What is Gaited Horse-A Comprehensive Guide

Gaited horses, a fascinating subset within the equestrian world, exhibit unique and smooth gaits that set them apart from other equine breeds. These horses possess a distinct way of moving, making them prized for their comfort, versatility, and historical significance. Understanding what defines a gaited horse, their various gaits, breeds, training, and care is essential for both seasoned riders and newcomers to the equestrian community.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the world of gaited horses, exploring their characteristics, significance, and the nuances that make them an intriguing and cherished part of the horse world.

What Makes a Horse Gaited?

What makes a horse gaited lies in its natural ability to perform additional smooth, intermediate gaits beyond the standard walk, trot, and canter. Gaited horses possess a genetic predisposition that enables them to execute these unique gaits with inherent ease and comfort. The primary factor distinguishing gaited horses from non-gaited ones is their innate capability to perform these smooth, four-beat gaits, often referred to as intermediate or ambling gaits, which lack the jolting motion typical in the trot.

The specific genes and physical characteristics that contribute to a horse being gaited can vary among breeds. These traits are often selectively bred and inherited, resulting in horses with a predisposition for these smooth, intermediate gaits. The structure and movement of a gaited horse’s legs, back, and shoulders play a significant role in their ability to perform these unique gaits effortlessly.

What is Gaited Horse-A Comprehensive Guide

These intermediate gaits, such as the running walk, rack, foxtrot, and others, offer riders a remarkably smooth and comfortable ride, making gaited horses highly sought after for pleasure riding, long-distance journeys, and various equestrian disciplines. The ability of gaited horses to cover ground smoothly while maintaining a steady speed sets them apart and contributes to their appeal among riders seeking both comfort and style in their riding experience.

The Various Gaits of Gaited Horses

Gaited horses are renowned for their ability to perform various smooth and distinct gaits, setting them apart from other equine breeds. These unique gaits provide riders with a comfortable and smooth riding experience, making gaited horses highly sought after for pleasure riding, trail riding, and even in certain competitive disciplines. Here are some of the primary gaits commonly associated with gaited horses:

Running Walk:

The running walk is a signature gait among gaited breeds like the Tennessee Walking Horse. It is characterized by a four-beat lateral gait where the horse oversteps, creating a gliding motion. The horse maintains a steady speed, with a distinct head nodding motion that enhances the smoothness of the ride.


The rack is a fast, lateral gait with a four-beat rhythm, seen in breeds such as the American Saddlebred. It is a swift and flashy gait, often used in show rings due to its elegance and speed. The rack is known for its smoothness and its ability to cover ground efficiently.


Found in breeds like the Missouri Fox Trotter, the foxtrot is a diagonal gait that combines elements of a walk and a trot. The horse moves its front foot first, followed by the opposite diagonal hind foot, resulting in a smooth, comfortable ride.

Paso Corto and Paso Largo:

These are two distinct gaits exhibited by the Paso Fino breed. Paso Corto is a slower, collected gait characterized by rapid footfall, while Paso Largo is a faster gait with a longer stride. Both gaits offer exceptional smoothness and a distinctively stylish movement.

Other Variations:

Some gaited breeds may exhibit additional unique gaits, such as the Tölt in the Icelandic Horse, a four-beat lateral ambling gait known for its speed and smoothness, and the Corto and Largo in the Peruvian Paso, which are variations of their signature paso llano gait.

These various gaits are inherent to specific gaited horse breeds, and while they differ in speed, style, and mechanics, they all share the common feature of providing riders with a remarkably smooth and comfortable ride.

Riders often select gaited horses based on the particular gait or combination of gaits that best suit their riding preferences and intended activities, showcasing the versatility and appeal of these unique equines.

Popular Gaited Horse Breeds

Gaited horses encompass a diverse group of breeds, each known for its distinctive characteristics, historical significance, and unique abilities to perform smooth, intermediate gaits. These breeds have garnered popularity among riders for their comfortable rides, versatility, and suitability for various equestrian activities. Here are some of the popular gaited horse breeds:

Tennessee Walking Horse:

Renowned for its signature running walk, the Tennessee Walking Horse is celebrated for its smooth, gliding gait and gentle disposition. This breed is often favored for pleasure riding, trail riding, and show competitions due to its elegance and versatility.

Missouri Fox Trotter:

The Missouri Fox Trotter is recognized for its ability to perform the distinctive foxtrot gait, a smooth and rhythmic diagonal movement. This breed is highly prized for its versatility, excelling in trail riding, ranch work, and shows due to its calm temperament and comfortable gaits.

Paso Fino:

The Paso Fino is distinguished by its unique Paso Corto and Paso Largo gaits, characterized by rapid footfall and smooth, controlled movements. Known for its stamina and elegance, the Paso Fino is popular for pleasure riding, trail riding, and traditional horsemanship disciplines.

Icelandic Horse:

The Icelandic Horse is celebrated for its versatility and its ability to perform the smooth and distinctive Tölt gait. This breed’s unique qualities make it suitable for various activities, including trail riding, endurance riding, and competitions, showcasing its strength and sure-footedness.

Peruvian Paso:

The Peruvian Paso is famed for its signature paso llano gait, known for its lateral movement and smoothness. This breed’s naturally inherited gait and gentle temperament make it a preferred choice for pleasure riding, exhibitions, and traditional Peruvian equestrian events.

Each gaited horse breed possesses its own set of characteristics, gaits, and historical significance. Riders often select these breeds based on their preferences for specific gaits, riding disciplines, and temperament, highlighting the diversity and appeal of gaited horses in the equestrian world.

Advantages of Gaited Horses

Gaited horses offer several advantages that distinguish them from non-gaited breeds, making them a preferred choice for many riders. These advantages are centered around their unique gaits, temperament, and versatility, providing riders with distinct benefits and enhancing their overall riding experience. Here are some key advantages of gaited horses:

Smooth Gaits:

The primary advantage of gaited horses is their ability to perform smooth, intermediate gaits like the running walk, rack, foxtrot, or paso llano. These gaits are exceptionally comfortable for riders, offering a smooth and steady motion that minimizes jolting and bouncing, making long rides more enjoyable and less fatiguing.

Comfortable Ride:

The smooth and even gaits of gaited horses result in a comfortable riding experience. Riders, especially those with back or joint issues, often find the smoothness of these gaits beneficial, allowing them to ride for extended periods without discomfort.


Gaited horses are versatile animals that excel in various equestrian disciplines. They are suitable for pleasure riding, trail riding, endurance riding, competitive shows, ranch work, and even therapeutic riding programs. Their adaptability makes them a popular choice for riders with diverse interests.

Stamina and Endurance:

Many gaited horse breeds possess remarkable stamina and endurance. They can cover long distances efficiently while maintaining their smooth gaits, making them ideal for riders who enjoy extended trail rides or endurance competitions.

Gentle Temperament:

Gaited breeds are often known for their gentle and amiable dispositions. Their calm and willing nature makes them well-suited for riders of various skill levels, including beginners, children, and those seeking a more relaxed riding experience.

Cultural and Historical Significance:

Several gaited horse breeds have deep cultural and historical significance. They are often associated with specific regions, traditions, or equestrian practices, preserving unique horsemanship techniques and serving as a link to a rich heritage.

Attention in the Show Ring:

The smooth, eye-catching gaits of gaited horses make them popular in show competitions. These breeds often stand out due to their elegance and distinctive movements, attracting attention and recognition in various competitive arenas.

These advantages collectively contribute to the appeal of gaited horses among riders seeking comfort, versatility, and a pleasurable riding experience. The unique combination of smooth gaits, adaptability, and gentle nature makes gaited horses a valuable addition to the equestrian world.

Training and Riding Gaited Horses

Training and riding gaited horses require a nuanced approach that takes into account their unique abilities, gaits, and temperament. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, understanding the distinctive characteristics of gaited horses is essential for their proper training and riding. Here are key considerations for training and riding gaited horses:

Understand the Gaits:

  • Familiarize yourself with the specific gaits of the breed you are working with. Each gaited breed has its own set of intermediate gaits, and understanding these gaits’ mechanics will help you ride and train the horse more effectively.

Proper Training Techniques:

  • Start training gaited horses early to develop their natural abilities and gaits. Focus on establishing a balanced and relaxed frame while encouraging the horse to find its natural gait.

Use Light Aids:

  • Gaited horses are often sensitive and responsive to cues. Use light aids and subtle cues to communicate with the horse, avoiding excessive force or pressure that might disrupt their smooth gaits.

Maintain Consistency:

  • Consistency in training routines and cues is crucial for gaited horses. Regular practice and repetition help them understand and refine their gaits while building muscle memory.

Riding Techniques:

  • When riding gaited horses, maintain a relaxed posture and allow your body to move with the horse’s motion. Ensure even and light contact on the reins to encourage the horse to maintain its smooth gait.

Develop Collection:

  • Focus on developing the horse’s ability to collect itself, engaging its hindquarters and lifting its back. This helps in refining the smoothness and balance of the gaits.

Cater to Individual Needs:

  • Understand that each gaited horse is unique. Tailor your training and riding techniques to accommodate the specific needs, abilities, and temperament of the individual horse.

Consider Professional Assistance:

  • If you’re new to working with gaited horses or encountering training challenges, seek guidance from experienced trainers or professionals specializing in gaited breeds. Their expertise can offer valuable insights and techniques.

Practice Different Gaits:

  • Experiment with various gaits the horse offers and work on transitioning smoothly between them. This helps in refining the horse’s versatility and responsiveness.

Patience and Reward:

  • Patience is key in training gaited horses. Reward positive behavior and progress, whether it’s achieving a smooth gait or responding well to cues. Positive reinforcement encourages willingness and confidence in the horse.

Remember, building a strong relationship based on trust and understanding with your gaited horse is fundamental for successful training and enjoyable riding experiences. Consistent training, patience, and a gentle approach will help bring out the best in these remarkable equines.

Gaited Horses in Different Disciplines

Gaited horses, known for their smooth and unique gaits, excel in various equestrian disciplines due to their versatility, endurance, and distinctive movements. While traditionally associated with specific riding styles, these horses have demonstrated their adaptability across different disciplines. Here’s a look at how gaited horses are utilized in various equestrian pursuits:

Pleasure Riding and Trail Riding:

  • Gaited horses are highly sought after for pleasure riding and trail riding due to their comfortable gaits. Their smooth, easy movements make long rides more enjoyable for riders, especially over varied terrains. They navigate trails with ease, providing a comfortable and pleasurable experience for riders seeking leisurely rides through nature.

Show Competitions:

  • Gaited horses often shine in show rings, showcasing their elegance and distinct gaits. Various gaited horse breeds participate in breed-specific shows that highlight their unique movements, such as the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration or Missouri Fox Trotter shows. These competitions evaluate the horse’s conformation, style, and gait performance.

Endurance Riding:

  • Some gaited horse breeds, known for their stamina and sure-footedness, excel in endurance riding. Riders participate in long-distance races or competitive trail rides where the horse’s endurance and ability to maintain smooth gaits over extended distances are paramount.

Ranch Work and Cattle Work:

  • Gaited horses, particularly those with a strong build and endurance, are utilized for ranch work and cattle herding. Their smooth gaits allow riders to cover rough terrain efficiently while still providing a comfortable ride. They assist in various ranch tasks, including herding, checking fences, and working with livestock.

Dressage and Versatility Competitions:

  • Some gaited horse enthusiasts train their horses in dressage or participate in versatility competitions. While not traditionally associated with gaited breeds, these competitions showcase the horse’s versatility, obedience, and ability to perform various maneuvers while maintaining smooth gaits.

Therapeutic Riding Programs:

  • Gaited horses’ gentle temperament and smooth gaits make them suitable candidates for therapeutic riding programs. Their steady and comfortable movements benefit individuals with physical, emotional, or developmental challenges, providing a calming and therapeutic experience.

Parade and Exhibition Riding:

  • Gaited horses are often featured in parades and exhibitions due to their eye-catching gaits and graceful appearance. They add elegance and style to these events, capturing the audience’s attention with their distinctive movements.

Gaited horse breeds showcase their adaptability and capabilities across a spectrum of equestrian disciplines, proving their worth beyond their comfort and smooth gaits. Their versatility allows riders to explore various activities while enjoying the unique riding experience these horses offer.

Gaited Horse Care and Maintenance

Caring for gaited horses involves considerations specific to their health, exercise needs, and maintaining their unique gaits. Providing proper care and maintenance ensures their well-being and allows them to perform at their best. Here are essential aspects of gaited horse care:

Proper Nutrition:

  • Provide a balanced diet appropriate for the horse’s age, size, and activity level. High-quality forage, such as grass hay or pasture, supplemented with grains or concentrates, ensures they receive essential nutrients. Monitor their weight and adjust feed accordingly.

Regular Exercise and Training:

  • Engage gaited horses in regular exercise to maintain their physical fitness and muscle tone. Consistent training helps refine their gaits, and varied exercise routines prevent boredom and stiffness.

Hoof Care:

  • Maintain regular hoof care by scheduling routine trimming or shoeing with a skilled farrier. Proper hoof care ensures the horse’s soundness and comfort, especially since gaited breeds often spend extended periods on their feet.

Veterinary Care:

  • Follow a vaccination and deworming schedule recommended by a veterinarian. Regular check-ups help detect and address any health issues early, ensuring the horse’s well-being.

Tack and Equipment:

  • Use well-fitting tack and equipment suitable for gaited horses. Ensure saddles, bridles, and other gear accommodate their unique movements and provide comfort without restricting their gaits.

Conditioning and Warm-Up:

  • Before engaging in rigorous activities, warm up the horse properly to prevent injury. Gradually increase the intensity of exercises to condition the horse’s muscles and cardiovascular system.

Gaited Horse-Specific Considerations:

  • Understand the specific needs of gaited horses regarding their gaits. Allow them opportunities to naturally perform and maintain their smooth gaits through regular riding and proper training techniques.

Adequate Shelter and Pasture Management:

  • Provide shelter from extreme weather conditions and ensure access to clean water and adequate pasture. Manage pastures to prevent overgrazing and maintain a safe environment for the horses.

Monitoring Health and Behavior:

  • Regularly monitor the horse’s health and behavior. Look out for signs of discomfort, lameness, changes in appetite, or unusual behaviors that may indicate health issues.

Attention to Stress and Environment:

  • Minimize stress factors in the horse’s environment, as stress can impact their overall well-being. Provide a calm and stable environment, especially during training and handling.

By attentively addressing these aspects of care, gaited horse owners can ensure their horses remain healthy, comfortable, and able to perform their unique gaits efficiently. Regular attention to their specific needs contributes to the overall well-being and longevity of these remarkable equines.

Controversies and Challenges in the Gaited Horse World

The world of gaited horses, like any niche within the equestrian community, has its share of controversies and challenges. These issues range from concerns about certain training methods to controversies surrounding breed standards and showing. Here are some of the controversies and challenges in the gaited horse world:

Controversial Training Practices:

  • Some training techniques used to enhance or exaggerate the gaits of gaited horses have faced criticism. Practices such as soring, where substances or devices are applied to the horse’s legs to induce higher stepping, have been a significant concern within certain gaited breeds. These practices are considered unethical and inhumane and have led to legal regulations and efforts to eradicate them.

Breed Standards and Integrity:

  • Disputes often arise concerning breed standards and the integrity of gaited horse registries. Breed associations and registries may face controversies regarding the breeding practices, purity of bloodlines, and adherence to breed standards, leading to debates within the community.

Ethical Showing and Performance Enhancement:

  • In competitive shows for gaited horses, there may be controversies regarding the ethical boundaries of enhancing a horse’s performance. Some individuals and trainers might resort to methods that compromise the horse’s welfare to achieve a more exaggerated or flashy gait, raising concerns about fair competition and animal welfare.

Stereotypes and Misconceptions:

  • Gaited horse breeds sometimes face stereotypes or misconceptions within the broader equestrian community. Some individuals may perceive certain gaited breeds as solely show horses or as less versatile than other breeds, overlooking their diverse capabilities and suitability for various disciplines.

Advocacy for Ethical Treatment and Welfare:

  • Various organizations and individuals within the gaited horse community advocate for the ethical treatment and welfare of these horses. These advocates work to raise awareness, promote responsible training practices, and support initiatives aimed at eliminating abusive training methods.

Maintaining Breed Diversity:

  • Concerns exist about preserving the diversity within gaited horse breeds. As the demand for certain types or variations of gaits increases, there may be a risk of losing genetic diversity within these breeds, impacting their overall health and adaptability.

Addressing these controversies and challenges in the gaited horse world requires collaboration among breed associations, trainers, riders, regulatory bodies, and advocates. Efforts toward ethical treatment, responsible breeding practices, education, and the promotion of fair competition play a vital role in ensuring the welfare and integrity of gaited horse breeds within the equestrian community.

Also Read: Difference Between Gaited VS Non Gaited Horse-A Complete Guide


In the world of gaited horses, the complexities of breeding, training, showing, and ethical considerations form a tapestry of challenges and controversies.

As enthusiasts cherish these unique equines for their smooth gaits, versatility, and historical significance, critical issues like soring, breed standards, and misconceptions persist.

Advocates tirelessly strive for ethical treatment, welfare, and the preservation of breed diversity. While controversies highlight areas needing improvement, they also spark dialogue, pushing for better practices and understanding.

Emphasizing responsible training, humane treatment, and appreciation for breed diversity remains crucial. Ultimately, by addressing these challenges collectively—through education, advocacy, and a commitment to ethical horsemanship—the gaited horse community can foster a brighter future that celebrates the beauty, versatility, and well-being of these remarkable equine companions.

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