I was asked by Karen to further explain the gaits of gaited horses, as not everyone is familiar with them. This was kind of a "Doh!" moment for me, as having grown up around Paso Finos and coming from a country where over 60% of the equine population in it is gaited, I do take that knowledge for granted.
Just like in your regular walk/trot/canter horses. Note that all of the horses below are trotting and are in similar phases of the trot. But note also how different each trot appears based on the breed, discipline and individual horse's conformation:
Same thing applies to gaited horses.
I will start with dispelling one of the biggest notions regarding gaited horses: "It's unnatural" "It's trained into the horse". Umm, no it's not. Lucero could gait from the time he was born. He'd gait at liberty when I started working with him at 7 months of age.
Lucero was not a freak of nature. Check out these adorable babies:
5 month old Colombian Paso colt, gaiting behind his mother.
At liberty with no training aids.
A 3-day old Colombian Paso Fino foal! Watch his legs when he calms down.So you have horses that are born moving diagonally (trot) and horses born moving laterally (this type of movement is known by the generic term "pace"). Horses that move laterally, aka are able to pace, are considered "gaited." When pacing, the horse's legs on the same side of the body move forwards at the same time instead of diagonally. This creates a movement that has a side-to-side sway for the rider, as well as having the potential to be quite bouncy depending on the animation of the horse's movement, the speed at which the horse is travelling, and the tension in the horse's body: some gaited horses will be "pacey" when tense, creating a rougher ride for the rider. The pace is considered an undesirable gait in some breeds, but is actually selectively bred for in other breeds. Examples of horses where the pace is cultivated:
|A pacing Standardbred. Note that this photo captured the moment of suspension when all 4 feet are off the ground.|
Standardbreds can either be trotters or pacers.
Dom's Ozzy can do both.
|Andadura horse demonstrating the andadura gait. The andadura used for racing can be equivalent to a rack or a pace: the smoothness of the gait is secondary to its speed.|
Andadura horses are close relatives of the Puerto Rican Paso Fino.
Lucero had fine Paso Fino bloodlines but had been bred to be an andadura racer.
When asked to canter or gallop, this is the gait he performed. His version was more of a pace.
Andadura race in PR. Yes, they ride bareback. I don't know why. And yes, they ride on pavement: you can hear the hoof beats on the pavement, which also allows you to hear if the horse breaks gait and gallops. If they gallop they are disqualified.
This is one hell of an amazing racking horse. Note how smooth he is when he accelerates. Note how he is able to go THAT FAST while maintaining one foot on the ground all the time. Check out the speedometer on the car from which the video is being filmed!
This video shows the flying pace of the Icelandic horse with motion capture. You can see the difference between this, what is considered a true pace, and the horse above that is racking when both horses slow down in the videos.
All the slower gaits that come after the speed rack/pace/andadura/flying pace are basically slower versions of the rack or the pace depending on exactly how lateral the movement of the horse is.
|Rack in the TWH|
|TWH mare and foal, both demonstrating the rack!|
Video of a TWH demonstrating the rack.
Video of the paso largo
|Note how the footfalls are exactly as in the buckskin Paso performing the paso largo above!|
There's just a lot more animation in the Icelandic's movement.
Video of the tolt
|Again, same gait. But the Fox Trotter has less animation than the Paso Fino and the Icelandic.|
Video of the fox trot
In the rack, the paso largo, the fox trot and the tolt, the footfall pattern is the same as for the walk, being left hind, left front, right hind and right front. As explained above, there is no suspension phase like there is in the trot and pace because there is always at least one foot on the ground at any given time. As there is no suspension phase, the rider does not experience the bounce as in the trot and pace. Listening to the gait, it sounds like pa-ca-pa-ca-pa-ca. In Latin American countries where gaited horses are prevalent it is common to see them ridden on pavement to show off the sound of the gait. Back home on the island we had a couple of barns on our street and in the afternoons after work the owners of some of the horses would take them out for a jaunt. The pa-ca-pa-ca ring of shod hooves performing the paso largo on pavement still reminds me of long hot afternoons feeding Lucero and picking his stall. He'd always blast a whinny as these horses were ridden down our street.
In the Paso, it is called the paso corto.
In most of the other gaited breeds, it's just a slower version of their medium gait. Example: it's a slower tolt in the Icelandic and a slower fox trot in the MFT. When you slow the gait down, you end up with 3 feet always on the ground at any given time during the horse's stride progression.
Then we have the gaits that are even more collected. They are also 4 beat gaits with a footfall pattern imitating the walk but the horse glides along at the speed of a slower trot, sometimes even as slow as a Western jog.
In the TWH, this is known as the running walk.
This beautiful gelding demonstrates a perfect running walk during the first minute or so of the video.
In the Paso, it is called the paso corto.
Show quality Paso Finos can be collected even further: they can do the fino gait which looks almost like a piaffe in manic fast forward. The horse's legs move rapidly with tiny strides, with more or less animation depending on the individual horse and barely any forward progression. Not all Paso Finos can fino-pleasure/trail quality Pasos are more likely to amble along at the paso largo and andadura depending on their capacity for speed while others can do the corto and largo. The fino is trained into Pasos bred for show just like you train the piaffe in an upper level dressage horse: you work on ultimate collection. In the Paso world there is a term called brio, aka "spirit". Show quality Pasos are expected to have tons of brio, which is what also makes them more likely to have very animated collected gaits that will win in the show ring. A horse with a lot of brio will have a really awesome fino. Some trainers create "brio" by abusing the horses and turning them into nervous wrecks. A really GOOD show Paso however can execute with brio on command: you can just as easily ask for a super collected, animated fino as you can get them to move out in a ground-covering paso largo on the trail as you can get them to walk in a relaxed manner with their head down on a loose rein. (The ability to just walk with their heads down is something that is not often trained into these horses but it is something that I will train into individuals I work with - I think this is important that they be able to stretch and relax while having a rider on their back, especially if they are not going to be showing.)
But to really appreciate the fino gait, you have to see it in motion:
|What the fino gait looks like in photos|
If you want to read more about my own personal experiences with these horses, I wrote a pretty cool post two years ago on my experience with Paso Finos vs Trote Galope horses during a pretty adventurous trip to Homestead, FL, where we got to try out and ride a variety of gaited and "diagonal" horses, from show caliber to trail quality. (The post does start with saddle woes; skip to the 6th paragraph or so to find the story about the Pasos.) It's still one of my biggest blog hits! It also shows the pride that us Latinos take in our Paso Fino horses: we like to show them off. We like to show them off so much that we'll let you ride them so you can see what an awesome ride we have. ;)