What is a gaited horse?
Whether you are a new equestrian or have been in the sport for a while, you have definitely heard this question asked.
In this article, I will explain what a gaited horse is and what that means, how to tell if a horse is gaited, and what the benefits of gaited horse breeds are.
So, come along with me and find out what a gaited horse is.
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Table of Contents
What Does Gaited Horse Mean?
What does it mean when a horse is gaited? Gaited horses represent any breed that can perform an extra smooth four-beat gait outside of the traditional walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
This gait is incredibly comfortable for riders to sit and helps the horse conserve energy while they are moving because they always have one foot on the ground.
These smoother gaits are known as ambling gaits because it looks like the horse is gliding or shuffling. This provides a very comfortable trail gait for horse owners.
Horses usually move their legs in lateral pairs, meaning the opposite front and hind legs move together, but gaited horses move each of their legs independently which allows them to glide.
Since gaited horses can save energy, they have more stamina and can travel farther than others. They were the mounts of choice when people relied on horses to go everywhere and make wonderful trail partners.
Here is a video that explains more about gaited horses:
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Gaited Horse Breeds
Now that I’ve answered the common question, “What does a gaited horse mean?” Let’s take a look at the different gaited horse breeds.
There are currently around 20 breeds of gaited horses. These are:
- Aegidienberger Horse
- American Saddlebred
- Florida Cracker Horse
- Icelandic Horse
- Mangalarga Marchador
- Marwari Horse
- Messara Horse
- Missouri Fox Trotter
- Morgan Horse
- North American Single Footing Horse
- Paso Fino
- Peruvian Paso
- Rocking Horse
- Rocky Mountain Horse
- Kentucky Mountain Spotted Saddle Horse
- Tennessee Walking Horse
I have experienced the pleasure of riding a Morgan Horse, a Rocky Mountain Horse, and an Icelandic Horse during my riding career.
However, both the Morgan and the Icelandic had their ambling gaits trained out of them, so I was not able to experience their unique four-beat gait.
Let’s learn about some of these breeds in detail.
1. American Saddlebred Horse
The American Saddlebred is known as the Horse America Made. The breed is elegant, with high stepping gaits that make it a popular show horse. 
Their coats come in all colors and they range in height from 14-17 hh. Saddlebreds also weigh between 800-1200 pounds and can excel in any riding discipline.
Here is a video that displays the beauty and versatility of the breed.
2. Icelandic Horse
Icelandic horses  were ridden by Vikings and are one of the purest horse breeds in the world, with the first herds originating in Iceland over 1000 years ago.
To maintain the purity of the breed, no other horses are allowed to enter Iceland, and once a horse leaves it can’t come back
Icelandic horses have two extra natural gaits in addition to the walk, trot, canter, and gallop. These are the tolt and the flying pace. These are very distinct gaits from non-gaited breeds.
The tolt is a lateral four-beat smooth gait where there is no suspension between strides, and the hind legs move underneath the horse to carry most of the weight and allow the front to be free.
The flying pace is a fast two-beat lateral suspended gait. Not all Icelandic horses can make this gait, but those that can and tolt are considered the best of the breed.
Here is a video to help you learn more about Icelandic horses.
3. Marwari Horse
Marwaris  are a rare horse breed native to the Marwari region of India. They are slender horses characterized by their curved ears and were used as a warhorse in Inda for centuries.
They weigh anywhere from 750 to 1000 pounds, are 14-16 hands high, and come in almost every coat color. However, pure white or gray Marwaris are disqualified from breed registries.
The ambling gait of the Marwari is known as the rehwal, and it is a fast four-beat gait that allows the breed to cover ground quickly.
Here is a video to help you learn more about the Marwari horse.
4. Morgan Horse
The Morgan Horse was one of the first breeds developed in the US. They are lightweight and compact, weighing only between 900 to 1000 pounds, and ranging between 14-15 hands tall.
Morgans are known for their elegant movement and small heads. They were bred to be used in all disciplines and come in every coat color possible for horses.
Morgans have a typical ambling gait that is fast and that enables them to have one hoof on the ground, however, only about 20% of Morgans  are gaited.
Here is a video to help you learn more about the Morgan horse.
5. Rocky Mountain Gaited Horse
Rocky Mountain  Gaited Horses have origins in the Rocky Mountains of the US and are compact versatile horses.
They can weigh anywhere from 830 to 1000 pounds and measure from 14.2 to 18 hands. Rocky Mountain Gaited Horses are known for their slender yet muscular build and gentle nature.
Rocky Mountain Horses can come in various shades of bay, chestnut, black, and palomino, and are commonly seen with a chocolate coat and flaxen mane.
They have a unique ambling gait that replaces the trot, called the single foot, that allows them to move farther with less effort.
Here is a video to help you learn more about the Rocky Mountain Gaited Horse.
6. Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee Walking Horses  are a hardy breed loved by all for their unique way of going. They measure anywhere from 14.3 to 17 hands high and weigh 900 to 1200 pounds.
These horses were first bred for farmwork, but are now popular riding horses. The Tennessee Walker comes in all colors and has a slender but well-built physique
Their unique running walk gait is a middle ground between the walk and trot and provides a comfortable and smooth ride for all.
Here is a video to help you learn more about the Tennessee Walking Horse
Now that you know more about gaited horse breeds, let’s learn more details about the ambling gaits they can perform.
Gaited Horse Gaits
Gaited horses perform unique gaits  that are separate from the usual walk, trot, canter, and gallop. However, this does not mean that they cannot perform these gaits, just that they have one or more extra gaits unique to the breed.
The gaits of the gaited breeds are as follows.
Tennessee Walking Horses perform the running walk. In this gait, the hind hooves overstep the front ones, creating a faster walk where the horse appears to be gliding across the ground.
The running walk is a four-beat diagonal gait just like the usual walk.
The slow gait or stepping pace is exhibited by American Saddlebreds. This is a lateral gait where the front and hind hoof on the same side of the horse’s body are moving together.
However, the hooves land at slightly different times from each other, creating a broken pace, The right front, and hind move together, followed by the left front and hind.
The pace is a lateral two-beat gait where the hooves on the same side of the body hit the ground at the same time.
It is commonly exhibited in American Standardbreds and other harness horses. There is also a moment of suspension in between the horse moving each lateral pair.
Icelandic Horses perform a flying pace where the suspension is more evident than in normal pacing.
The running walk or rack is exhibited by the American Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horse.
This is a diagonal four-beat gait, that is essentially a faster walk, where each foot touches the ground separately.
The tolt is exhibited by Icelandic Horses and is very similar  to the rack or single-foot gait, which are all lumped together in one group in discussions about gait.
It is the middle ground between a walk and trot, and there is no suspension.
How Can You Tell if a Horse is Gaited?
The main thing that distinguishes a gaited horse from the rest is its footfalls. Since gaited horses perform fast ambling gaits, they will have a shorter time in between footfalls.
Because gaited horses move faster, they can cover more distance in less time.
Gaited horses also move each leg independently of each other, so the pattern of the foot pattern will vary from a typically moving horse.
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What Are the Benefits of Gaited Horses?
Throughout this article, we have answered the question: “What is a gaited horse mean?”, but what are the benefits of gaited horses, what can they do for their riders that no other horse can?
- Gaited horses have great stamina and endurance, making them ideal for long-distance rides
- They are excellent trail riding horses and a comfortable ride
- They are good-natured and well mannered
- People of all ages can ride them safely
- They are well suited for riders with arthritis
Gaited horses are great companions, They make suitable mounts for anyone looking for an easygoing horse and a smooth ride.
Can a Gaited Horse Run or Gallop?
Gaited horses can perform all of the normal gaits a regular horse can, including running or galloping. The only reason they may not be able to do so is because of their age or injury.
Once horses reach a certain age, they are more prone to arthritis and leg injuries, as a result, staying in one gait for too long becomes uncomfortable.
What is a gaited horse in comparison to a regular horse?
Gaited horses are horses that have extra gaits that regular horses do not. Normal horses can walk, trot, canter, and gallop. A gaited horse can walk, running walk, trot, canter, gallop, for example.
Do gaited horses need special saddles?
Gaited horses do not need special saddles to be ridden. The idea that they do need gaited saddles is a marketing scheme designed to get more money from riders.
Can you teach a horse to be gaited?
A non-gaited horse can learn some of the special gaits, but this does not mean that they will learn them or be able to do so quickly.
The gaited trait is passed on in horses by the DMRT3 gene, and its presence determines if a horse will be able to gait.
What is a gaited horse? Gaited horses are those that have an extra two or four-beat gait in addition to the walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
There are multiple breeds of horses that are gaited and they each have unique characteristics.
What do you think of gaited horses? Please share your opinion below!
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- 2. The Icelandic horse – Official site of the Icelandic Horse [Internet]. www.horsesoficeland.is. Available from: https://www.horsesoficeland.is/the-icelandic-horse
- 3. Marwari Horse: Breed Profile [Internet]. The Spruce Pets. Available from: https://www.thesprucepets.com/marwari-horse-breed-profile-4801620
- 4. Gaited Morgan Horses [Internet]. www.gaitedmorganhorses.com. Available from: https://www.gaitedmorganhorses.com/
- 5. Rocky Mountain Horse: Breed Profile [Internet]. The Spruce Pets. Available from: https://www.thesprucepets.com/rocky-mountain-horse-breed-profile-4777224
- 6. Meet the Tennessee Walking Horse [Internet]. The Spruce Pets. Available from: https://www.thesprucepets.com/meet-the-tennessee-walking-horse-1885862
- 7. heyboerg. Natural and Artificial Gaits of the Horse [Internet]. myhorseuniversity. 2017. Available from: https://www.myhorseuniversity.com/single-post/2017/09/25/natural-and-artificial-gaits-of-the-horse#:~:text=Natural%20Gaits%20There%20are%20five
- 8. About Gaits and Gaited Horses [Internet]. Available from: http://paintedbarstables.com/Documents/Gaits_PBS.pdf
Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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