needed is a new approach to describing gait. A single system that can identify and distinguish all middle gaits. We will do this by building a solid foundation in our understanding of the basic walk. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran of the gaited breeds, begin by taking a fresh look at the walk of a non-gaited horse, preferably a Quarter Horse or one of the other trotting breeds. Have someone else ride that horse around in a circle in front of you as you watch the horse’s feet. the horse should be traveling as slow as possible while still maintaining a consistent speed.

This is what you will see. Almost all horses have a perfectly even basic walk. If you can hear the hoofbeats they would be as even as a drum beat. Listen to them and watch them until you understand. Then look for something else.. look for the instant that the right hind touches the ground. If the horse is doing an even gait when the right hind touches the ground the right fore will be half way forward, the left fore will be half way back and the left hind will be all the way back. This would be a good time to look at a picture of Merry Boy’s Spirit 88 traveling forward at any speed. He is the only horse that I have ever seen that can maintain a perfectly even gait right up to the canter. But you are looking at a moving horse, not a picture, so look for a certain type of action in this even gaited Quarter Horse walk. For the next one quarter of a stride after the right hind touches the ground you will see the right hind and the left fore moving backward together just like they do in the trot. At the end of this first sequence of movement the right hind will be half way forward. Now look at the second sequence of the stride, (second quarter). The right hind and the right fore will travel backward together just like they do in the pace. The third and fourth quarters of the stride are a repeat of the first and second only on the other side. At this point everyone should take a long break from this article and go out and look at that horse until you can see both the trot and the pace in the flat walk. Don’t try to understand anything else until you can clearly see this. When you do understand you will not need to be told that the basic walk is exactly half way between the trot and the pace.

By now everyone that read Part One of this series can very plainly see the diagonal action and the lateral action in the even flat walk. When the speed of the horse is increased almost all horses will either break in a very distinctive transition to a pace/trot or drift sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly to an uneven four beat gait. The breakers are the non-gaited horses. The drifters are displaying what we call gait even if the term is not properly used. The first question to ask when identifying gait is, “Is this horse a breaker or a drifter?” If you can see a four beat gait then ask, “Which way does it drift?” If you can see a strong trotting action and nothing of the pace then the horse is doing a Fox Trot. If you see a strong pacing action and nothing of the trot then the horse is doing a stepping pace. If you can’t really tell if the gait is diagonal or lateral, the horse is doing an even gait. This brings us to the unified system of definition of gait.

Pace – A two beat gait in which the lateral pairs move in total unison.

Trot – A two beat gait in which the diagonal pairs move in total unison.

Stepping pace – An uneven four beat pace.

Fox Trot – An uneven four beat trot.

Running Walk – An even four beat fast walk in which the horse lengthens stride (thus showing overstride) and continues to nod as in the flat walk.

Rack – An even four beat fast walk in which the horse does not lengthen stride and does not nod it’s head.

All of the four beat gaits are caused by one factor and one factor only – the presence of a modifying gene in the genetic structure of the horse. This gene changes the way in which the trot and pace genes interact, diluting and mixing their influence on each other. This modifying gene is common to all the drifters in varying strengths and absent in the breakers. The modifying gene is strongest in the horse that is able to maintain an even gait at the highest speed.

These are the traditional definitions of gait. Over the years trends and fads have come and gone and changed many of our perceptions of the world around us but the tides that rise and fall in the affairs of men will never change the natural way that a barefoot horse moves.

Reprinted with the permission of Eldon Eadie.

Eldon offers an excellent video showing what he has described here and much more. It can be ordered from him at the following address:

Eldon Eadie
P.O. Box 855
Turner Valley
Alberta, Canada TOL 2AO

Note: These articles have been gleaned from different sources and are presented here for your information. The MSHA does not necessarily endorse or agree with statements presented in this column.